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Comment: Closing the gap between online and the store

Consumers don’t see “channels”. They are time-starved and information-rich, and use technology that they carry around in their pockets and purses to find the best solutions to their lifestyle needs. The practice in retail of creating different brand experiences in different “channels” has gone beyond being an inconvenience to shoppers. It is the central challenge that retailers are grappling with today.

But while today’s consumers often begin their shopping experience outside of the “four walls” of the store in the digital domain, to investigate and select products that meet their lifestyle needs, the fact remains that most consumers’ paths-to-purchase, however they begin, end in the store. Although retailers have in the past thought of the store and non-store selling environments as different channels, more consumers routinely use both the digital and the physical environments in harmony to make a single shopping decision. For them, it is just shopping, redefined.

Retailers have come to understand that “digital” needs to influence all touch points and support all aspects of the shopping journey. And they understand that the experience they are delivering today falls far short of their desired experience. RSR’s May 2015 benchmark report, Commerce Convergence: Closing The Gap Between Online And In-Store (sponsored by Netsuite), sought to uncover how retailers currently view the challenges, opportunities, roadblocks and technology enablers associated with how they support commerce across all of consumer touch points.

Old and in the way?

Retailers recognise the largest investment in their technology portfolio – the legacy point of sale (PoS) system – is now holding them back from providing a seamless experience across all of their customer touch points. Legacy PoS after all was designed as a check-out system, not intended to help consumers make better and more informed purchase decisions at all. Today, consumers’ pre-purchase digitally enabled behaviours are invisible to in-store staff. But the information consumers are using to make purchase decisions should be available in the store as well, before the customer reaches the PoS, both for consumers and for store employees seeking to assist them.

A story – albeit early days in the channel-less shopping experience story – is starting to unfold. Over-performing retailers (“Winners”) are far more aware that there are differences between the online and in-store experiences that must be accounted for, but also worry that the legacy checkout system is standing in the way of a consistent “channel-less” shipping experience (Figure 1).

(Figure 1.) Retail Winners “See”

Winners are clearly much further along in the process of grasping the importance of, and challenges associated with, providing a truly channel-less experience.

They are also far more aware than their lesser-performing competitors that their brand is defined in great part by consumers’ paths-to-purchase, and that increasingly, those consumers are helping themselves with digital information (often delivered via mobile devices even in the store) and demanding better service from store employees while in the store. But Winners are not willing to simply throw more people at the challenge – and that implies a new set of technology-enabled customer and employee facing capabilities in the store (Figure 2).

Figure 2.) Winners show their hand

Getting in front of consumers where and how it matters

There is no shortage of ways consumer-grade technologies can help consumers during the shopping process. It is equally clear that without the benefit of retailer-supplied information, consumers are “hacking” their way through their paths-to-purchase, pulling information from a variety of sources other than the retailer. Winners are much more aware that if they don’t provide enough of a digital/online experience in stores, consumers will supplement the experience with their own mobile devices. And so over-performers indicate a much stronger preference than average and under-performers to seize the opportunity to engage more with consumers by bringing digital to the store (Figure 3).

Figure 3.) Bringing it to the house

Image credit: RSR Research 2015

In response to the new consumer shopping reality, retailers must define a brand experience that is inclusive of all the ways the consumers “touch” the brand, both in the digital world (eCommerce, mobile, social) and the physical one (the store, the call centre). And this promises a massive amount of change to how they use technology in stores.

While all store-based retailers are basically in the same boat during this time of industry-wide transformation, winning behaviours are already emerging, and those behaviours form the basis for recommendations RSR offers.

RSR Research surveyed 88 retailers to find out where they think the future of commerce is headed. To see how your organisation compares, read our latest benchmark report entitled Commerce Convergence: Closing The Gap Between Online And In-Store, sponsored by Netsuite and available to everyone via this link