Small retailers and digitalisation: how an omni-channel approach leads to success

Small retailers and digitalisation: how an omni-channel approach leads to success

There is no doubt that social and mobile technologies are profoundly changing consumers’ shopping habits and expectations, and the pace of change is impressive.

Many traditional consumer businesses and new companies are moving away from models that are shop-centric and geographically-focused, to ones that are customer-centric and virtually borderless by adopting a virtual presence.

Migrating to a customer-centric strategy means excelling in engaging consumers across all channels: web, mobile, social and in-store. This omni-channel strategy standardises messaging, approaches, and marketing so, as the customer moves from channel to channel, their experience is a consistent as it can be.

Aberdeen Group Inc. claims that companies with the strongest omni-channel strategies retain, on average, 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel strategies.

This new approach represents a change that empowers not only consumers but also online retailers, who enjoy numerous advantages over brick & mortar and mom & pop shops. This begs the question: how will retail stores, both large and small, survive in this increasingly tech-powered environment in the face of digitalisation?

Retailers must catch up with omni-channel consumers

Consumers are leading and shaping the move to online and retailers are lagging behind. As the global consumer refines their approach and adopts new technologies, even when retailers catch up, they find themselves behind the trend once again.

To become more flexible and adapt to new behaviors, they must have a better understanding of their customers and their needs in order to change the way they market their products and run their stores.

An omni-channel presence matches messaging and ensures there’s no disconnect across channels. Brands with a disjointed message across digital and traditional channels (commonly known as a multi-channel approach) could end up losing ground in the market.

When first confronted with in-store shoppers researching products and comparing prices on their mobile devices, bricks & mortar and mom & pop shops worried whether they could compete with online retailers. These retailers might think they don’t have the technological infrastructure, the money, or the staff dedicated to meet consumers at their preferred digital storefront.

But the task isn't as impossible or expensive as it may seem.

For shops who anticipate and adapt to these changes, there are great possibilities and changes ahead. The survivors will be those who have recognised the omni-channel trend and are constantly looking for ways to improve their customer experience in an omni-channel way.

Here’s how retailers can jumpstart their online presence to catch up to the competition and increase their sales.

Breaking down the online/offline mentality

Offline businesses allow face-to-face interaction, which ultimately creates better customer relationships. Online businesses don’t allow face-to-face interaction, so customers can not physically see a product. Offline businesses usually target a specific locality, whereas online businesses reach a wider audience.

But with bigger companies now playing on both fronts, it’s time for smaller businesses to break down the online/offline mentality and create a seamless flow of information from store to shelves to online resources for consumers to use throughout their buying journey.

Today’s consumers don’t only shop in a physical store. Shopping has become a 24/7 activity that is easily conducted through a multitude of devices. Now, everything is interactive, and when it comes to meeting consumers’ omni-channel needs, the storefront is no exception.

By meeting consumers on both physical and digital channels, retailers can improve the shopping experience for browsers. One of the most powerful tools retailers possess in their crucial quest to integrate both offline and online operations is to integrate a digital presence in their brick & mortar and mom & pop shops.

According to Forrester Research, 54% of all retail transactions were influenced by the web in 2016, showcasing how physical store locations and web interactions are a must for all retailers.

By following the omni-channel trend, retailers can augment the shopping experience in stores by offering the information consumers need within easy reach, whether in-store or on a device. This creates a unified brand experience that allows consumers to begin the customer journey regardless of channel.

The Apple Store is a great example of the potential value that stores hold in providing the right kind of shopping experience for consumers who visit physical shops. The website directs consumers to make an in-store appointment via an online tool, and in-store “geniuses” often redirect customers online when faced with issues like out-of-stock products. The process is smooth and easy from the consumer’s perspective, and showcases the brand’s expertise.

Another great example is Benefit Cosmetics. Initially founded as a beauty boutique named The Face Place, the now-famous brand is one of the corner shops that has observed rapid growth thanks to its focus on digitalisation.

Benefit Cosmetics has put its data to use by intertwining the online and in-store experiences. Customers can book appointments online, through an interactive and personalised website. With hundreds of stores everywhere, customers are still able to pick their local branch, and build a relationship with Benefit’s store associates and beauticians. By letting their customers book a service online, employees have access to customer information, which helps them deliver a seamless experience from online to offline channels.

But what new technologies could help small retailers unify their in-store experiences with online ones?

How small retailers can improve their digital efforts

Creating loyalty through clienteling can be a game changer for small retailers. Turn store associates into brand advocates by giving them access to customer information and inventory anywhere in the store. Allow them to connect with their customers on a deeper level by understanding their needs and preferences thanks to existing data. Unique integration of clienteling apps enables both customer interaction and customer satisfaction.

Opt for inventory management systems that enable store-to-store or store-to-customer shipments. Customers should have the ability to shop in-store and preview their favorite product, whether it’s available or not. This removes the unfortunate scenario where a customer doesn’t want to walk away with the product from the store. By offering them an option to order it online on the spot or schedule a delivery online, you’re reducing any friction that may lead to an unfulfilled sale.

In-store beacons that deliver mobile coupons based on location are also a great way to start integrating a digital presence in your brick and mortar shop.  

Implementing these new technologies can be a challenge for small merchants whose budgets are limited, but retailers need to invest in digitalisation and respond to today’s consumers’ needs or else they’ll be left behind, struggling for sales.

Smaller budgets can start with in-store Wi-Fi, in-store pickup, in-store customer reviews, or scannable coupons for in-store savings.

Empowering sales associates can help enhance customer experience and stand out from the competition. 83% of consumers believe they’re more knowledgeable than retail store staff so associates need to be able to answer detailed questions about products. Providing ways to make accessing product information as easy as scanning a bar code is essential in giving them the ability to answer customer questions. Associates with access to past purchase information or details could also help them make more informed recommendations to customers.

Consumers and shoppers are looking for as much transparency as possible about the products they’re interested in. Think in-store tablets, virtual reality, demonstration videos, users’ guides, QR codes...

Giving them the opportunity to access information from in-store devices can encourage shoppers to make a purchase by streamlining the customer experience.

Conclusion

As the line between digital and physical continues to blur in the retail industry, small retailers with physical stores must find a way to continue evolving and engaging with consumers.

Integrating an omni-channel strategy and delivering a relevant, individualised experience across all touch points will help break the online/offline barrier, no matter the size of your business.

In the rush to digitise the entire shopping experience, many have ignored some of the important aspects of shopping, such as the relationships between employees and shoppers.

The more you can make your experience feel like a seamless transition from your website to your store, the more comfortable your customers will be shopping with you.

The Automotive industry is one of the biggest industries affected by these changes. Car retailers are quickly migrating towards an omni-channel customer journey, making sure the customer experience is equally as good on all touch points.