Despite the many changes that have rocked retailing in recent years and the still steady traffic of customers shopping in-store, online channels have become even more important for the retail industry.
Today, while shoppers still highly value finding a quality item, 13% of consumers say that they are most likely to purchase the most convenient option when shopping, as reported in a study by NRF (the National Retail Federation). In the same study, it was also found that 97% of customers had backed out of a purchase because it was too inconvenient for them to complete the transaction.
Shoppers visit online e-commerce sites for the same reason they go in-store: to find the products they need or want, to be inspired and informed, and to make purchases. What has changed is the increasing importance of convenience in the retail experience. Even with the current retail climate, customers are looking for ways of accommodating busy lifestyles. 83% of shoppers say convenience is more important now compared to five years ago; a noticeable trend with the customer’s demand for retail technologies.
In telecom, the physical retail environment is essential. Some offerings — like device activations and phone comparisons — demand in-person service. These offerings can also take time, something that customers feel they have less of. NRF reports that “over one-third of customers feel that they have less time…and they’re looking for retailers to save them both effort and time” in the path to purchase. The merging of online and in-store channels relies on connected tools enabled by omnichannel solutions.
Many retailers that have experienced the impact of omnichannel technology, including the highly disruptive effects of mobile devices, have already taken advantage of these types of opportunities. Their big challenge now is to make physical stores into vibrant, highly connected “players” in the consumer’s radically reshaped shopping journey. There are numerous tools capable of leveraging omnichannel to bridge the gaps between channels while creating a unique, highly customer-oriented store environment. The implementation of these tools will reimagine the physical store, making room for telecom retailers to develop strategies to maximize convenience.
This report will explore four key steps toward elevating physical stores:
- Blend the physical and digital retail spaces
- Save the sale with omnichannel solutions
- Maintain brand consistency across channels
- Optimize product merchandising using shopper data
Blend the physical and digital retail spaces
Consumers already have taken the lead for this dimension of reimagining the store. The ubiquity of smartphones means shoppers have a digital experience at their fingertips during the entire shopper journey. The UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study indicated that customers are 85% satisfied with the online shopping experience while only 65% are satisfied with the experience provided by a physical store.
The same report outlines key initiatives that retailers should focus on to truly blend the physical and virtual stores:
- Offering flexible purchase options
- Delivering a consistent experience across all retail channels
- Empower the shopper with mobile-first technologies
Though customers have begun to leverage online channels more often, elevating the retail experience needs to also consider the physical store. This is not only because of the nature of today’s telecom transactions but also because in-store shopping remains relevant to the customer’s journey at large.
Shoppers valuing convenience doesn’t mean they have forgotten about what the in-store experience can offer. Retailers can take the opportunity to provide convenience — along will all the other things a customer desires — through increasingly sophisticated in-store technologies, such as queue management solutions and workstation-to-mobile device payments (the iQmetrix solutions, Queue Management and Pay Anywhere, are examples of this). These technologies provide shoppers with alternative purchase options that still involve the benefits of the in-store experience. This is the flexibility not only desired by customers but that retailers need to seriously consider to remain competitive.
Further blending physical and virtual retail, tools like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), ROPIS (reserve online, pick up in-store), drop ship, and curbside pickup begin to build omnichannel bridges between physical and virtual channels. With a retailer owning the omnichannel experience, they ensure that no matter how, when, or where a customer interacts with their brand, the experience will be a positive one. Connected systems breed convenient, consistent shopping environments that increase the customer’s confidence that a brand can provide what they need, when they need it.
In addition, retailers have new opportunities to reach these shoppers with mobile technologies at many stages of the buying process. For example, at the beginning of the buying process, a retailer could push personalized messages to customers using Bluetooth Low Energy beacons near shelves containing key products. Whether engaging in remarketing, out-of-store tactics, or data collection, beacons can help your business better understand your customer’s wants and needs. When a customer is in-store, an associate could use a mobile point-of-sale system and meet the customer wherever they are in-store. This increases the level of personalized service provided while arming the associate with all the product details they need to answer the customer’s questions with confidence.
Retailers that are not ready to undertake this level of investment can easily implement and maintain simpler solutions capable of bridging the digital and physical environments. Combining this information with other enterprise data sources, such as customer data and purchase histories contained in loyalty programs — and presenting it to associates in easy, actionable formats — gives retailers the ability to deliver one-to-one experiences for store shoppers while also enabling more efficient operations.
Actions to take
Investigate which channel-unifying retail methods support the preferences of shoppers. If your store has lots of requests for special orders, maybe a drop-ship fulfillment solution is where you should start. Or if your shoppers are hesitant to return to retail as usual, offering curbside pickup could alleviate their worries. Providing customers with purchase channel flexibility helps blur the line between online and brick-and-mortar shopping by meeting the customer wherever they are in their purchase journey.
Once flexible options are chosen, it’s important for your store to power these avenues with solutions that enable cross-channel communication. No matter where a customer shops, with one brand the experience should be the same — online or in-store. Consistency not only breeds great experience but also supports convenient shopping. Customers that know what to expect can move through a brand’s touchpoints quickly and easily.
When the basic needs of a customer have been identified and solutions have been implemented to support their retail habits, your business should begin to consider how to take these tools on the move. Mobile technologies that give associate physical in-store flexibility are a powerful resource in blending physical and virtual retail. From associates having product knowledge at their fingertips to a customer being able to browse and pay for items away from a physical workstation, mobile technologies give customers the convenience they crave, the immediate insights they expect from online retail and the personalized service of the in-store experience that only trained associates can provide.
Save the Sale with Omnichannel Solutions
As noted above, omnichannel retail technologies help to provide flexibility in retail. However, what is happening more frequently in telecom retail is that businesses are finding ways of leveraging omnichannel to elevate the in-store experience with elements of the online journey a customer would normally take.
With convenience being such an influential factor for today’s telecom customers, it’s important for retailers to amend their processes to account for this factor. NRF reports that “35% of consumers shop in ‘micromoments’ at least weekly and up to multiple times a day.” Essentially, shoppers aren’t heading out the door on a big retail excursion. Instead, they are running small retail-based errands in between the commitments they have in their day. This makes their need for convenience even more prominent as their time in your retail store may be confined to the only free moment they have to spare while in the midst of doing something else.
Omnichannel connects locations and systems so businesses can maximize their convenience-providing potential. With cross-location transparency, associates can save the sale by:
- Offering store-to-store transfer if a product isn’t in stock at the current location
- Letting customers choose to pick up products at curbside or in-store that were bought or reserved online or over the phone
- Adding customers to a virtual queue so they don’t have to wait during peak hours to see an associate
Offering these purchasing services not only keeps the focus on the customer’s convenience by proving retail methods focused on quick transactions, but also provides an extra level of personalization to the buyer’s journey.
Drop-ship fulfillment services are also a great way to save a sale from a potential walk-out. Integrating with a fulfillment partner means that a customer can browse online and in-store inventory. When they find the product they want, it’s paid for in-store and shipped right to their home. The use of drop shipping directly from manufacturers and suppliers has the potential to solve some of these issues, with the added benefit of offering customers a wider range of inventory, without the retailers having to find physical store shelf space for these items, thus saving the sale by offering more without taking on the risk of physical inventory.
A queue management solution saves the sale in a different way. Telecom stores are usually busy, and some transactions may take upwards of 30 minutes to complete. Add in-store capacity restrictions due to COVID-19, and that means your associates are in less control of wait times — especially during peak hours. Customers use their phones to scan a QR code. The customer will then receive a text to their device to ask why they’re coming to the store and confirm their place in the virtual queue. With all that they have on the go, the customer can leave the store and come back when they receive a text that their turn is close. Customers without a mobile device can be manually added to a queue. This process not only helps manage in-store traffic so associates can provide customers with undivided attention, but it also reduces the potential for walk-outs caused by long lines. The brand’s image and the customer’s experience are protected.
Many of the save-the-sale options currently reimagining the role of physical stores incorporate new (and in some cases, not-so-new) product delivery options. Offering a buy online/pick up in-store option used to be a bold competitive differentiator for a retailer. While it still represents an improvement in customer service and an opportunity for additional sales when customers come in for pickup, it no longer sets a retailer apart from the crowd. With the current mobile device purchase being so highly involved, stores that offer buy or reserve online services do as much as possible to minimize the in-store interaction needed. UPS reports that 50% of US shoppers “have items shipped to store for pickup” and 41% of shoppers planned to use this service even more often in the next year. For retailers, this means that investment in technologies that extend the reach of the store through digitally-supported channels is going to win over those who only offer in-store or online channels alone.
Of course, digital technologies won’t be a replacement for sales associates; 65% of shoppers are still satisfied with an in-store shopping experience. What digital technologies can do is ensure the customer is still getting the great experience they would expect from a brand without the confines (and maybe the inconvenience) of a trip to a physical store. Fulfillment solutions provide insights into purchasing trends, meaning retailers can always offer the most desired products. Online suggestive selling works as a digital upseller, providing complementary items to a shopper that would be a good match for items in their cart.
In addition to beating out telecom competitors with a greater channel and product choice, retailers who prioritize digital technologies can also compete and win against other large, online retailers. It’s reported that “globally, online shoppers continue to use a combination of single-channel and multi-channel search and purchase methods,” so when brick-and-mortar telecom retailers reach beyond their physical doors, they’re meeting the customer at whatever path they choose — something that even online giants can’t say they can do.
Actions to take
Omnichannel isn’t just about ease for your associates and transparency for your back-office staff. Rather, this technology should focus on making customer-facing processes as effective as possible. When it comes to saving sales, enabling omnichannel means choosing a retail management (RMS) and point-of-sale (POS) system that supports offerings like store-to-store transfer of product, alternative retail methods like curbside pickup, BOPIS, ROPIS, or over-the-phone orders.
In addition to implementing omnichannel-ready foundational technologies, choosing add-on solutions that remove barriers to purchase is important. Remember, customers value convenience so improving your store’s ability to provide convenience is essential. A queue management solution (QMS) helps manage in-store traffic which may seem like an associate-first benefit, but it considers the customer above all. When busy telecom stores are trying to balance multiple (and possibly lengthy) transactions at once, a QMS means associates can add customers to a virtual queue and send them a text message when it’s their turn to be helped by an associate. The customer can continue with their day — remembering again, that customers are often completing many retail micromoments before and after coming in-store — and return to your store knowing that they will have the associate’s undivided attention. Another benefit to a QMS is that the level of personalized service isn’t hindered by peak business hours. Associates only have as many customers as they can handle, meaning that they can tailor the retail experience for every shopper.
Maintain Brand Consistency Across Channels
Even as retailers rethink and revamp the store environment, it is important to consider brick-and-mortar as just one of the multiple touchpoints consumers are using during the shopping journey. But managing multiple channels makes maintaining brand consistency a challenge. Retailers must ensure they are not only delivering consistent pricing but also consistent and high-quality media, product information/descriptions, and product inventory availability. The number of interactions available to a customer, especially with the rapid adoption of e-commerce in recent years, is multiplying touchpoints and resulting in more than 800 unique variations of possible shopping journeys. With the advent of new technology innovations such as wearables, augmented reality, and advances in the Internet of Things (IoT), shopper journeys will become even more complex.
However, complexity doesn’t excuse a retailer for a disjointed experience. Retail Touchpoints reports that 87% of shoppers expect that personalized, consistent experiences with a brand—even if they’re using multiple channels. In the same study, it was found that 76% of consumers are likely to choose a retailer who provides a consistent, cross-channel experience over one who does not. Jeffrey Neville, Senior Vice President and Practice Lead for BRP Consulting, said that “siloed systems still cause a lot of issues,” which is a significant pain point felt by retailers in the telecom industry. This is not only because businesses have multiple locations, but the intricacies of corporately-owned and branded authorized retailer stores are very hard to navigate. Siloed systems, processes, and teams result in duplicate work, lack of transparency, and ultimately create a poor experience for customers in-store and online.
One way retailers can deal with the complexity of today’s shopping journey is to use platform management solutions capable of disseminating marketing content across their networks, regardless of physical display form factor, geographic location, or operating system. By using cloud-based solutions to build, maintain and deploy marketing content in one place — for use in multiple channels — retailers can effectively maintain brand consistency. Solutions that bridge carrier and independent store systems maintain open lines of communication and eradicate the roadblocks to unified commerce.
Actions to take
Capturing consistency lies in your platform’s ability to bridge systems, locations, and teams. Antiquated hardware-based legacy systems are not only outdated technology but are also near impossible to update effectively. Cloud-based RMS and POS platforms are easily deployed from one location to many and with the right connections and integrations, changes can be made in real-time.
If your brand has both corporate and authorized retailer locations under its name, you’ve likely experienced pain points with disconnected systems. Duplicate entry, missing information, and inconsistent inventory counts are just a few of the issues that stem from people, process, and platform siloes. With a integrated, intelligent retail technology deployed, the next step is to ensure that every location, channel, and employee is on the same page while also watching for changes that could impact operations. Look for a solution that bridges corporate and authorized retailer systems without major impacts on the in-store process. Associates should have access to all the information they need, under their role’s security permissions, to do their jobs well.
Optimize Product Merchandising Using Shopper Data
It is important to note that brand consistency does not necessarily mean pricing and promotion cannot vary from region to region, or even from store to store. The ability to respond to competitors with dynamic pricing — or to address high inventory levels in one store with a rapidly implemented, product-specific promotion — has become a hallmark of agile retailing.
Retailers also have new opportunities to shape stores’ product offerings to more closely match each location’s shopper profile. For example, analysis of online searches in a given store’s area might indicate a significant percentage of high-value shoppers purchase a specific device with an expensive charging case for the phone. Armed with this information, the retailer can place the frequently purchased items near each other or ensure the charging case is suggested at checkout online if a customer who owns that device is logged into their account.
Regional or store-specific product merchandising based on a deeper understanding of shoppers’ lifestyles and buying habits is another way for retailers to bring the personalization and product curation of online shopping into the brick-and-mortar environment. In some cases, multi-store retailers may want to rethink their entire merchandising strategy.
The ability to respond to competitors with dynamic pricing — or to address high inventory levels in one store with a rapidly implemented, product-specific promotion — has become a symbol of agile retailing.
Actions to take
Telecom stores generate a lot of data, from which incredible insights can be earned. However, the insights can only be leveraged if they’re found in a timely way. This means monitoring for trends and applying key learnings to in-store processes, which may sound easy but it’s not.
Explore technology options that house robust reporting and analytics. This may seem like a no-brainer, but a system that can support your teams with actionable insights can be the difference between you and your competitors.
Digging deeper, effective retail technology will be able to pinpoint insights on a per-location and company-wide basis. This helps stores in different regions adapt to the trends in their area, rather than bending to the will of a corporate location that may not have the local insight needed to support customers. Intelligent retail management tools that are tailor-made for telecom will consider the unique needs of retailers in the space, and provide effective reports and filters to put data into action.
When evaluating solutions, ensure that you’re also considering what the future holds. Is this solution agile enough to integrate with the retail channels of the future? Does it have integrations that enable company-wide and store-level merchandising changes? Can real-time updates and promotions be added to relevant locations? Is there support offered by the solution provider to customize the platform for your business? If the answer is no to any of these questions, consider seeing what other software could help you leverage your customer data more effectively.
Virtually all retailers see the value of learning more about not just who their shoppers are, but what they want from their in-store shopping experiences. Some customers may be looking for every possible product under one roof. Others may appreciate the value of a more targeted, curated assortment. And many will appreciate connected platforms that mean they never have to second-guess what location or channel to patronize.
Rapid and far-reaching industry changes have given retailers the motivation — and in some cases, the permission — to radically rethink the purposes of their brick-and-mortar stores. Tools that allow them to replicate key elements of the e-commerce experience are proving beneficial to both the shopper and the retailer, and form the basis of the omnichannel solutions being developed today. While maintaining brand consistency and optimizing multiple channels remains a difficult challenge, new merchandising concepts may find a “sweet spot”: meeting customers’ needs while helping retailers trim and more effectively manage processes. In all these cases, the traditional retail store is in for a raft of changes, both large and small.
A retailer that invests in technologies that elevate the potential of the physical store today is far more prepared for the future than those who don’t. Telecom retail evolves at a fierce speed and with a foundation of powerful solutions that enable operational efficiency and unify the retail experience, a business is ready to adapt for whatever channels the future holds — both those being created today and the ones that have yet to be imagined.