During the recent heatwave, I decided to buy a beach umbrella – a simple case of ordering online and collecting in-store on my way to the coast. It sounds like standard behaviour, but only six months ago, who would have imagined this way of shopping would become impossible.
The Covid-19 crisis saw the retail industry landscape, as we knew it, crumble overnight, resulting in an immediate surge in ecommerce and empty town centres. Post-lockdown, without a unique value proposition, the weakest and most vulnerable high street retailers have closed permanently as shoppers become less inclined to make non-essential trips to stores.
By adding another layer of complexity, the pandemic has accelerated shopping preferences that were already shifting to online and omnichannel. These habits are unlikely to change when it eventually passes. If retailers are to attract consumers in this highly competitive market, they must make shopping as easy and convenient as possible to meet the new now.
In short, they need to rebuild their foundations.
Not so long ago, online retail focused on emulating the high level of service customers received in-store. Now it is the reverse. Brands need to rethink their omnichannel strategy, embracing innovation and harnessing tools to create a compelling and unified experience. And this experience must impress.
An optimised order management system (OMS) is the cornerstone of any newly renovated commerce model. Online demand may be rising, but retailers could be losing multiple sales if a product appears unavailable online when in-store stock is plentiful. The key is to be data-driven and use tools that unify and make visible every available product on all channels to increase and speed up sales. This holistic view of stock will also reduce the need for discounting, and help predict future demand.
While many shoppers choose to buy an item online, they may prefer to pick up their package in person, so retailers must offer a choice of convenient delivery options. Defining orchestration rules to provide optimal order fulfilment that brings all storage locations together in a single view and eases the processing of delivery, with options such as ship from store or kerbside collection, means customers will receive an identical, high-quality service whether they shop in-store, via mobile or online.
In this evolved retail world, online has become the flagship while brick and mortar stores take on a bigger role. By empowering sales advisors, not only can stores aid fulfilment by processing online orders and managing click and collect, they can enrich customer experience by offering services such as pre-booked appointments with a personal shopper. These initiatives enhance store shopping by capturing customer preference, and build a valuable data-rich CRM profile brands can really use. And, according to our research, average order value typically triples when customers take up in-store appointments.
Fashion brand Phase Eight is a good example of how online and offline can work well together. Registered customers are able to pre-book a 60-minute slot at their chosen store via the website. This makes for a superior shopping experience for the individual, while allowing Phase Eight to control the flow of people in-store and observe social distancing requirements.
Some, such as leisure wear retailer Lyle & Scott and men’s clothing brand Rodd & Gunn, have been ahead of the “online first” trend for some time, using a small number of strategically located experiential stores to offer showroom-style environments that ultimately create a more tangible customer experience. More recently, it is encouraging to see major high-street names such as John Lewis and Ted Baker setting out purpose-driven, digital-first roadmaps to strengthen their retail offerings.
This approach requires a wider variety of delivery, collection and return options plus a rethink of the role of the store in the broader context of supporting an omnichannel customer proposition, all underpinned by an agile OMS.
Retailers are remarkably resilient, and many should be applauded for the way they have responded so well to the critical challenges of the past few months. Society has undergone a significant transformation and retailers must blend technology and commerce capabilities to develop modern businesses open to change.
For more information on how an agile order management system can help your brand, download our new white paper on ‘The Foundations of Tomorrow’s Retail’ here.
by Romulus Grigoras, CEO of OneStock