Blending Once Separate Silos: Bricks-and-Mortar Meets Online

One of the major challenges still facing retailers is how to successfully balance and complement online and offline channels to keep them from being separate silos. Once, shifting services to the internet was a potential consideration. Today, it’s essential for retailers to keep afloat and remain competitive. Business managers are now faced with the challenge of synergising their online and physical stores into a core ecosystem, with aligned and overlapping processes, systems and service offerings.

Over the past decade, the presence of online stores has grown at an accelerating rate.  A recent NAB Online Retail Sales Index revealed that Australians spent $17.1 billion on online retail in the 12 months to May 2014. This meant YOY sales growths of 27 percent and 21 percent from the previous two years ($13.5 billion and $11.2 billion, respectively).

It’s safe to say that online sales have increased as the amount of online stores have also risen. Retailers, once basing their core business on the outputs of bricks-and-mortar sites, have expanded with online operations to keep up with the now increasingly thriving e-commerce domain.

However, expanding retail businesses with an online presence is by no means an easy and smooth transition. In fact, business managers are often learning as they go, almost leaping into completely foreign territory and making changes on the fly.

One of the many challenges faced by retailers today is connecting and complementing promotions available on the shopfloor with mirrored offers available online. Lorna Jane is one retailer doing this well. With a rigorous cross-platform marketing program in place, promotions mesh with each other. For instance, promotions are valid online, in-store and by phone. With an ongoing email campaign, the major retailer provides links that not only drive purchasers to their one-click-away online store, yet also drive purchasers to their local stores for the in-store experience many shoppers still prefer.

There are three key areas that retailers need to focus on moving forward, and these are rooted in consistency:

  1. Purchase and order systems – Exchanges, returns and product pick-ups must be transparent and flexible across business platforms. For instance, shoppers should be able to order online and pick-up in-store, buy online and return in-store, or buy online and gain loyalty credits.
  2. Availability across all channels – Online stores should be aligned with apps for instant accessibility from mobile phones and tablet devices, preferably using responsive design technology for ease of use. Brand engagement via social channels is an essential outlet for retailers, as it allows consumers to play a role in the brand’s development and growth.
  3. Retail advice and knowledge – A significant benefit that drives footfall to a physical store is being able to speak with knowledgeable staff that can provide advice on products you may be choosing between. This is particularly pertinent for technology and electronic related items. For instance, IKEA.com.au has an online assistant available 24 hours per day to respond to user queries. This is a step in the right direction, yet automated online services, in place of a human, can make answering simple queries a complex and frustrating task. Retailers must work to provide an almost equal level of knowledge to customers via online platforms, as consumers would experience at the shopfloor and speaking with a retail assistant.

With the benefits of transparent operations becoming obvious, savvy companies in retail are managing business operations through enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. The technology places key management touch points into a single interface – showing purchase orders, point of sale systems, and product stock figures in real-time. With purchase orders being placed by consumers from various touch points, ERP technology smooths business processes to ensure enough stock reaches shopfloors, and online orders are responded to instantly.

With the integration of Business Intelligence (BI) and data analytic tools, retail managers are able to keep a step ahead with access to flexible, reliable and real-time data.  BI provides businesses with instant awareness that accelerates decision making in a fast-paced industry based on trends, fads and responding to consumer needs ahead of the competition.

Finally, the retail world is experiencing much change, yet it’s an opportunity for retailers to accept and respond to the market in innovative ways.

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