Bridging the convenience gap
Today’s tech-savvy consumers are more demanding than ever. When they interact with a retailer, they make few distinctions between bricks and mortar, online, or other channels. They want convenience to shop whenever and however they please through any channel, and they want a great experience every time.
Frost & Sullivan estimates that local and overseas online retail purchases by Australians will increase to $25 billion by 2015. Not only is e-commerce rapidly becoming a significant channel for revenue growth in Australia, there are plenty of retailers beyond our shores gaining the attention and spend of our consumers.
With an estimated 33 to 50 per cent of all online expenditures now going to overseas sites, it is clear that the convenience light bulb still hasn’t switched on for some Australian retailers. Many still view online as a channel Australian consumers use for lower prices, as opposed to a specialised or convenient shopping experience.
The unfortunate reality is that if you are not providing a seamless experience between channels, there are many others that will. It’s time for Australian retailers to close the ‘convenience gap’ and provide an engaging and rewarding brand experience to remain viable.
Coles is successfully achieving this by combining instore shopping behaviour with the online experience. Leveraging its Flybuys loyalty program, customers are offered a personalised shopping cart online, stocked with items from their last three instore visits. Not only is this making the online shopping experience more convenient for customers, it also encourages them to use their Flybuys card each time they shop, contributing more data to Coles’ marketing programs.
There are many other ways that retailers can improve their e-commerce offering – here are just a few:
1. Shipping: Superior fulfillment wins loyalty. Ship to your customers faster and they’ll be delighted with the experience. Ship to them more cheaply, and your profits will flourish. Ship from the location nearest your customer, whether that is a warehouse, distribution centre or bricks and mortar storefront, and you’ll realise both reduced shipping costs and improved delivery times. Offering online purchasing, but convenient in-store pickup, can be part of the equation. Store inventories can be used to reduce fulfillment time and costs, or to reduce overstock and avoid markdowns.
2. Realtime inventory visibility: Showing online shoppers what’s available in stores and online is fast becoming a mandate. They want in stock alerts for out of stock items. No longer is e-commerce just about stock on hand in the web inventory. Customers want to know how many units you have and the quickest way to obtain them – if the item is in stock instore and not available right away online, they want to know about it.
3. Mobile shopping: Many merchants have skated by with stripped down mobile sites and an unsatisfying “View Full Site” escape hatch for advanced tasks. Mobile buyers won’t tolerate a dumbed down experience any longer. It’s time to offer the mobile shopper the complete customer experience, from wish list management to returns.
4. Product reviews: To build a reputation as a retailer dedicated to providing customer value, curating outside reviews and offering buyers a chance to sound off on their purchases is vitally important. The shopping experience should be built around the new reality that most consumers research online, decide on the purchase then head to the store to transact.
5. Single sign-on and guest transactions: Requiring customers to create accounts was meant to improve loyalty, but it creates an unnecessary burden on customers who are ready to buy now. Retailers with multiple brands should honour a single sign-in across their entire web presence. Better still, allow guest transactions with no need to create a password and authenticate account registration.
These tips present just a few opportunities to help retailers adapt to the constantly evolving expectations of today’s consumer. Some might be quick fixes, others longer term projects.
For those retailers who need to better integrate e-commerce or launch their e-commerce channels, it may seem daunting. Cloud computing provides a solution by offering the opportunity for a lower cost and much lower risk rollout of the software needed to support multiple channels. You can gain realtime visibility into your entire retail operation, accessible from anywhere at any time, as well as a single view of a customer across all channels. You can also ensure that the order, inventory and financial information you have is always up to date.
There’s no doubt that closing the convenience gap can deliver substantial and tangible results for Australian retailers. Choosing the right commerce platform — one capable of supporting the creativity the marketplace demands — will make the prospect of this innovation more an opportunity than a challenge. Cloud computing can certainly help you achieve this.
By Andy Lloyd, GM commerce products for NetSuite. For more information, visit www.netsuite.com.au.
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