Now more than ever, consumers are demanding a seamless customer experience and retailers must make every effort to merge the digital and physical customer experience in store. In 2014, retailers will prioritize a consistent brand experience across channels – including mobile, online and in store – and sales associates will be empowered to leverage mobile for increased in-store engagement. The retail industry also will see a transition away from traditional point-of-sale (POS) systems in 2014.
As customers expect a more streamlined shopping experience, the recent NRF Annual Convention and EXPO (“Retail’s Big Show”), which took place January 12-15 in New York, highlighted emerging omni-channel trends for retailers to meet customer expectations in 2014.
Leveraging Sales Associates in the Digital Age
When it comes to branded mobile apps, retailers often focus on the customer and neglect to leverage sales associates as a tool for engaging customers through mobile technology. Mobile technology has armed customers with company information and product insights that rival store associates’ knowledge – and this needs to change. In 2014, retailers will leverage mobile technology in store and equip associates with tablets and mobile devices, bringing product information, customer history and purchasing capabilities to their fingertips.
Transition to the Cloud
More and more retailers are launching capabilities in the cloud to test use cases for converging digital and physical commerce. As IT executives know, marketers are getting in the game to drive new ways of converting customer Web traffic into store counts and promotion adoption in the physical store. It is not just the IT department that is seeing its control erode with all the new technologies that promise instant capabilities during the digital and in-store experience. Rather, the store operator has one more set of tasks from corporate to support – moving to the cloud – and the in-store training agenda just got bigger.
A Turning Point in POS
The POS market is divided. Some retailers question whether to extend traditional POS “beyond the register” and into the world of mobile POS, utilizing cloud and commerce connections. Others want to take their commerce engines and drive them into stores while taking over the sales floor and checkout, enabling customer engagement in store. As retailers decide which road to take, it is clear that we can expect to see a wave of pilots this year that aim to change the in-store experience. In fact, 30 percent of retailers plan to change or revamp their POS system in 2014. We predict the commerce engine to grow the fastest and be the most agile in shaping the customer’s journey at home, on the street and in store. Consumers will also increasingly demand in-store checkout via tablets, which is something retailers should prioritize. In 2014, mobile must be made a top priority for retailers across channels.
Actualization of Omni-Channel
Hiring a head of omni-channel to align disparate organization and technology silos into a seamless commerce experience is an exhausting endeavor for most retailers. Creating a consistent brand experience for customers, regardless of how talented the omni-channel executive may be, is difficult to achieve due to misaligned systems. Therefore, retailers are starting to focus on first achieving what is possible in misaligned systems, which is enabling buy online and ship from store. Once retailers have this capability in place and the relevant store disciplines, they can graduate to buy online and pick-up in-store and other emerging omni-channel offerings.
Overall, actualizing omni-channel is a step-by-step process and it starts with proper execution. Even as technology for order orchestration across e-commerce and stores improves, omni-channel cannot be entirely successful without execution by in-store associates who handle the pick, pack and ship process.
Given the trends coming out of NRF, what will retail winners be doing differently in 2014? The most successful retailers realize the importance of keeping pace with industry trends and customer preferences. They also assure retail strategies are not siloed. Rather, retail leaders integrate the online, in-store and mobile customer experience through omni-channel commerce, preparing store associates for the digital age, launching capabilities in the cloud and upgrading or changing their POS systems to increase customer engagement.
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