Focus on: Holiday Prep 


With summer winding down, retailers are now in the full throes of preparing for the 2011 holiday season. Implicit in their preparations is — or should be — the fact that omni-channel consumers are increasingly dictating the shopping experience and transforming the retail landscape in the process.


These consumers, more tech-savvy and “connected” than ever before, are comfortable browsing and shopping multiple channels. They have little patience for retailers that are still dividing their various channels into separate silos. Smart retailers understand that how well they cater to and attract multichannel consumers — and meet their demands for an integrated, consistent cross-channel shopping experience — will play a critical role in success this holiday season.


Indeed, the buying power of omni-channel shoppers is undeniable. Fifty percent of retailers reported that their cross-channel shoppers are significantly more profitable than their single-channel shoppers — an 11% increase from 2010, according to the “Enabling to Buy Anywhere/Get Anywhere: The Future of Cross-Channel 2011 Benchmark Report,” released by Retail Systems Research.


This puts chains in the hot seat to deliver a consistent, valuable shopping experience regardless of the touchpoint consumers use to connect with the retailer — especially during the critical holiday season. Cross-channel integration is the only way to create this consistent brand experience across all channels. Sharing common data files for product information, customer data and inventory are all critical elements required to blend otherwise disparate consumer touchpoints and their functionality. Similarly, sharing all inventory and product files across all touchpoints, and streamlining fulfillment operations throughout all virtual and physical outlets are also key. 


Mobile retailing is changing — and in some cases, complicating — the game even further. Similar to early multichannel strategies, some companies are operating mobile infrastructures separately from other touchpoints. That’s a mistake. Forward-thinking chains are already knee-deep in integrating mobile into their omni-channel strategy. 


With Black Friday and Cyber Monday not that far off, here are a few tips to jump-start the cross-channel integration effort:


• Understand which touchpoints are most valuable to your shoppers, and ensure that you can deliver consistent information through each one. Retailers can no longer build channels based solely on categories and SKUs. This strategy only creates linear or silo-ed shopping experiences for each touchpoint. >


• Stable integration platforms are a must. Retailers cannot take risks on faulty integration, or losing a connection when a shopper is ready to make an electronic purchase. Test infrastructure connections regularly. 


• Differentiate your brand with a mobile marketing strategy. Whether it is mobile coupons, special short-term mobile-specific sweepstakes or promotions, retailers need to pull out all of the stops to build excitement before their competitors do.


• Get your feet wet with mobile commerce, enabling shoppers to make purchases through mobile devices. Even if it only generates a small percentage of revenue for now, an m-commerce platform allows retailers to position themselves as forward-thinking and build long-term loyalty among tech-savvy shoppers.


• Price transparency is a must. When channels were operated in vacuums, different departments maintained different channels. As a result, prices often differed between channels. In today’s digitally connected world, that strategy doesn’t fly with omni-channel shoppers.


“This year, price transparency is a critical issue for cross-channel retailers’ value proposition,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner, Retail Systems Research, Miami.


In addition to a mobile commerce strategy, many retailers are also developing mobile enterprises for their stores. 


The payoff is significant: Arming store associates with mobile devices puts them on the same playing field as today’s tech-savvy, connected shopper and gives them access to the type of real-time information that can improve the in-store shopping experience — and even make or break a sale. It also enables mobile checkout, a convenience customers are sure to appreciate during the holidays and other peak periods. Technology that educates and empowers their employees is the key to a better in-store shopping experience, In one of the recent chain deployments, Nordstrom rolled out some 5,000 mobile devices to associates in its stores nationwide. The employees can use the Internet-connected devices to search for merchandise and complete credit-card transactions. 


A holiday 2010 report by Motorola Solutions drove home the importance of making store associates more connected. The survey found that retailers that aren’t investing in technology to stay ahead of increasingly tech-savvy shoppers are hurting their own bottom lines. Nearly three in 10 (28%) store visits ended with an average of $132 unspent due to abandoned purchases driven by deal-habituated behavior, out-of-stocks, limited store-associate assistance and long checkout processes.