In order to build the right experience across channels, it is critical to take a step back and understand the complexities associated with multichannel selling. Success for merchants today requires the integration of processes and systems that were originally designed in silos.
These silos grew out of a belief that, as merchants began to move to online sales channels, they should treat each channel as a separate line of business, each with its own set of distinct processes.
For example, online channels (supported by an eCommerce platform) should support credit card payments and fulfill from a store (supported by a point-of-sale system). And phone sales should support terms accounts for B2B customers and fulfill from a warehouse (all supported by ERP software).
Fast-forward to today and shoppers expect – no, they demand to be able to shop in any channel at any time with consistent experiences. Meaning if your B2B customers want to shop online, can you offer terms pricing online when your process and systems weren’t designed to handle that?
It’s the intersection of these processes and systems that create a significant amount of complexity and disparate experiences for both merchants and their customers.
The Key Element of the Customer Journey
Although most merchants focus on optimizing the customer journey before the buy button (i.e. SEO, site design, product discovery, checkout) on each of their selling platforms (i.e. mobile devices, the Web, marketplaces), a critical component of the multichannel journey actually happens after the buy button.
In the eye of today’s shopper, all merchants today must deliver the minimum service level, including no out of stocks/back orders which means displaying accurate inventory availability online, communicating a ship date when the order is placed, and providing the estimated delivery date when the order is placed, and updating it as the order is fulfilled.
At the core, consumers expect an experience that is very transactional in nature, and if a merchant cannot publish and guarantee those things shoppers will go elsewhere. In other words, effective multichannel selling means delivering an experience that matches what shoppers already experience on Amazon. In the world of next-day delivery and free shipping, today’s consumers have become accustomed to a minimum service level and transparency into inventory and fulfillment.
For many merchants, delivering this minimum service experience is much easier said than done – and is particularly complex with multiple sales and fulfillment channels.
Why? Because orders are coming in from various sales channels in various formats, merchants may be selling to different customer segments (B2B or B2C) within the same channel, which can ultimately cause variants in how products are priced and how they pay, and various fulfillment locations makes tracking/reporting inventory and coordinating fulfillment especially tricky.
Consequently, the complexity of multichannel selling begins and ends with the intersection of these components – sales, customer type and fulfillment. We call this concept, “Converged Commerce.” This requires the choreography of a series of distinct capabilities benchmarked against your company’s brand promise or market expectations.
The Cross-Channel Choreography
While many merchants offer the right services (i.e. payment methods and fulfillment options), many have neglected to define the unified experience that integrates all of those capabilities across all sales channels and customer types.
For example, can a B2B customer place an order on your website, choose to pay with a credit memo and have the item shipped via LTL carrier to their new office in Kansas? Or would that transaction require a call to the sales rep and end up moving from online to post-it note?
To be successful in multichannel, silos must be broken down, capabilities sorted into segments, and specific paths mapped out to support differentiated customer experiences. Only then will merchants be capable of delivering the buy anywhere, receive anywhere, return anywhere experience that shoppers expect.
Once you understand the challenges of the ever-evolving retail environment, you will be better equipped to elevate your multichannel operations to ensure you’re delivering a competitive customer experience that attracts and keeps buyers coming back.
Steve Weber is president & CEO of nChannel.