short takes

Jan 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

Plug and Play? Not yet, although retailers wish they could. Ideally, a customer would be able to buy anything from anywhere – a brick-and-mortar store, the Web, a catalog, a kiosk – at any time, and return it the same way. In real life, though, direct merchants are beset with hardware and software incompatibilities when they try to integrate the systems that run their selling outlets.

Several studies attempt to quantify the level of integration that retailers have achieved and to suggest strategies for making multichannel operations more efficient. Among the more useful reports are those from LakeWest Group, a management consulting firm specializing in retail and consumer products. “Integrated Channel Retailing,” a white paper issued in September 2000, does an exemplary job of defining the factors you must consider to pull the different components of your business together. It isn’t just about systems, as many merchants think; rather, it’s a whole series of technology, business, and customer service initiatives.

Given the breadth of an integration project, it is hardly surprising that few merchants have come even close to achieving the widely stated goal of seamless commerce across all channels. In its “Retail Channel Integration Survey,” a study of 57 retailers operating both Web sites and brick-and-mortar stores, LakeWest Group concludes that “considerable work remains” before merchants can fully enjoy the benefits of using multiple venues to attract customers. For example, only 8.8% of respondents offer the same product selection on the Internet that they do in their stores, and a meager 3.6% enable customers to verify whether an item is available in a store while they are shopping online.

For more information, contact LakeWest Group, Key Tower, 22nd Floor, 127 Public Square, Cleveland, OH 44114; phone: (216) 535-4000; e-mail: publications@lakewest.com; Web site: www.lakewest.com.