Crosschannel Retail Remains a Work In Progress

Retail continues to evolve, and the pace of change is accelerating as consumers find different ways to shop and retailers are scrambling to embrace new technologies that are reinventing the “sport” of shopping. In many ways, today’s playbook bears little resemblance to retail best practices of a few years ago, according to what we learned over the past few years and validated in our 2011 Cross-Channel Readiness Survey.

For the majority of retailers we assessed, cross-channel readiness remains a work in progress. Out of a possible 575 points, for instance, the retailers had a combined average of 320 points in an analysis of all touchpoints, including the web, mobile, call centers and in-store. This clearly demonstrates that providing a satisfying and consistent experience across all channels remains a daunting task – operationally, technically and even culturally.

Progress in key areas
This is not to say that retailers haven’t made progress in some fundamental areas – especially in delivering consistent product information and pricing across channels. In 2009, for instance, only 46% of retailers offered in-depth product descriptions across all touchpoints.

Two years later, 87% of retailers offer product details on the web and via mobile, in stores and through call centers. Retailers clearly understand the increasing importance of creating a cohesive experience across all touchpoints.

Judging from the fact that 100% of retailers surveyed have mobile websites, mobile technology has ascended quickly in relative importance to retailers. Social media has gained amazing traction, too, with 88% of retailers enabling social “sharing” on their web stores.

Of declines and challenges
Although we charted progress in some areas, we were surprised by backward steps taken, too.
In call centers, for instance, 45% of sales associates tried in 2009 to take sales further, upselling or recommending additional items. Surprisingly, that number declined to 24% in 2011.

In an age where collaborative filtering, a wealth of intelligence on customer behavior, and emerging tools like the mobile POS are widely available, this decline is difficult to explain – except to say that retailers are not making the requisite investments to arm and empower sales associates with information they can use to better serve customers.

While not necessarily reflected in our survey results, there’s another potential bump in the road that can fuel backward momentum. Many retailers are treating mobile as a new shopping channel rather than seeing it for what it really is – a bridge between the best online and in-store shopping experiences. A mobile phone is not just a new type of browser, but a powerful shopping assistant for in-store shopping.

What makes a winner?
Best Buy, Sears and Target are reinventing retail, actively reimagining the shopping experience and enabling a consistent customer experience across all channels. These best-in-class retailers had a combined average that was 69% higher than the overall field of retailers assessed in the Cross-Channel Readiness Survey. The leader, Best Buy, scored 465 points followed by Sears at 425 points and Target placed third with 400 points. So what makes a winner?

Each of these high-scoring retailers put the customer first. All activities and strengths flow from this priority – technology acquisition, integration across all channels, promotions, what they know about their customers and how they use the information.

Opportunity areas where retailers can get (more) game
Survey results also revealed areas where the aperture of opportunity is open for the agile. Retailers can quickly close gaps and take wallet and market share in a number of key areas.

  • Location-based marketing in-store via mobile. Through smartphones, retailers now have the ability to market to consumers based on where they are standing in a store.
  • Just 24% of in-store sales associates tried to upsell shoppers. Tools such as the mobile POS can enable retailers to leverage a customer’s browsing and transaction history across channels, while cross-channel analytics engines can offer a more holistic view of customers and their intentions.
  • 64% of retailers fail to provide estimated shipping charges on their web stores. Correcting this omission can significantly reduce the chances of cart abandonment.
  • 48% of retailers are not offering product ratings or reviews on their website. The absence of reviews is a missed opportunity for customer satisfaction and revenue growth.

Many experts say that the consumer has changed dramatically in recent years. Not true, in CrossView’s opinion. What truly has changed is technology, which is enabling consumers to interact with brands how they want. In other words, the customer is calling the shots – and that’s how it should be.

Mark Fodor is CEO of CrossView.