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The Omnichannel Journey [Report]

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Earlier this year, Retail Week Connect released the 2017 report on the state of retail, based on interviews
with 25 top retail executives. Although the report is not marketing-specific as it delves into issues such as
supply chains and Brexit, there are numerous insights to be gained by diving into the data they’ve collected and published. Below are several of the highlights.

The Omnichannel Consumers Are in Control 

Was there ever a time when marketers were doing less of the driving than they are today? This is especially true in B2C marketing. Yes, B2B customers have taken over some control, many working their way far along the sales process before ever engaging with a sales rep. But in B2C, it’s even more extreme.

In large part, that’s due to customer expectations—expectations driven by technology. With social media, smart phones, and 24/7 access to just about anything they could want—including recommendations from people in their social networks—today’s consumers have very high expectations for retail, how they’re marketed to, and how they buy. Retailers might still be the ones with the goods, but the consumers are the ones dictating how those goods are marketed and sold.

2017 Retail Key Data That’s Relevant to B2C Marketing  

Although you can find compelling statistics throughout the report, pages 5 and 6 offer easily digested insight—and marketers would do well to take note. Among the tidbits:

  • Moving forward, 28 percent of retailers say they will communicate with their consumers via personalized messaging, which is an improvement. But we might be making too much of personalization: Elsewhere the report says only eight percent of consumers say a personalized experience fosters loyalty, whether that’s in-store or online.
  • Free (and fast) delivery, on the other hand, is still key to customer satisfaction, according to 62 percent of consumers—who want their purchases shipped for free and to arrive within three days.
  • Retailers might want to invest more in training and product knowledge: seven out of 10 consumers say they know more than the employee when they go shopping.
  • That said, 71 percent of retailers struggle to find the employees they need, which we’ll talk more about below.

A Single View of the Customer Is a Priority—but not a Reality

According to the report, only 18 percent of the retailers say they have reached the “omnichannel ideal” of having a single view of both customer and inventory. However, this year a further 30 percent say they are close to achieving the goal, although another 30 percent say the goal is years away.

Why do retail marketers need a single view of the customer? Because consumers expect a seamless and consistent experience across multiple channels, for one thing. As marketers continue to use social media to engage customers, in addition to email and websites, they need to know enough about that customer to provide a consistent and personalized experience across each channel.

But you can only pull that off when you have a single view of the customer, which requires leveraging Big Data…which gets us back to the employee challenge, and being able to collect customer data at each touch point.

Sadly, a third of retailers say they are several years away from having a single view of customer, 63 percent say it will require restructuring, and 45 percent say achieving that single customer view is a top priority. 

Challenges and opportunities 

That single customer view isn’t the only challenge retailers face in 2017. To meet the need for the free and fast delivery mentioned above, which plays a critical role in customer satisfaction, retailers are challenged to modify their supply chains and gain better insight into inventory.

The report calls out specific challenges faced by industries—the fashion industry faces potential upheaval due to crazy weather that wreaks havoc with our usually predictable seasons, although sportswear seems to be holding its own. However, home improvement and electronics retailers are poised for a strong 2017, because consumers want the latest technology. Smart home appliances should also do well this year, as the technology becomes more widespread.

Speaking of technology, there’s the technology itself, technology that is driving innovation, but also consumer expectations—and retailers must be adaptable and keep pace with both. What will be the next Snapchat, Instagram, or Pinterest, and will marketers be ready for it?

Shortage of Talent Hampers the Omnichannel Goal 

Speaking of challenges, we also have the issue of talent—or lack thereof. As mentioned above, 71 percent of retailers say they’re struggling to hire good employees. By this, they’re not necessarily referring to the sales staff working the floor at a brick-and-mortar location. They’re also referring to the need for employees to manage the data and the social media aspects of their businesses, as well the need for talented people to take on senior roles.

The Importance of Providing a Consistent Consumer Experience

Despite increasing technology and consumer time spent online, consumers continue to go shopping at physical store locations. They enjoy the shopping experience, but they expect a consistent brand experience, whether they’re online or onsite. In fact, 51 percent say consistent service and experiences across the board are more likely to make them loyal to a brand, more than any other factor. The report cleverly describes this as, “The customer…should have a single view of the retailer” just as the retailer should have a single view of the customer.

Retailers Plan to Evolve Communications Over the Next Year 

Finally, we get to communications, and how that will evolve throughout 2017. Retailers recognize the importance of communication as part of their marketing strategies, and 28 percent plan to increase their use of social media for customer communications during the coming year. In addition, 16 percent say they are increasing their in-store communications, and another 16 percent plan to communicate more via email. But marketers are not looking at these channels as standalone ways to communicate with consumers, rather as parts of a multimedia approach. Whether the communication is via Twitter or text, an email or a Facebook post, it must all work together, be consistent in message and brand, and be relevant to that particular customer at that particular time.

At 30 pages in length, the Retail Week Connect report on retail in 2017 offers in-depth insight into the challenges and opportunities for retailers this year as they market to the omnichannel consumer—and how they plan to navigate those challenges and opportunities. See the full report at Retail Week (registration required).

 

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