Over the past few years, the emergence of the digital economy had already begun to change consumers’ expectations and buying habits. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the pace of change – placing more power and choice in consumers’ hands. Consumers are demanding – and smart retailers are providing – a truly Omnichannel experience. Omnichannel is more than just the consumer’s ability to shop by phone, tablet, computer, or in person. True Omnichannel represents the consumer’s ability to shop and receive products when they want and how they prefer. Examples include:
- Buy online and pickup in-store.
- Buy online and ship to the home.
- Shop at a store and have merchandise shipped to the home.
- Shop at a store and pick up at the store.
But a full Omnichannel experience extends the concept further to include the returns process:
- Buy online and return to a store.
- Buy at a store and ship returns through a mail/courier service.
The consumer now truly controls the process.
To remain competitive, retailers must adapt to be the retailer of choice for the customer – anywhere, anytime, any channel. A few things that retailers need to consider and develop robust strategies around are:
- Inventory visibility – a single, integrated view of the retailer’s inventory to allow the most flexibility in the consumer’s choices and the retailer’s ability to optimize fulfillment of orders from either distribution/fulfillment centers – or stores.
- Website and contact center – the ability to guide the customer through the sales process, answer questions, and select the best delivery method. This includes online chat capability.
- Workforce flexibility to pivot from in-store sales to fulfilling orders. Also embracing gig economy workers to help manage delivery demand peaks.
- Customer service training to handle the new variety of scenarios to ensure a customer-focused and on-brand experience.
To complicate matters even more for retailers – they must now contend with a patchwork of Federal, State, and Local COVID-19 related safety measures.
Let me share a personal story a friend recently related to me to illustrate the point:
She did a pick up at a retailer and was hugely impressed with the ease of order and pickup technology, got a text, drove up, texted back her spot, and confirmed a message someone was on the way. SCORE – great service! Until the wheels came off the bus…delivery persons were showing up at cars and interacting with drivers through an open window with a mask under their chin or on top of their head and speaking right up against the windows. Customers were leaning far away from them, and the delivery person was completely oblivious to the customer’s body language and, in some cases, just put their head in the window. Training the staff was an epic fail, and word of mouth will impact the brand. PS: She left her window up and made them yell through the glass.
So, while you are developing robust processes to create a great Omnichannel experience for your customers – don’t forget COVID-19 related issues. Create a safe and inviting environment for your customers, in addition to a convenient experience.