Close Up Of A Man Shopping Online Using Laptop With Credit CardThe concept of a unified customer experience has excited and worried retailers for some time now. Following a consumer’s purchasing journey across multiple channels yields invaluable information about shopping habits, decision-making processes, personal preferences and more. Taken together, this information can be used to create a satisfying, individualized experience. This omni-channel Golden Fleece is now well within reach, but knowing where to begin—and the thought of the initial CapEx—can leave retailers feeling overwhelmed.

Creating an omni-channel program that marries retail data and the shopping experience will require time and attention to multiple technologies and processes, but such an undertaking yields greater customer satisfaction and loyalty, which typically translates into higher sales. Below is useful data to help justify the necessary investments.

Is Creating an Omni-channel Program Worth It?

Having trouble making the case for an omni-channel initiative? Below are some noteworthy statistics that will help you justify the investment:

  1. Consumers Expect an Omni-channel Experience
  • 46 percent of respondents to a survey on online shopping habits said they often conduct research online and then go to the store to purchase higher-value items.
  • 60 percent of those survey respondents said they had used their mobile phones at some point as part of the shopping experience.
  1. A Profitable Endeavor
  • According to a report by comScore, online retail spending grew 14 percent in 2013, whereas in-store sales grew by single digits.
  • Multi-channel consumers spend 82 percent more per transaction than customers who only shop in-store
  1. Behind the Curve
  • Only 33 percent of retailers have operationalized even the basics, such as store pickup, cross-channel inventory visibility and store-based fulfillment
  • Only 39 percent of retailers today have enabled their sales associates to look up product information, although half of all consumers that visit a physical store expect this capability

It’s clear that consumers have high expectations and will spend more if those expectations are met – and that the majority of retailers have not yet thrown their hat into the omni-channel ring. That means there’s still time to get ahead of the pack and leverage an omni-channel approach for differentiation and a tangible competitive advantage.

Where to Begin?

There are three primary initiatives that comprise an omni-channel implementation:

User interface strategy – Since all retail customer touch points can be delivered through mobile devices these days, start with a “mobile first” user interface strategy and work backwards to ensure optimization and consistency across all devices.

Integrating Data – Integrate the most important retail data types, including product information (detail, inventory, pricing and promotions), customer information and order/transaction data.

Collecting & Acting on Data – Design all your customer touch points to be data collection machines and create a segmentation strategy that leverages business logic for creating a highly personalized shopping experience.

The good news is that not all three initiatives have to be implemented simultaneously. Below is a practical, step-by-step approach to create and execute a plan that will help you achieve your brand unification goals.

Step One: Use Responsive Design for Quicker Brand Consistency

The goal from the outset is to make available to store associates and consumers

in-depth product information, and to enable them to easily purchase any item from your full product assortment. Mobile devices make it possible to buy anywhere – at home, on the go, or even from a competitor’s store. Design all your touchpoints with a “mobile first” approach in mind. The quickest approach to maintain a consistent brand and user experience is by using Responsive Web Design (RWD), which offers a quick, low-maintenance way to use one code base to provide an optimal experience on any size screen. Changing over a current website to be fully responsive is a two- to four-month project depending on the complexity level, but once it’s done, it’s done.

Step Two: Integrate Data Across Channels

Providing the right customer with the right product at the right price and at the right time is the key to a truly differentiated shopping experience. Having a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM), a Product Information Management System (PIM) and an Order Management System (OMS) are the cornerstone technologies on which the omni-channel vision is built. The problem is that all this relevant, related data resides in many disparate systems. So, getting your data warehouse in order is critical for success. Representational State Transfer (REST) and REST-based API layers can enable you to quickly accomplish data integration with minimal disruption and cost. Using a RESTful API layer lets you leave your data where it is and integrate it using two-way data synchronization.

Step Three: Mobile Makes the In-Store Experience Better

When mobilizing your store, don’t forget that your employees are one of your audiences, along with your customer base. For customers, there are two primary ways to offer a differentiated mobile experience: mobile kiosk and in-store mobile native or Web app. The mobile kiosk, like the one used at Nordstrom, offers customers the ability to use a tablet to augment their shopping experience. The in-store app for consumers can take many forms, from a couponing vehicle to more complicated functions like mobile self-checkout. You will need to determine what functionality will provide an optimal level of service to stave off competing apps being used in your store.

Mobile in-store devices can help employees consultative dialog with customers anywhere in the store via clienteling apps – perfect for high-touch retailers. Another popular mobile device being used in the store is tablet-based point-of-sale (POS) devices. The mobile POS enables employees to move into the aisles where the customers are making purchasing decisions. The portable nature of the mobile POS allows for purchases to be made outside the store, such as sidewalk sales.

Step Four: Beacons for Proximity-Based Promotion

Next, based on shoppers’ exact location in your store, you can improve the in-store experience by using beacons to present offers and information. A beacon is a small transmitter that exchanges data with mobile devices that come within range. You can accurately determine the customer’s location in the store and deliver offers based on customers’ proximity to items they might be interested in. Or, make it easier for shoppers to find what they’re looking for by letting them search for items and get directions to the right department, aisle or rack.

Step Five: Integrate Data for Personalization

Integrating transaction history and in­store and online browsing behavior with

personal data yields extremely detailed insights about personal behavior, preferences, likes and dislikes of mobile shoppers. This will require further data clean-up and analytics to make it possible, but it can be worth it: 75 percent of consumers say they will switch brands if they receive a personalized offer on their mobile device.

This level of personalization is an ideal to shoot for but is not the place to start; segmentation is. If you’ve cleansed and pulled together personal data, transaction data, browsing history and other information, you can analyze the data to create a customer segmentation model. The model can help you understand who your most valuable customers are, when and why they buy, and what motivates them. Based on this information, you can create offers that will increase the frequency and size of their purchases. By the same token, you can identify customers that you’re in danger of losing and take steps to build satisfaction and loyalty.

Get in the Game

Mobile technologies have created a sea change in the retail industry. The Forrester data makes it clear that consumers today have high expectations in terms of an omni-channel experience. Creating such an experience not only provides greater customer satisfaction and loyalty but, if properly designed, can provide you with valuable insights that can provide personalization that leads to higher sales. Now is the time to jump into the fray, as late adopters stand to lose market share to those who start to make the most of mobile technologies and capabilities now.