Today, retail isn’t just about how products are displayed in brick and mortar stores. It’s about the whole customer experience, from gathering information, to comparing products and pricing, to the delivery of products from suppliers to stores and their consumers.

Today’s multichannel retailing:

  • Combines the in-store as well as the online experience.
  • Incorporates mobile and even wearable technology.
  • Creates a multi-sensory shopping experience not possible in the online space.
  • Provides access to products and information not available in stores.
  • Allows retail and supply chain partners to analyze and predict shopping behavior.

Multichannel retailing in 2016 is about merging the online and offline experience. It’s about allowing customers to see, feel and touch products in stores, providing transparency and the information customers need to make decisions, and delivering on-demand fulfillment of products not displayed in stores to compete with the best of eCommerce.

But what does multichannel retailing mean for relationships between manufacturers and distributors and their retailers? Let’s take a closer look.

Multichannel Retailing: An Omnichannel Experience

Retail sometimes looks at mobile and online purchasing as a threat to their brick and mortar business. In doing so, they are missing the opportunities that omnichannel marketing could provide. Studies indicate that as many as 90% of consumers feel their smartphones are the easiest way to make a shopping list before entering a store. This is just one way that shoppers are increasingly using their mobile devices as part of the shopping experience.

Rather than seeing this as a threat, suppliers and wholesalers should encourage retailers to leverage this trend in their favor. A fact of life in retail is that while there may be limits to how much product retailers can actually carry in store, when they partner with wholesalers and suppliers to incorporate mobile shopping options that expand the selection available to shoppers in store, it increases store sales and improves customer service.

Suppliers can integrate omnichannel by partnering with retailers to set up in-store merchandising that points customers toward a mobile or online store where they can find a greater selection and more styles.

Supply Chain Collaboration

Customers who take advantage of omnichannel shopping may find a product in a retail store, and then purchase the same or a related product online. These are retail customers who carry with them the expectations of eCommerce: they expect to be able to get the products they want, when they want them, regardless of what’s on store shelves.

These changes mean that collaboration between retailers and their supply chain partners becomes increasingly important. Collaboration will transform supply chain relationships, requiring tighter linkages throughout the supply chain – from manufacturing and inventory management, to fulfillment and logistics execution, to display on the retail sales floor.

This means that suppliers and retailers must partner to provide logistics options such as home or in store delivery, that are competitive with the best of the eCommerce experience. In a sense, the retail store acts almost like a sample showroom and the wholesale supplier becomes a fulfillment partner. This means that wholesale suppliers and retailers will increasingly need to partner to improve their logistics and supply chain capabilities to meet customer demands.

Enhanced Personalization

Tailoring the shopping experience was once the role of the salesperson, but as consumers increasingly prefer to engage with mobile devices rather than real life product displays or store employees, retailers must look for ways to harness these preferences. Offering a more personalized shopping experience that incorporates mobile puts these changes in consumer behavior to work for retailers rather than against them.

There are two trends in personalization that are impacting retail now: the need for better data and analytics, and in-store beacons.

Data and analytics: Retailers are trying to gather more information about consumers, whether they are visiting an online or offline store so that they can offer more personalized marketing after the sale. These can come in the form of email offers that use past purchase information gathered at point of sale to promote additional products that might be of interest to consumers. However, these efforts face significant challenges: stores must first convince consumers to share their contact information, which they may be unwilling to do. In addition, while this kind of personalization allows retailers to personalize marketing efforts after the fact, it doesn’t really change the nature of the depersonalized in-store experience.

In Store Beacons: Retailers and suppliers are hoping that technology can solve this. The second trend in personalization is the introduction of in-store beacons. Beacons personalize the in-store experience for shoppers who are increasingly engaged with their mobile devices even as they shop. Beacons communicate with bluetooth-enabled wireless devices to enhance the customer experience and engage with customers in stores by providing discounts, rewards, recommendations and department-level deals, as well as personalized deals and product recommendations tailored for the consumers. Beacons are currently in use by large retailers like Target and Macy’s and are expected to”trickle down” to smaller retailers over the next few years.

Wholesale brands and suppliers have always been involved in helping retailers merchandise their products in stores and provide guidelines for their retail partners to follow, with an eye toward maximizing sales. But as mobile and eCommerce shopping increasingly threatens traditional retail business models, retail stores and their supply chain partners must partner in innovative ways to make the brick and mortar shopping experience complement online channels.