Today’s customers are looking for a seamless purchasing experience, whether that’s in-store, online, or a combination of both. But the so-called “last mile” — the time it takes for a shipment to reach a customer —can be a thorn in the side of a retailer. Enter in-store fulfillment.
Benefits of in-store fulfillment
Mounting shipping costs are costly for retailers who are reluctant to pass them along to customers who are looking for the best price for every item, as well as free shipping.
By offering in-store fulfillment, the delivery process can be seamless as customers choose from curbside delivery, click and collect, and buy online/return in-store options.
Employees can address customer requests in real-time, monitor inventory, and deliver attentive service.
In-store fulfillment means retailers no longer have to route products exclusively to a warehouse.
Nordstrom and Kohl’s are excellent examples of putting the strategy into practice.
They can fulfill orders from the store closest to the customer’s location, leveraging their stores as fulfillment centers and shipping orders directly to customers, reducing costs and speeding up deliveries.
Ship-from-store, ship-to-store, and in-store pickup can then be handled with one solution that optimizes in-store inventory usage and reduces the time and cost for fulfilling online orders.
Perhaps the most daunting part of the process is getting a 360° view of inventory by connecting data from e-commerce sales with in-store transactions.
Determining the correct timing for syncing online data and orders with in-store POS is vital; solutions can be configured to sync data at any interval, including real-time, hourly, nightly, or at other intervals that make sense for a retailer’s operations and network capacity.
If syncing lags, inventory can fall behind, and there’s a risk of selling out of products that have already been committed to online orders.
With seamlessly connected channels, shoppers can buy products online and pick them up in the store that same day.
Store associates can receive pick lists to select and package the products ordered online.
Selecting off-the-shelf products increases inventory turn and decreases the duplication that comes with holding a separate online order inventory.
In-store fulfillment completes the frictionless purchasing experience.
Customers get quick, free delivery — often receiving their items even faster than ordering online.
Retailers, in turn, move inventory more rapidly, helping to maintain price stability.
Both shoppers and retailers benefit from a more efficient customer experience.
In-store promotions are designed to attract customers to brick-and-mortar stores, build brand or product awareness and provide benefits that online shopping simply just cannot give them. If customers are not visiting the store they might be missing out on special promotions, discounts or free giveaways.
Also when customers shop at a local business, they are strengthening the local economy as well.
In order to compete with eCommerce, loyalty programs for physical stores have to be more than just membership cards. Creating a loyalty program is a great way to effectively strengthen your brand image, connect with your customers, improve your retention and drive more in-store sales. Following the pandemic touchless solutions are playing an essential role in the in-store experience. It is crucial that retailers show customers that they are invested in their safety as stores reopen.
Enroll Customers Into Your Loyalty Program In-Store In a Fun Way
Show customers how your in-store location is just as enjoyable as shopping online by:
Vivifying the thrills of shopping in person via allowing your customers to browse your online shop in your physical location
Making sure your physical and digital stores work together
Letting your customers interact with your products
Also, reward your returning customers with a loyalty program by offering discounts after a certain amount of visits, access to special in-store events and other perks. If they like the program they are more likely to recommend your store to friends and their families. Special offers by push notifications, personalized offers will help you enhance brand experience.
Bridge the gap between offline and online customer interactions with digital loyalty cards, which is an effective solution to boost in-store engagement and reach more customers through location-based messages, thereby driving multiple business KPIs.
According to a study by Deloitte experience has become the differentiating factor for businesses. Over 50 percent of customers say that the overall enjoyment of the shopping experience was important when making their final decision. When customers visit a store and are offered experiences such as large video display walls, a cafe, kids’ corner, virtual reality they will want to return. All these create a memorable experience and soar customer expectations.
Retailers can engage with in-store customers by enriching the offline customer journey, by offering them fun, easy and convenient ways to interact with gamified features. For instance, an offline treasure hunt, where customers need to find marked treasures or products inside the store, then use their mobile to scan the item’s barcode for a reward. You can prompt customers to thoroughly inspect the whole store, ensuring that they discover products or sections they would have overlooked otherwise. Send customers a push notification inviting them to play a fun game and win rewards. A Prize Wheel is ideal for mobile apps if you prefer touchless engagement for in-store devices. Showcase the prize wheel on an in-store device to instantly catch customers’ attention. Customers can approach the wheel and take a spin, giving you a new way to engage them.
Implementing a touch-free solution like QR codes on brochures or on signages in different areas of the shop, on the counter or in the dressing rooms, is a great way to make customers aware of your loyalty program. You might consider putting a QR code on the tags of your most popular products, so customers can scan it with their phone and receive a reward in return such as a small gift at the counter or a sum of loyalty points. Make sure to let the customer know that upon scanning the QR code they get rewarded.
DSW, the American branded footwear and accessories retailer featured QR codes on their magazine ads to engage customers. When customers scan the QR code they are taken to the DSW’s mobile site, where they can find the store nearest to them to view the products in person, check their order status, view DSW’s rewards program, and redeem their loyalty points, or make a purchase then pick up their order curbside, completely contactless.
NFC technology is a great way to spice up in-store customer engagement. With its help, you can create novel in-store experiences. It allows retailers to connect quickly and easily with customers at every step of the customer journey. In a loyalty program, NFC enables people to use their smartphones to interact with store-exclusive loyalty program features.
In Timberland’s Manhattan flagship store around 50 percent of the store’s inventory had been equipped with NFC tags. Upon tapping information about the product came up on the screen. The NFC tag was integrated to collect data from the customer. The store started adding credit for customers who signed in on the tablets, adding an extra touch to the customized shopping experience.
Beacon technology boosts customer experience by increasing efficiency, providing money savings, convenience, inspiration, and personalization. With targeted ads and brand offers, notifications and greetings on special occasions, you can add value while increasing trust. With just a single beacon near the entrance of a store, you could send a promotional notification to the user whenever they enter it or track how many users come to the store in a specific timeframe.
Target, the American retail corporation, is using beacon technology to help in-store customers to use Target’s app to create shopping lists, and then see where items are located in-store. As they move, their location changes in real-time, showing them whether they’re getting farther or closer to the product.
Introduce a Kiosk In-store
Self-service kiosks are a rising component of in-store technology. It gives customers the possibility to shop for both the physical and online product offerings. They help shoppers gather information and speed up the shopping process. In-store kiosks are also a great way to promote a loyalty program. You can either set up a kiosk where waiting customers typically gather or offer priority lanes as a members-only feature. It is also an excellent solution to make sure customers are entertained while standing in line.
In order to help the customer as much as possible in finding products and to prevent lost sales, the ANWB, a travelers’ association in the Netherlands, needed a new solution to offer customers products that are not yet in stock. The kiosk has almost the same performance as the webshop on a PC, but the navigation especially works in terms of visual language and icons. By adding NFC technology to the kiosk retailers can ensure contactless touch screens for the customers making in-store shopping even safer in the post-pandemic world.
Obviously, human interaction has a great impact on a customer’s emotional connection to a retailer. It will be especially of outstanding significance following the pandemic when everyone is craving a return to normal face-to-face communication. Well-trained sales associates can help boost loyalty program membership rates, as one of the easiest ways to inform your customers about your loyalty program and how their today’s transaction will get them closer to earning exciting rewards.
The Douglas perfumery chain’s loyalty card, called the Beauty Card, makes it possible for the company to serve their customers in a much more personalized way both online and offline. Besides offering several benefits, such as birthday surprises, product samples and invitations to exclusive events. They also offer makeup refreshing, skincare services, and beauty tips in-store.
Brick-and-Mortars Coming Back to Life
Following COVID-19 face-to-face interactions will be receiving an even greater emphasis, as customers are hungry for communication. As shopping has evolved dramatically over the past several decades, the competition between retailers is fiercer than ever. Customer buying behavior is constantly shifting, not only when it comes to in-store shopping but online shops have also joined the race for customers, providing them with more choice and convenience.
Nevertheless, it is important not to overlook your stores as a crucial touchpoint in generating long-term customer loyalty. While customers are growing more comfortable with online shopping every day, the in-store experience isn’t going away anytime soon.
One of the big reveals during the past 13 months is that people need (and want) to shop, and that e-commerce filled that desire both for necessities and luxuries.
Small, neighborhood businesses with no online presence had the toughest time surviving, while online stores with brand recognition — ironically, often due to a brick-and-mortar presence — fared the best.
Most strikingly, big, traditional shopping mall “anchor” stores felt the sting of greatly reduced foot traffic, while also enjoying a significant uptick in e-commerce revenue.
For example, Nordstrom forecasts sales to increase more than 25% this year, with digital accounting for roughly half of all revenue. Malls have been losing foot traffic for years. Moody’s industry research arm Real Estate Solutions (REIS) forecasts that malls vacancy rates will reach 14.6% by the end of the year as retailers regroup post-pandemic and reconsider their store locations.
Brick & mortar format shift
And yet, customers consistently report enjoying an in-person shopping experience. Nothing truly can replace an experience of being able to touch and feel merchandise.
A case in point is the venerable Macy’s department store, a 162-year-old retail institution, which announced a year ago it would be closing 125 stores in “lower-end” malls during the next three years.
Macy’s strategy was to focus on locations with stronger sales as well as online operations. Then came lockdown and the pandemic era, and as shoppers tried to avoid malls, stores found ways to adapt.
Macy’s mall exodus is not unique; Dillard’s, J.C.Penney, Kohl’s, and Belk are also reportedly looking at freestanding and strip center locations.
Nordstrom, too, has been successful with its small format stores and intends to continue expanding those outlets along with its digital presence as part of its “Closer to You” long-term growth strategy.
Small stores, customer-forward strategies
According to reports, the stores will have full-service and possibly self-checkouts as well as same-day deliveries.
In addition, they will offer “buy-on line, pick-up in store” or “click and collect” service, which often comes with curbside pickup.
Such smaller stores are embracing the concept of offering a curated product selection, a characteristic more often associated with luxury stores. It provides these large retailers an opportunity to be flexible, react more quickly to buying trends and become more relevant to today’s clientele.
By showing a willingness to experiment with innovative merchandising ideas, these prominent retailers may not only rediscover their place in the industry, but also once again become leaders.
How quickly goods get from a warehouse to a customer depends on what’s called the “last mile” of the supply chain.
The efficiency of that final leg ultimately determines the customer’s satisfaction with the buying journey.
The Last-Mile challenge
Retailers face the challenge of managing their supply chains to keep delivery times short while keeping costs low.
Customers overwhelmingly opt for fast, free delivery when placing orders, which has led to a growing need for a broad distribution network, including warehouses.
Logically, such distribution centers should be in close proximity to the customers they serve.
CBRE Research analyzed the 15 largest U.S. metro areas and found that distances range from six miles in the San Francisco Bay Area to nine miles in the “Inland Empire,” a region east of Los Angeles County.
Not surprisingly, highly urbanized and dense population centers tend to be closer to last-mile facilities, while more suburban locations were farther away.
Proximity is important because customers expect fast delivery.
As Amazon continues to push the limits of logistics by offering same-day delivery, other retailers are expected to provide two-day delivery — at the latest. That final step in the delivery process is the most expensive and complex.
Gather and analyze logistics data
Companies collect so much data that it’s easy to suffer from information overload.
Gathering data is only the first step in understanding what is happening.
The real valuable information only comes to light after the analysis.
Put all of the “last leg” data in one centralized visual analytics tool, crunch the numbers to better understand the ins and outs of the last mile delivery process, and make regular adjustments as needed.
Offer Real-Time Delivery Tracking
Static tracking numbers are so last decade.
Invest in building or sourcing an app for your customers that tracks driver locations live and provides accurate ETAs, like the Uber of last-mile deliveries.
In addition, text messaging customers with updates on the delivery process creates a transparent process that supports a frictionless buying experience.
Many challenges associated with last mile delivery are outside of the retailer’s control, for example:
The number of orders picked and packed daily
The frequency that orders are picked up by the carrier
The proximity of the warehouse to the customers
The number of deliveries made daily
Many retail businesses partner with external fleets and use multiple carriers.
But there are ways to improve the “last mile,” and retailers can take more control of their business’s last mile logistics to identify inefficiencies quickly and improve their customers’ experience in a delivery-first world.
For retailers, a unified commerce strategy is built on the foundation of integrated retail technology for an efficient, frictionless customer experience across channels.
Unified commerce gives retailers a smooth, efficient means of transacting business, because inventory, sales, e-commerce, and fulfillment system data is integrated to regularly and automatically keep inventory availability and customer details synced and up to date.
From Point of Sale to e-commerce, from CRM to inventory management, all these technologies need to be connected so retailers have a clear picture of who their customers are and how to provide what they want.
Interaction with customers
Each time a customer enters the retail store, they leave behind a wealth of data for any retailer who can measure their interactions within the store:
What was bought?
What was picked up but not purchased in the end?
What was the dwell time near products that were not purchased?
How long was the customer in-store?
Was this an online pickup?
Did they purchase other items along with their online pickup?
Those answers, when documented with technology, inform a retailer’s back-end systems, so inventory can keep pace with demand, and so marketing teams can keep pace with customer needs.
To collate and analyze that information, retail processes and tools must be intelligently integrated in a retail management platform like Retail Pro to enable sharing of relevant data across both customer-facing systems and those that integrate with backend vendor systems.
Applications from the point-of-sale report on purchases, inventory, and customer data. Sharing this data with an integrated warehouse management system allows warehouse staff to have insight into stock levels currently on the shelves, and to place orders with suppliers as supplies diminish.
Sharing the data with a loyalty and personalized marketing platform like AppCard for Retail Pro allows marketing teams to create targeted campaigns around a customer’s purchase history.
Consistent data across channels
That principle also applies to in-store sales staff—they should have the same product information available as retailers’ online channels.
Integrating your ecommerce software with your POS can give store staff the visibility they need to serve customers who call in to verify stock availability before coming in.
Customers who started their retail journey at home but then switch “channels” to come into the brick-and-mortar store must be certain that inventory is in sync: Surprises such as realizing that products aren’t in stock when the web site said they were there are unacceptable.
There are a number of technologies that retailers can put in place to provide a seamless customer-facing experience.
Shelf labels and cameras can map consumers’ movements within the store. That helps in product layout for future products, and in product forecasting. They can also indicate where is the heaviest foot traffic within the store.
Beacons can communicate with an app on the customer’s phone to notify them of product sales when customers are in the store’s vicinity, enticing them to stop in.
When integrated with the POS as well, interactions in the app which originated from a beacon trigger and resulted in the ultimate purchase can be properly attributed to track the efficacy of the tools and campaigns put in place.
The connected data then provides insight also on unvoiced customer needs which are nevertheless discernable through their interactions with a retailer’s various channels.
Integrating data in retail technologies provides the foundation for retailers to more effectively determine and act on customer needs for a better customer experience.
Excellent customer service has always been the hallmark of well-established, highly respected retailers.
Nordstrom’s, Zappos and Trader Joe’s are a few of the best examples of retailers that make concerted efforts to make and keep customers happy.
Before 2020, many retailers were happy to let those top-rated companies be the standard bearers for superior customer experience.
Meanwhile, many retailers continued servicing customers with no real CX roadmap.
It appeared to the uninformed that the return on investing in the customer service wasn’t worth the time and money spent.
And, the truth was, mediocre customer service was tolerated – until COVID came and retailers were forced to answer a deluge of customer questions and provide new services without much preparation.
In 2020, customer service became the only thing that mattered to customers.
COVID led to an expanded definition of customer service
Shopping last year meant dealing with lockdowns caused by COVID-19.
The global pandemic made getting to stores difficult, so, at first, many if not most customers were ordering online.
And while those retailers may have believed they dodged the CX bullet, they were in for a surprise.
Retailers learned the customer service is not simply to answer questions about shipping and billing, but it is also to offer information and help for those struggling with the Coronavirus.
Customers may be desperately searching for products or information on payment options because can’t pay a bill, or are otherwise frustrated by the pandemic hindrances to getting products they need are reaching out via texts, online chat and phone calls.
This year, Forrester predicts customers will continue to look toward retailers for sympathetic customer support.
Forrester Principal Analyst Ian Jacobs recently wrote, “With U.S. unemployment peaking in April, millions of individuals found themselves struggling to pay for food, bills, and other necessities. Organizations must react to provide high-quality, emotionally sensitive customer support in the flexible ways that consumers need.”
In a word, it must be frictionless. For example, a capable site search tool can be invaluable for customers.
Likewise, chat bots are particularly helpful for providing succinct answers quickly; in addition, bots with the power of artificial intelligence bots can reflect whatever personality a brand wants to project.
Adding relevant services based on discerned customer needs
Another way to differentiate customer service is to launch a virtual service based on fulfilling a defined need.
Online pet supply provider Chewy, for example, has seen a huge surge in business during the coronavirus pandemic.
But its newest offering, a telehealth service for pets, was launched in response to customers telling service agents about their pet’s problems – while they are ordering food, treats, toys, etc.
The virtual service was on the roadmap for years down the road, but the company saw the need was for now, and launched in October.
Which services will carry on beyond COVID?
This year, consumers will let retailers know which innovations will “stick,” and become part of their future shopping expectations.
Top of mind are questions such as: Will the evolution of click and collect to curbside delivery remain a shopping option? Will jewelers continue to offer virtual consultations? How will retailers be able to support the expansion of the sales channel without spreading their staffs too thin?
Those and many others will be answered by 2021 shopping patterns. And perhaps some new “kings of customer service” will be crowned.
In retail’s busiest months when supply chains are most strained, stores face stockouts that translate to lost sales and potentially lost customers.
Endless aisle improves a brand’s ability to satisfy customers by offering a more robust product selection.
Online, selections are virtually limitless; endless aisle solutions allow traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to effectively compete and save sales.
Extending in-store inventory
True omnichannel offerings match, complement, and sync customers’ online and mobile experiences with that of an in-store visit.
Endless Aisle can be achieved simply at your store by offering inventory visibility to both customers and associates through mobile touchpoints.
For example: While that Michael Kors bag may not be on the shelf in hot pink, it is an available color offered by the brand.
Using an in-store mobile device, a customer can peruse all the brand’s selections, and an associate can place the order for any desired color—as well as any matching accessories—and have it delivered to the customer’s home.
Though the delivery will still have to pass through the same supply chains, the customer is satisfied in knowing the item has been purchased and is on its way, rather than feeling the frustration of not getting the item upon which they had set their hopes.
Checking stock availability for BOPIS
In addition to extending the in-store experience, Endless Aisle can manage a number of tasks for at-home shoppers as well.
That includes stock visibility for those who want to check whether a product is available before heading in-store to purchase, as well as those who simply want to pick up their online orders at a retail location.
Buying online and picking up in store (“BOPIS”) has significantly increased due to COVID-19: Research firm McKinsey reported in the early stages the global pandemic that BOPIS usage grew 28 percent year over year in February compared with 18 percent in January.
For those shoppers wanting to avoid the ecommerce delivery wait with impacted supply chains, getting visibility into in-store stock availability helps them leave the house with a plan and a high probability of its success.
Saving sales for out-of-stocks
It’s estimated that 10% of online and in-store sales are lost due to items being out of stock.
It’s even possible that, if potential customers are turned away, they may never return, compounding the loss of revenue.
Providing associates with quick and easy one-touch access to inventory of a network of stores or warehouses reduces the likelihood of losing sales, especially when the product is in stock at another store location.
Creating a personal shopper experience
Endless Aisle solutions offer retailers flexibility with inventory: Stores don’t have to stock every single item.
They can showcase best-selling items in their (often very) expensive retail space.
Pricey or very large items can be represented on the retail floor, and a full complement can be viewed in-store within the Endless Aisle on a mobile device, with an associate close at hand to answer any questions.
In that way, salespeople become trusted advisors, instantly accessing detailed product information and stock availability, searching for products in other store locations and within warehouses.
AI-generated style recommendations can help round out a sale with perfect add-on accessories.
Orders are placed directly and can be sent right to the customer’s home or business.
By avoiding lost sales and delighting customers with virtually limitless options, Endless Aisle technology can boost revenue and sales.
An effective Endless Aisle solution blends the best part of online and in-store shopping, helping you outpace the competition.
The holiday season has arrived and while we can’t expect business to resemble years prior, there is a way retailers can make the most of it.
Customer experience matters now more than ever and everyone knows it! Many retailers are running promotions to attract business, and those without a means to directly communicate these promotions will struggle.
So how do you stand out from the crowd this holiday season?
Watch this webinar to see:
How to creatively use the Holidays as a means to gain shopper attraction
How to create a safety net for your business in the upcoming year
Unifying data sources for a holistic customer view
The key to understanding the customer is having software that brings together certain data that is scattered throughout the business.
Combining various data sources into a heterogeneous whole in business intelligence solutions like Retail Pro Decisions helps retailers consume data to uncover customer patterns and needs and optimize processes for serving these needs.
That information may lie within other channels and includes shopping history, preferences, consents, products owned and relationships with other customers.
Many of those other channels, such as social media or mobile apps, provide rich information on customer preferences.
Brick and mortar locations use POS data as well as technology such as line-of-sight detection, which uses sensors to collect data from eye movements, allowing retailers to identify shopping patterns and tailor the customer experience to those habits.
Collecting focused data to solve specific needs
Collecting every shred of information is time consuming and burdensome.
It is also, according to Gartner, unproductive.
Identifying a problem first and then collecting data related to that issue is a far more efficient solution.
A number of customer experience problems can be addressed by gathering specific information and applying it to specific problems, such as long customer wait times, inadequate communication and low inventory.
POS solutions like Retail Pro Prism that integrate CRM software can be tailored to collect certain information that provides a customer view that will help retailers predict shopping trends.
What information should be collected?
Retailers should filter their data through a lens of what will help them improve each interaction with a customer.
All information gathered should be able to be used to enhance the relationship with that customer.
The more precise the data is, the more targeted marketing campaigns for each customer segment can be.
And that will provide retailers with the ability to offer more personal, proactive customer service based on an individual’s buying habits.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told Bloomberg that augmented reality (AR) is “changing the whole experience of how [customers] shop.”
Considering the typical experience of entering a store, looking through the merchandise, speaking to an associate and paying for the purchase has, in some cases, changed very little in the United States since Colonial times, until COVID-19.
Now, with social distancing and the Stay at Home life, augmented reality can bring brand stores home to their customers.
AR for COVID-19 omnichannel
AR could be a very effective tool for retailers looking to enhance their omnichannel retail strategy while shoppers are still hesitant to return to stores with the pandemic’s ongoing threat.
AR adds digital elements to a live view usually by using the camera on a smartphone.
In a store, shoppers typically already have their smartphones out, so taking over that screen’s real estate with AR content can deliver additional information that will grab consumers’ attention and keep them focused on making a purchase.
Brick and mortars and e-commerce could benefit from AR advantages over more traditional advertising efforts.
Merging digital and physical retail
The technology can merge online and offline customer experiences through an intuitive, context-sensitive, and socially connected interface.
How will that desk look in my home office? Will that color red look good on me?
AR puts the desk in your room or the blazer on your back, using the smartphone’s camera.
AI currently serves as an attention-grabber for retailers looking to deliver novel experiences.
It also provides interesting potential benefits to customers – such as allowing them to “showroom” a product at home, or see a product in its future environment, helping them to make more informed purchase decisions.
With shoppers unable or unwilling in many regions still to visit stores, augmented reality’s showrooming benefits could be an opportunity for a more consultative approach to distance sales.
Bringing customer value
Customers have been slow to warm up to AR, often considering it gimmicky and failing to see much value in it, but COVID-19 may change that perception.
The technology can deliver real value during the lockdown if firms are able to prioritize actual customer needs, such as more efficient and enjoyable shopping experiences that reduce decision-making uncertainty.
In contrast to other emerging technologies, which immerse customers into a fully synthetic environment (e.g., virtual reality), AR supplements reality rather than replaces it.
As such, it is the perfect lynchpin between the online and offline world.
Contextualizing experiences & spreading the word
AR contextualizes products and services by embedding digital content into the customer’s physical environment, interactively and in real-time and increasingly allows customers to share their enhanced view of reality with others.
Customers draw on their own physical experiences and actions to learn more about products and services, while also relying on others to support them in product or service evaluation.
Because people have a natural tendency to share their experiences with peers, customers commonly consult peer reviews, go shopping together, and increasingly share their shopping in real-time through highly visual social media such as Snapchat.
AR blurs the boundaries between online and offline channels by providing a combination of embedded and extended experiences.
Retail Pro International (RPI) is a global leader in retail management software that is recognized world-wide for rich functionality, multi-national capabilities, and unparalleled flexibility. For over 25 years, RPI has innovated retail software solutions to help retailers optimize business operations and have more time to focus on what really matters - cultivating customer engagement and capitalizing on retail's trends. Retail Pro is the chosen software platform for omni-channel strategy by retailers in 130+ countries.