By Tina Royall, Director of Marketing, Futura.
Arguments aside, whether you call it multi-channel or omni-channel one thing is clear; we are seeing a huge step change in retailing. And it continues to challenge everyone. Partly, because it can be difficult to get right, but also because the stakes are high, with very significant opportunities and rewards.
For customers, it means a better experience with more choice and increased convenience in how they interact with your brand and purchase products. For Retailers it means far greater reach.
Driving all this is the digital customer. The take up of smart phones and mobile devices has been astonishing, so today's consumer is always connected. They expect to browse and compare in one medium, physically see and hold the product in another, check pricing on the go, research what other consumers think, order online, collect in store or take delivery at home, at a convenient time.
The most successful retailers will be those who integrate channels in a seamless fashion. At Futura we call it 'joined up' or 'connected retail'. We believe consumers who start in one channel and continue seamlessly in another, should have a completely consistent experience wherever they go. Done well, it's about linking consumers, devices and data to provide an integrated mix of offline and online experiences with individually personalised offerings.
Of course, it's hard to see where to prioritise. Consumers are adapting to new digital technologies faster than you can blink. The important thing is not to lose sight of the basics. Distribution for example has become a much larger issue, as more and more goods are delivered to the doorstep or being shipped for collection in store.
It means that customer experience now extends way beyond the initial transaction: how you pick and dispatch items, handle returns and accurately allocate stock have become significantly more important to your brand. So warehouse integration to your EPOS system is crucial; it's where your stock originates and where orders are picked and dispatched.
Customers will expect speed and accuracy, and it's vital your warehouse team can respond. Rigby and Peller, the lingerie and swimwear retailer for example, use Futura's scanning solution to improve warehouse performance and accuracy. By automating previous data entry tasks, the brand successfully cut the time taken to process daily orders from individual stores, which in turn allows the chain to react faster to changing customer demand.
Improved accuracy and productivity in the warehouse also means a more precise tally of stock in store, saving time and ensuring stores get exactly what they need when they need it. Integrating the warehouse has other benefits for the omni-channel retailer. Accurate real time management information is vital, but you can't expect 100% stock visibility across your business if the warehouse element is a separate system. Order processing, store replenishments and the agility to move stock and respond to seasonal changes swiftly are already challenging. Disparate systems make it even harder. Seasonal peaks simply pile on the pressure.
Without 'connected retail' customer information is often fragmented too, or captured ineffectively, so you lack a single consolidated profile of each and every customer - that elusive 360 degree view. Business intelligence and analysis is poorer because of it. It's inefficient because you don't have a single real time view of stock across your business and, while many retailers offer online and offline shopping, the reality is stock control is frequently duplicated.
Another retaileron the up is Seasalt, the Cornish lifestyle retailer and clothing brand. Futura is used across their store network and supports sales in some 350 UK outlets, together with a mail order business and expanding online sales. Strong inventory control, all round stock visibility and real time information are very important to the management team. System recommendations and automatic replenishments help to optimise stock levels in store and meet demand from online sales. At the same time automating this process frees up management time for other tasks.
For Seasalt, warehouse integration has also delivered time savings and greater accuracy. Orders generated in the system are organised by stock location, with picking lists created in geographic sequence. This has seen productivity gains of 40% for warehouse staff. For customers that equates to speed of response and accuracy.
Tech savvy, brand savvy consumers might hold the high ground, but there is lots you can do to meet customer expectation. Integrating your EPOS and warehouse systems remains key.