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January 31, 2011

R.I.P. Multichannel & Cross-Channel:
An Op-Ed Piece

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It is time to retire multichannel and cross-channel. While multichannel and cross-channel once accurately reflected the touchpoints retailers had with their customers, and vice-versa, they no longer describe what is happening and what is possible in retail today.

Despite retailers trying to break down barriers between their brands and their customers through consistency, choice, and continuity (1), multichannel and cross-channel nevertheless still hold onto a business-centric view when it comes to how customers interact with retailers. "Channels" more often than not have influenced retailers' business structures, with each "channel" distinct and often siloed within the organization. Multichannel and cross-channel further imply that they are discrete entities that customers go into and come out of one at a time – online, mobile, catalog, TV, store, etc. Customers are no longer tethered to a desk, a couch, or a car in order to interact with brands. Instead customers seamlessly engage with multiple touchpoints simultaneously and creatively in search of whatever is relevant to them in that particular moment.

Take for example this recent Verizon and NFL Mobile commercial.

In the ad, the NFL network travels throughout the day in the life of a man, whose TV morphs into an iPad that morphs into a laptop that morphs into a smartphone that morphs back into a TV at his friends' house. Through each moment of his day, he is completely connected to the NFL.

While not that long ago, viewers could only watch the NFL in person or on their TV (or listen to it on the radio), now any medium is fair game. And, customers expect any medium. They want to connect with brands through every possible touchpoint, often in social and fun ways. Indeed, to limit the thinking to multichannel or cross-channel is like saying a box of 8 crayons offers as much color possibility as all the paint chips available at Home Depot.

It is no longer enough for retailers to just refer customers from one channel to another such as sending an email with a coupon to get someone in store, offering in-store pick-up and promising in store returns, or giving customers the ability to schedule delivery online. Yes, they are important. Yes, they are part of the equation. But, this level of integration is assumed to only be a standard part of buying today and not a differentiator.

Instead of multichannel and cross-channel, retailers should be focusing on and thinking in terms of connected commerce, integrated commerce, or ubiquitous commerce to differentiate themselves and help push the conversation with their customers forward.

Connected commerce keeps the narrative on social connections between the brand and its customer, between its customers, and within its organization. Integrated commerce ensures a seamless experience from point-of-sale systems to fulfillment, from social media to customer service, and from more orchestrated experiences to impromptu ones. Finally, ubiquitous commerce reinforces how ever-present and portable the retail experience has become.

Each one of these concepts captures the extensive mash-up of ways customers are shopping today. Each one of these focuses on the customer’s life today and what it might be like tomorrow. And, unlike multichannel or cross-channel, these forms of commerce are completely customer centric, where the experience has become about the total integration of the retailer’s brand.

Examples of these concepts have emerged throughout retail today. Facebook, love it or hate it, has flourished in making connections. The rise of visual search and visual connectors such as Google Goggles and QR codes get customers to information quickly and often in delightful ways. The Intel and Adidas adiVerse Virtual Footwear Wall turns limited retail space into a complete catalog that acknowledges their customers want more information than what a traditional shoe display can offer and can connect them to detailed information via the wall (2). And, what channel would a refrigerator be that streams music from Pandora and alerts you via a tweet or text when you need to pick up some new strawberries--whose barcode you scanned—because the ones tucked in the back of the refrigerator are dangerously close to expiring?

The implication of this shift in terminology necessitates a move to truly focusing on storytelling where customer context and mindset are key components rather than merely "nice to haves." It necessitates moving to a more fluid view of the brand with a spotlight on connectedness. It necessitates a creative approach that is more Willy Wonka than factory assembly line in nature.

Thank you, multichannel and cross-channel, for bringing retailers and customers through the early days of the Web and mobile commerce. But, it is time to carry the conversation further.

Dana Hawes-Davis is a Senior UX Designer in the UX Design Group at Fry.

 

Learn More

(1) Source: Simplify Cross-Channel Design Presentation by Bob Chatham, Forrester Research, 2003

(2) Read more about the Intel and Adidas adiVerse Virtual Footwear Wall at Fast Company or watch this video:

 

 

January 18, 2011

Web-to-Store: The who, what, why and how of a multi-channel strategy

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Twas a week before Christmas and I agreed to host dinner for 8 in my house built for 2. My cozy bungalow can handle what I would qualify as a cafe-style table which wasn’t nearly the size I would need. So unless I wanted my guests eating prime rib and Yorkshire pudding on TV trays in my living room I knew I had to buy a table that could easily store out in the garage after the dinner.

I was loathe to head out into the traffic and holiday shopping madness so off to the internet I went. And to be honest, I also saw it as a good opportunity to do a little research on how retailers were implementing differing versions of the concept known as Web-to-Store.

Web-to-Store, Ship-to-Store, In-Store Pick-up, In-Store Look-up: different versions of implementing a multi-channel element into a retailer's business. Research is showing the benefits of going multi-channel are:

  • A large percentage of customers research products in one channel and make purchases in another. (Pew Internet, Forrester )
  • Web-to-Store options provide a way for retailers to address one of consumers' biggest complaints about online shopping: the high costs of shipping. (Compete)
  • Once you get them in the store, retailers have the opportunity to make more sales. (Internet Retailer)
  • Of those retailers who provide multi-channel options like Web-to-Store, 69% find it a very effective sales tactic. (Forrester)

So what do the options for Web-to-Store implementations look like? The options are varied, giving retailers different entry points based on their business needs and customer base.  

Free Shipping when you Ship to Store

True Value offers their customers free shipping when they choose to ship to their local store and they promote it on every page of the site via their global header. 

Tvheader

From the global header a customer can click "Find Store" that launches a layer where on inputting a zip code will return stores closest to them. On selection and save, the global header updates with their selected store and their browse experience updates to show them products eligible to ship to that store. 

Tvshiptostore

True Value carries the ship-to-store option messaging to the thumbnails on their browse pages and remind the customer on every product details page they can get free shipping by choosing ship-to-store, and showing them the store they currently have selected. 

Tvbrowse

Throughout the customer's experience on the True Value site, all the way through checkout, the free shipping option is consistently promoted.

True Value's approach addresses the customer pain point of shipping costs by offering FREE shipping when it goes to the local store. Also, this implementation drives the customer into the store where the merchant has the opportunity for add-on sales.

The key for any ship-to-store implementation, though, is what happens after the sale. It's imperative there's communication with the customer on the store location, hours and most importantly when the item is going to be ready to pick up. At the store level, this implementation will ultimately fail and could negatively impact your brand unless the training is in place for your store associates to know how to handle the web-to-store customer. Having a separate pick-up area (which should be communicated to the customer in the order pick-up email) and making sure your store associates are trained will help extend the positive online experience into the store. 

In-Store Look-Up

Target takes a different approach by offering their customers the ability to do a store look-up to see if the product they're looking at is currently in stock at a store near them. 

Similar to True Value, within the browse experience eligible products are highlighted with a "Find it at Target Store" button on the product thumbnail. 

Targetbrowse

On click, a layer displays allowing them to do a search for their local store. The results display if the product is available at the store or out of stock. 

Targetlayer

Target does not offer the ability to reserve that item at the local store, nor does it allow the customer the ability to ship the item to the store if the product isn't available in the store's inventory.

While this implementation doesn't address the customer pain point of high shipping costs, it can provide immediate information to the customer on the product's availability (remember the large percentage of customers who research in one channel and purchase in another), which may encourage them to get into their car to drive to the local store to pick it up. Once they're in the store, the retailer has more opportunity for add-on sales. 

Another note on the in-store look-up is that while the presentation of the store availability looks real-time, it shouldn't discourage a retailer from considering it as they cringe at how they'll get their systems to do that inventory call. Unless you carry products that turn over at a very high frequency, setting up a schedule for periodic inventory updates to your back-end system will still give customers the information they want while not being a burden on your internal systems. 

In-Store Pickup

The Lowe's model not only allows a customer to look up product inventory in real-time at their selected store and ship product to their local store, it takes it one step further, by allowing the customer to purchase the item on the site from their selected stores inventory and have it ready at the store for pick-up within 20 minutes. 

Similar to True Value, Lowe's allows a customer to select their 'home' store from within the global header and consistently promotes their 20 minute in-store pick-up guarantee throughout the site. Once a store location is selected, their browse experience updates to show products available to ship to their store. 

Lowesheader

The Product Details Page calls out In-Store Pick-up as an option and even lets the customer "check inventory" which launches a layer showing inventory count at stores around their locations. 

  Lowespdpd


 Loweslayer

If a product isn't inventoried at the customer's selected store, for qualifying products, the customer still has the ability to get the product shipped to the store of their choosing with free shipping. 

The Lowe's model addresses the customer's pain point with shipping costs, gets customers into the store for add-on sales and gives the multi-channel purchaser opportunity to research in one channel and purchase (within 20 minutes!) in another channel.

Obviously an implementation such as this model requires not only a consistent training program for  store associates but a significant investment in back-end systems in order to display and monitor inventory in multiple channels. (For an example of how a retailer has taken this model one step further by including the individual stores in the inventory distribution to other stores, check out what Nordstrom's is doing). 

Take Aways

Whichever direction you decide to go, there are a few key common elements around a Web-to-Store offering every retailer should be aware of. 

  • Promote: If you're offering free shipping for ship to store, splash it all over your site. Customers care about shipping. Offering immediate in-store pick-up? Promote it. Ready in 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours...let your customers know. Even if you're just allowing them a peek into the store inventory a la Target, that's a useful tool for customers. Call it out on the site.  
  • Communicate with your customer: Make sure they know where to pick it up and when. If it's shipping from a warehouse to a store, give them a time frame. Be upfront. Keep them updated. What do they need to bring with them when they pick up their item? Receipt? Credit Card? Drivers License? Tell them. 
  • Educate your Store Associates: This cannot be said enough. It's one of the keys of successful multi-channel retailing -- the experience must be consistent across channels. Make sure your store staff knows what to do when that customer walks in the door. 

As for me, I got my table in time for the holiday dinner. The prime rib came out a bit rare, but the Yorkshire Pudding was to die for.

Nancy Tomaro is a Senior User Experience Designer in the UX Design Group at Fry. 

January 09, 2011

Preparing for the Trends of 2011

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The new year has launched and with it a bevy of predictions for 2011. The year holds much technological promise and we ourselves will be at the National Retail Federation’s 100th Annual Convention & Expo this week to kick things off. We’ve been keeping our eyes on 2011 for a while and based on what we see below are just a few of the trends we are keeping a close eye on, and preparing for.

Devices and Access Continues to Expand

As we continually heard as 2010 came to a close, a variety of mobile devices and platforms have exploded onto the scene. This variety will only increase and provide new and unique ways to accomplish everyday (and not so everyday) tasks. And though the iPad led out of the gate we’re seeing all sorts of Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPad tablets emerge, which will enable more access and usage and means online sites now need to be ready to be viewed in that format. We have already made unique adjustments to some of our clients' sites to accommodate tablet viewing and leveraged that work back into our platform so all our Web sites moving forward will be ready to be viewed on a tablet.

At the same time we also realize that devices have unique aspects to them that cannot be ignored (e.g., GPS in a smartphone) and we will pay close attention and take advantage of those capabilities within our mobile offering this year.  

Google also made us think a bit differently about what Web sites might look like in the future with the introduction of their Chrome Web Store at the end of last year. Though it still has a way to go we've known for a while that Web site technology has finally caught up to software capabilities and we'll see more leveraging of those software capabilities on Web sites in the near future.

Commerce Will Have No Boundaries

First there was “multi-channel”, then “cross-channel” and now it’s pretty much “all channels.” The ability to transact via computers, mobile devices and kiosks including various backend and third-party systems all talking to each other will provide the best experience to the customer in whatever form it is they prefer to transact. Being a part of MICROS-Retail we are excited to be able to leverage our fellow family of products to provide end-to-end commerce services to our clients using the Open Commerce Platform for online and mobile stores, CWSerenade for Order Management, Relate for Gift Cards and Loyalty and CRM, Locate to find the inventory and Xstore so the retail store has all it needs. 

Let's also not forget the TV as a device for accessing content. Google TV will make strides, expanding on the already impressive feature set like using your Android phone as a remote and “flinging” what is on your phone onto your TV.  Though things are just starting to get going in this area we'll keep an eye on how usage and needs expand for Web sites to accommodate TV viewing.

Social Network Transacting Will Become the Norm

Facebookstore In 2010 we started hearing more about how Facebook was conducting commerce and a number of vendors emerged to provide this service such as Milyoni and their Miami HEAT store, Avenda with their Brooks Brothers and 1-800 flowers.com stores, Payvement’s Adult Swim UK, and Usablenet’s JCPenney Store. Looking at each of these you can see how they vary and we may see even more players as more and more brands start selling right from social networks. The Open Commerce Platform is ready to integrate with whatever manner our clients choose to transact on these social networks and are we are excited to see the potential it provides both us and our clients.

Pay Any Way You Want To

PayPal use continues to grow and they are expanding by providing a payment service for sale of digital goods like online games, music and news. Amazon allows bank transfers which have been the norm in Europe for years. Square enables mobile devices to be payment devices. Options will continue to expand to provide ease of payment.

NFCIt is also very exciting to see Near Field Communication (NFC) becoming a reality. For years we have talked about the ability to use the mobile device as a payment device and catch up to our international counterparts. There have been multiple tests, but there were problems with getting everyone’s acts together, until now.  Google is charging ahead, first with the Nexus S, which doesn't exactly have full force NFC in affect, but its read only chip is a start and the plan is to get full NFC support in future updates. This is but one of those examples referenced above about designing mobile funcgtionality for unique mobile capablities and it will be exciting so see how this all develops. Hopefully this time next year we'll all be a lot closer to being able to swipe our phone to pay.

As I'm sure you agree, this year for commerce holds much promise and excitement. We here at Fry will be working with our clients to meet their unique commerce needs in a variety of areas and will be talking about how at the National Retail Federation’s BIG Show, this Monday and Tuesday, in New York City. If you will be there stop by our MICROS-Retail booth, 2303, and let us tell you more. And if you won't be there, we'd love the opportunity to talk to you more. Contact us and let's coordinate.