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Aug 15 2011

Retail Customer Experience - Five steps to building a multichannel culture


On the surface, selling something seems like a fairly straightforward interaction. The product or service has a cost, the consumer pays that cost, the seller makes money, the consumer leaves happy. That's pretty much it or, at least, that was it.

The consumer of today has become a bit more particular about the purchase process. In fact, they can be downright demanding. Consumers no longer want to be sold. They want to experience. And now, the interconnectedness of the consumer shopping experience is a reality. Traditional and online stores can no longer function in separate silos, and that's not even talking about mobile, TV, radio, out-of-home, and the list goes on.

According to research from GfK Roper conducted on behalf of SapientNitro in Fall 2010 about American consumers' holiday shopping habits, more than half of respondents said online research fueled their in-store purchase and almost 45 percent bought an item online after shopping for similar items in a physical store. The reality is that both digital and physical store experiences influence purchases across channels. There's a proliferation of engaging digital touchpoints that influence consumer buying decisions in the new non-linear, cross-channel world of retail.

The good news is that the vast majority of retailers have recognized this new reality and are making significant investments, ranging in scale from about one to three percent of revenue, in cross-channel capabilities including online, mobile and social media to build brand and drive new revenue streams.

The not-so-great news is that despite all this momentum and spending, few companies have managed to successfully bring together the thinking, skills and experience required to create a unified, successful cross-channel organization. It's a process to getting your organization ready for cross-channel integration and now is the time to implement culture change to be part of the digital age of commerce.

Here are five factors that will help turn your organization into a customer-centric cross-channel culture club.

1. Be open-minded

The first and most important step is to think of multi-channel as a combination of touch-points that together must create a seamless customer experience, and an organization has to accommodate that change in thinking. It doesn't matter whether your customer is buying online to pick up in the store, returning online purchases to the store, doing comparative price checks on a phone while in the store or using mobile coupons in the store – marketing and merchandising have to be able to work together to create that seamless customer experience.

2. Put the customer experience first

Your customers may be the same, but their shopping habits are not. A helpful tool to use is a day-in-the-life map of what your customer actually does and wants to be able to do as she or he moves from online to store to catalog and back again. Design a set of experiences around those day-in-the-life scenarios. At SapientNitro, we call this "experience mapping" to showcase all the touchpoints that consumers have with your brand. By creating different consumer-shopping maps, your entire organization can see the interconnectedness of every channel and how that affects the end consumers.

3. Focus on the evolution, not a revolution

Recognize that any organization has to evolve over time. It's not reasonable to believe that all best practices and new ideas can be adopted from day one. It doesn't have to be a revolution, but an evolution of your organization is necessary. Therefore you cannot keep the same organizational structure that worked when shopping was a linear experience. Now, every functional area is equally important in shaping the customer's experience, but with everyone influencing behavior, sometimes no one is ultimately responsible.

4. Evaluate internal capabilities with an unbiased eye

Figure out where the current organization lies within the maturity model by assessing its capabilities in each functional area, including marketing, merchandising, web commerce, fulfillment, customer service, international expansion and IT. Consider the ability to design and execute things like targeted campaigns, seamless cross-channel support, dynamic and consistent pricing or cross-channel analytics. Evaluate against several criteria including depth of skills relative to the future vision, readiness and ability to change, and expected impact and size of impending change.

5. Look outside for comparative models and best practices

There is no one best model for cross-channel organizations, despite the intuitive appeal such as idea offers, but there are a small and finite number of viable options that can be adapted, and the core element of best thinking revolves around developing a cross-channel or digital Center of Excellence (COE) that serves as the building block for future capabilities for domestic and international needs. A balanced approach to a COE that evolves over time is usually most appropriate for customers, employees and company needs.

Consumers will continue to expect more seamless interactions that build brand experiences, boost loyalty and retention, and bring in new customers – but planning, creating and evolving the digital organization to make use of any investments in social, mobile or cross-channel commerce is the hard part, and organizations need to be thoughtful in how they focus their efforts in creating this new culture club for multi-channel retail.

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