Stellar holiday customer experience now requires that merchants orchestrate offerings across multiple boundaries.
Not only must merchants follow shoppers as they move from touchpoint to touchpoint; they must also coordinate customer interactions with both automated systems and human representatives to ensure consistent, effective communication.
With holiday shoppers placing a premium on time savings and convenience, merchants need to enact a customer experience strategy that proactively addresses the most common fulfillment questions as orders move across touchpoints and channels. To ensure they can meet these high expectations, sellers should spend the remaining months until holiday kickoff perfecting and testing the transitions that drive successful omnichannel experiences.
Optimize engagement across the online/offline divide
Given that more than half of all retail transactions involve digital brand interactions at some point in the research and purchase process, capabilities for tracking orders and customers across multiple touchpoints are now mandatory, and delivering experience that seamlessly picks up where shoppers last left off is crucial to customer satisfaction.
Time sensitivity is an added factor during the holiday season, with shopping activity spiking on key sales days and fulfillment activities geared toward specific dates. As shoppers hurry to complete their gift lists, the pressure is on for merchants to deliver seamless, unflappable experiences. In the weeks prior to holiday kickoff, they should optimize and test:
Flexible fulfillment services.
Putting gifts into shoppers’ hands on time is merchants’ top customer service job during the holiday season. Although the goal is straightforward, the logistical challenges behind it are increasingly complex. As newer store fulfillment services and online delivery options become increasingly popular, merchants must have rock-solid order management capabilities and inventory tracking to ensure that products are routed to where customers need them. Sellers should optimize and test:
- Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS). Seven in 10 consumers now report using BOPIS, and 50% say availability of the service determines where they’ll shop, according to Business Insider. The free service is an ideal way for shoppers to take advantage of anytime, anywhere online ordering, while avoiding home delivery charges.
The potent combination of convenience and savings makes BOPIS especially attractive during the holidays. Last year, holiday usage of BOPIS jumped 50%, according the Adobe. More than a quarter of Black Friday shoppers visited stores to pick up something they’d already ordered online, and close to two-thirds of those order pickups resulted in additional in-store purchases, the ICSC found.
As BOPIS demand rises, merchants are struggling to keep up. Two thirds of retailers say inventory inaccuracies made their offerings inconsistent, RetailWire reported, and 40% have identified new fraud threats related to BOPIS orders, a survey from Signifyd found. Heading into the holidays, merchants should do their utmost to smooth out any such glitches.
- Ship-from-store and store-to-store networks. Retailers who can tap store inventory to fulfill requests from other locations stand to benefit on multiple levels. For online orders, delivery costs are potentially lower and customers may receive items faster than from a centralized distribution center, while also giving them the opportunity to connect with local store services and events. In addition, stores that can route merchandise to other nearby outlets where items are out-of-stock gain flexibility and, ultimately, a better picture of inventory demand. Managing the complexities of intra-store transfers and multi-store shipping networks requires not only accurate inventory, but up-to-the-minute order management tracking and plenty of store employee training — all three of which should be tested in the weeks leading up to holiday kickoff.
- Reverse logistics. With close to one in three gifts due to be returned, merchants should ensure store personnel and call center reps alike are well-versed in the process and consistently execute policies, especially for cross-channel returns (such as online purchases brought back to a store location).
Store associate interactions.
Retailers increasingly acknowledge that store associates hold the key to omnichannel success. Execution of online-to-offline services such as BOPIS rely on front-line personnel who are tech-savvy and customer-focused. For that reason, technology researcher Forrester found that 61% of retailers plan to boost investment in store employee training and development, and 42% reported hiring more or significantly more store staff.
During the holiday season, front-line staff are more critical than ever. As retailers bring on seasonal help, they should ensure associates are well-versed in store technologies, and can smoothly deliver:
- Clienteling and white-glove service. As more retail brands attempt to differentiate themselves with personal shopping services, stylist appointments, and other one-to-one store interactions, it’s crucial that store experts on the ground have access to shoppers’ prior online and offline interactions — from purchases to customer service queries to social media “likes”. Armed with integrated customer profile data, store sales reps can make meaningful connections and relevant recommendations. And if inventory visibility and accuracy are tried and tested, they can also confidently place orders for home or store delivery to close the sale.
- “Endless aisle” capabilities. Store associates armed with accurate information are critical to “saving the sale” when items are out-of-stock in stores, a potentially dangerous situation that can cause 17% of consumers to immediately order online from a competitor, technology researcher Forrester found. On the upside, retailers who can navigate shoppers to items they can order for home delivery from other nearby locations can realize a 10% revenue lift, according to Forrester.
You can learn more about the customer experience and how automating the shopper experience can engage your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, JustFab.com and others are using an automated shopper experience platform as part of their customer experience strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.