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5 ways you can prepare for the shift from ecommerce to ‘all-commerce’
When the ecommerce boom first hit, retailers scrambled to develop an online presence. Whole departments were created to manage this separate branch of commerce and create an identity and back end that was both distinct and similar to their brick-and-mortar experience.
At the time, it made sense that the ecommerce business and the brick-and-mortar business should be run in separate silos. After all, something that seemed so new required a different approach from traditional retail — or at least that was the thinking at the time.
Now, in 2014, ecommerce is less likely to be considered a separate branch of a business. Big-box retailers like Target and Walmart are already taking advantage of the ubiquity of smartphones by intertwining the in-store and mobile experiences with in-store offers, in-store pick-up, and money-saving apps like Cartwheel. These steps are just the beginning, but they are indicators of where retail is headed.
As the lines blur between ecommerce, mobile, and brick-and-mortar, retailers will need to change the way they approach the customer experience.
1. Eliminate silos
While leaders and some lower-level employees should still specialise in specific areas of the retail business, everyone should be comfortable in every area of commerce. Companies can have retail branches, but they must be able to exchange information and collaborate. Communication is key to a successful all-commerce strategy.
2. Shift to many-to-many marketing
By now, most companies have discovered the power of social media, but there are still areas where some retailers are playing catch-up. Today’s customers aren’t looking to have conversations with a corporation, but with an individual.
Customer service via social media is a major way to gain new customers through word-of-mouth marketing and keep your existing customers happy, and these interactions shouldn’t be restricted to resolving ecommerce issues. Remember: Customers don’t make distinctions between commerce silos, so every interaction they have with your brand leaves an impression. It’s your job to make sure it’s a favorable one.
3. Integrate channels for convenience
When customers want to purchase something, they don’t stick to one channel; they focus on convenience and the channels that fit into their busy lives. If customers need something that day, they may visit a brick-and-mortar store location. They may browse online first or use their phones to find a specific item on their way to the store.
Integrate all your channels so the shopping experience is seamless for customers at every touchpoint. For instance, Sephora knows that most people still buy makeup in-store, so the company has moulded its ecommerce strategy to enhance that experience.
4. Lead the way in tech innovation
Top brick-and-mortar retailers have been snapping up tech companies left and right (such as Walmart’s acquisition of Kosmix and Under Armour’s acquisition of MapMyFitness). While separate testing labs and acquisitions are still important for innovation, these experiments should eventually play an integral role in the company’s development. While integrating tech innovation in a corporate environment will result in a challenging transition, retailers must lead the way in ecommerce and mobile technology, rather than lag behind.
5. Share data across all departments
Collecting data on your customers and finding ways to improve their experience is key, but if the data isn’t being shared throughout every part of the organisation, then it isn’t being used to its full potential. There should be no such thing as an “ecommerce customer” or a “catalogue customer.” There is only a “customer,” and data should be shared across all areas of the company.
All-commerce isn’t just about traditional retailers moving online. Online retailers are also recognising the importance of being in all areas of commerce. From Apple’s smashing success entering the retail environment 13 years ago to more recent online companies, such as Bonobos and Warby Parker, establishing brick-and-mortar stores, retailers in all channels are realising the importance of creating a well-rounded, seamless experience for customers. Retail can no longer be parsed into neat silos. The future of retail will hinge on delivering a flawless experience to customers, no matter where they are.