Richard Olds, CEO of Vista Support, shares his expertise on omni-channel retailing.
With consumers choosing to shop across a combination of channels it has never been more important for retailers to create a unified omni-channel experience. Richard Olds, CEO at Vista Support, discusses how the key to success can be found in retail systems which operate seamlessly.
Beyond the multi-channel
Adapting to the demands of today’s consumer is a top priority for any retailer looking to compete effectively in the marketplace. Smart devices have put convenience at the top of the consumer agenda. Alongside this, their demand for a more seamless multi-channel service has grown. Whether it is paying on a smartphone, shopping online or using a click and collect service, multi-channel has become a basic expectation for today’s consumer.
However, it is not enough to provide standalone multi-channel retailing. All channels and supporting systems must connect and communicate, cohesively with one-another, creating one consistent channel: the omni-channel. If systems do not have this capability then inconsistency in service levels across different channels can occur. This may result in reputational damage and dissuade the consumer from purchasing altogether. If existing systems do not support omni-channel retailing the result can be counterproductive. This is why the retailer must adopt a consistent, integrated approach which links all supporting systems and ensures a constant level of service, across all channels.
Driving omni-channel success
It is vital that each component of the process works in tandem with one another. To achieve omni-channel success, the same message and end-user experience has to be delivered across all channels. The approach will also be much more effective when integrated as part of the wider business strategy and not just perceived as a guaranteed route to increased sales. One example of a retailer that is making a success of omni-channel is Next, which recently released its year-end results.
Chief executive Simon Wolfson predicted a bright future for Next’s high street stores because they worked in tandem with the Directory business. Next adopts the same message and promotes the same end-user experience, across all of its channels. A key part of its outlook is that it perceives its bricks and mortar stores and online channel as part of a single service: omni-channel. The fashion retailer saw total profit after tax for the year to 31 January increase to £474.8 million from £400.9 million in the previous year and a 16% rise in directory sales.
By ensuring the same shopping process across all channels this is not only likely to encourage greater customer spend, but also the quality of interaction and therefore the retailer’s reputation and ongoing relationship with its customers.
This consistency not only increases operational efficiency but also builds a customer base that is far more likely to remain loyal to the retailer’s brand and return time and again. The key to ensuring omni-channel success begins with technology and support. For retail outlets to remain up and running at all times it is critical that all channels seamlessly connect. Equally to provide a consistent and efficient service to their customers, retailers depend on integrated IT systems.
A good place to start is with the maintenance of established in-store technologies and ensuring existing systems are used to full capacity. Making the most of current technologies rather than adopting a full ‘rip and replace’ approach is a more cost-effective option for retailers. When key systems are running well they support the maintenance of effective omni-channel delivery.
This might seem like a complex task but the retailer can seek specialist system support, which will ensure that this is something undertaken effectively. Whether fixing a mobile device on the shop floor to enable guided selling or keeping the tills running, retailers can then maintain all channels in a systematic way.
By engaging a proven provider, a retailer can be confident that systems will not only be expertly integrated and maintained but also ensure potential IT failures are quickly spotted and dealt with. An experienced retail support company can offer hardware maintenance and care for EPoS units and related peripherals. Importantly it will also understand the effect that a potential system failure could have on the customer experience and, the value of helping retailers to minimise any system downtime.
When looking to invest in a maintenance support system a few key issues should be considered from the outset. Surprisingly perhaps, not all maintenance support companies operate on every day retailers trade throughout the year. It goes without saying that a retailer will benefit most from a solution which delivers system support whenever they’re open. Anything less will not provide the high level of service customers require to stay operational. And so, retailers must check that this level of cover is provided.
Cohesive system operation
However, it is not just the number of support hours offered that a retailer should look for when selecting a service provider. The speed of response, repair times and whether or not the support services will be sustained throughout the life of a retailer’s technology systems are also very important factors to consider. These elements will each play an important role in ensuring maximum uptime when a maintenance package is being considered.
An efficient support solution will help to ensure existing retail systems are operating at their maximum potential. This will enable better delivery of an effective omni-channel experience by ensuring that each component works seamlessly with each another. After all, it is only by maintaining a smooth, cohesive, and consistent operation that the retailer will be truly able to compete in today’s marketplace and stay ahead of consumer demand.