3 Strategies Omni-Channel Retail Operations Can Use to Improve Customer Satisfaction
Thanks to the ever-expanding world of ecommerce, today’s shoppers have more options than ever before.
If a supplier doesn’t carry a certain product, the shopper can easily find someone else who does. If an order is going to take too long to be delivered, the customer can likely find another supplier who can get their goods to them faster. If a customer receives an incomplete or incorrect order, they can easily turn to a new distributor for their next order.
Gone are the days of exclusive brand loyalty, or of consumers being held hostage by a small pool of retailers.
While this increase in consumer choice has certainly been great for the consumer, it has caused growing pains for operations across a wide swath of industries.
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One outgrowth of this struggle has been an increase in the number of operations pursuing an omni-channel retail strategy. And this makes sense: Pursuing an omni-channel strategy increases customer choice, both in terms of how orders are placed and in how product is received.
In the ever-evolving world of omni-channel retail, there are three key areas where operations should be concentrating their focus to ensure customer satisfaction and growth now and into the future:
- Demand planning and inventory optimization
- Customer returns proficiency
- Customer-driven focus
1. Demand Planning and Inventory Optimization
Because of the increased options omni-channel distribution offers customers, retail operations need to change the way that they plan for consumer demand. An operation that fulfills orders through a mix of buy online pickup in-store (BOPS), direct-to-consumer shipping, and in-store order fulfillment will, by definition, have a very different supply chain compared to a brick-and-mortar or ecommerce-only operation.
And this more complex supply chain, of course, brings with it some unique challenges. For example, stores engaging in a BOPs strategy will need to ensure that their retail locations have the inventory on hand to account for online demand (or, in the least, have a plan in place to get the inventory where it needs to be).
Analyzing SKU movement at the item level is increasingly important in omni-channel fulfillment, as it will help you ensure you have adequate inventory across all of your distribution channels—especially important when you are promising customers a pickup-in-store option.
Having a plan in place to monitor and analyze this inventory will allow retail stores to plan and adjust their inventory to meet ever-changing consumer demands, satisfying the needs of consumers and helping to build at least some level of brand loyalty. If a customer knows that you will have what they want and be able to deliver it when they need it, then they’re likely to turn to you again in the future.
2. Customer Returns Proficiency
Unfortunately for retailers, “omni-channel” doesn’t just refer to product distribution. In addition to demanding more options for placing and receiving their orders, consumers increasingly want just as many options when it comes to returning goods.
Just because a customer purchases an order online and receives it direct doesn’t mean that they will necessarily be happy sending the order back to you through the post. They may decide that they want to return the item in-person at a retail location or make an exchange.
While this makes sense from a customer perspective, it can certainly be a confusing and laborious process for the retailer. Each year, retailers pour billions of dollars into their supply chain infrastructure in order to address the growing needs of consumers and help the returns process. Additionally, shifting focus for peak season around the holidays is no longer the case. Peaks can happen multiple times per year, and being able to predict consumer buying trends and being able to return products from peaks is just as important as being able to get the product to customers in a timely fashion.
The need for a more intuitive and complete return policy which accounts for all channels isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s an essential part of a modern omni-channel retail strategy, and something that must be taken into account.
3. Customer-Driven Focus
In order for retail corporations to truly compete with ecommerce goliaths like Amazon, it’s critical for retailers to meet their existing customers’ demands as it relates to customer service. Doing so will help retailers retain their loyal customers and can even help them gain new customers who have become disenfranchised with the bad customer service typical of many ecommerce companies.
While retailers can often stand above the ecommerce competition in terms of customer service—the human touch, so to say—they do often fall short (again, compared to ecommerce specialists) when it comes to product availability and order delivery. Unfortunately, as discussed above, those are the areas of the buying process that today’s consumers tend to care most about.
In order to meet this new reality, omni-channel retail operations need to put in place policies and technologies that will allow them to better meet this customer demand. Investing in technology that can predict buying trends; innovating store-based fulfillment; and creating a smooth process for omni-channel purchasing and returns all play a part in this push.
The key to success is to never stop the innovation and to continue to develop new strategies to successfully meet customer expectations through higher customer service—not just in person, but throughout the entire supply chain.
Keeping customer demand front and center
Today, more than ever, the customer is king: Their wants, needs, and preferences are what will drive them to—and away from—retailers. For this reason, omni-channel retail operations must make sure that they are always keeping customer demand at the center of everything that they do.
Finding the right balance between the wants of the customer and what is actually possible for your operation is an interesting and difficult challenge, but the rewards for doing so are impossible to ignore.