The real cost of omnichannel

Retailers need to endorse an omnichannel engagement strategy that carefully balances the physical store with the e-commerce store.

Today's shopper uses multiple channels during their customer journey. In fact, 78% admit to using multiple channels to make a single purchase. Therefore, retailers need to endorse an omnichannel engagement strategy that carefully balances the physical store with the e-commerce store. But as customer expectations and behaviors evolve with the latest technologies, retailers need to consider how they are able to implement theses channels successfully while also affording the investment that goes along with the commitment. 

Bhupender Singh

FierceRetail spoke with Bhupender Singh, CEO of Intelenet Global Services, a global BPO that delivers digital solutions to retailers to better service the end-customer, to address the financial implications of endorsing an omnichannel experience.

FierceRetail (FR): When going omnichannel, what are some of the first steps a retailer must take?

Bhupender Singh (BS): Businesses need to look at their finances and have an accurate image of their cash flow so that they are in a position to determine whether it is feasible to invest in different channels. Finance teams hold the purse strings, so they need to be able to see the business value of the investment, and so forth.

Working with digital experts can also help enable a seamless online and offline experience. Today’s age of digitalization has more and more shoppers buying goods online and then collecting their purchases in-store. Equipping staff with the necessary tools to manage customer requests is another step which needs to be considered to support overall customer experience.

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FR: What are some of the financial implications?

BS: Being able to anticipate industry trends and customer behavior are some factors which determine where money is being directed within a business. There is a lot of emphasis on data being used to better understand customer behavior, preferences and shopping patterns. It is also important to recognize the role data plays in helping a business to balance the financial implications, both in the short and longer term, of different market strategies. Using a system which consolidates all the financial data in one place will help retailers to have a better overview of their financial situations and guide business decisions around driving growth. 

FR: In the long-term, will omnichannel make these companies more money? 

BS: Businesses need to look at their cash flow and see if their investment aligns with how their customer engages with them.

Automation creates a more efficient operation model for businesses, which in turn, will motivate finance executives and support retention. Their roles are being redefined by technology to shift from repetitive tasks to more strategic decision-making, allowing for more investment in the future of the business. While the digital is becoming increasingly necessary to be a profitable business in today’s market, the human touch is still a very necessary part of the equation as well.

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Another example of using digital to enhance the power of physical stores and increase profits, is by leveraging data from online activity. Retailers are able to attract customers in-store, in order to heighten the level of footfall through trending options such as click and collect. Based on footfall statistics and customer spending habits, retailers are afforded the ability to order the right inventory at the right time, thus reducing costs and promoting a more efficient model.

FR: What are some of the most common costs that retailers forget about when making the transition to omnichannel?

BS: While retailers may jump into investing in various channels, they are not always able to track and monitor customer engagement in these channels, which can open them up to frustrated customers.

Investing in IT infrastructure is imperative for success in the retail sector, including the utilization of data analytics, which is now being used in the physical realm. This is being used through AI tools and sensors that track in-store customer behavior and activity, which can be evaluated to support optimal business performance and lower overall costs. 

FR: How does staffing play into all this?

BS: Staff play a big role, as in an increasingly digital world, customers still expect human interaction. Customer relationships with brands are forged by staff and so these are central to customer loyalty and retention. Retailers need to equip them with the necessary tools to be able to manage customer requests across multiple channels.

Back-end technology directly affects front-end performance, and, therefore, customer experience—driving retailers to partner with software solution providers to introduce new and connected sensor-based applications in order to remain competitive. Investing in IT infrastructure is imperative for financial success in the retail sector, and with this comes the utilization of data analytics; a practice now being used in the physical realm, through AI tools and sensors that track in-store customer behavior and activity, which can then be evaluated to support optimal business performance. 

Along with investment in the right IT infrastructure and tools to monitor online engagement, business leaders need to direct their attention to contact center agents by offering training on the tools that are available in order to effectively track customer engagement across all channels.

FR: What other tips do you have for planning financially for omnichannel?

BS: The financial management process is incredibly data-driven, which means a lot of finance executives are turning towards data analytics to uncover compelling insights that provide an informed decision when it comes to tracking business performance. Analysis allows finance executives to forward plan, project and budget for the future, based on the existing position of a business. By leveraging data analytics, retail companies enable themselves to assess mistakes, predict trends and streamline the workflow process, and can then have a better understanding of where their focus should be.