Store owners unfamiliar with retail integration between their in-person store and sales website are losing business to competitors! Online shopping is not only here to stay, but web-based selling and shopping are growing by leaps and bounds, with no letup in sight. According to Statista.com, some 209 million U.S. consumers were using the internet to shop in the year 2016 alone, and that number is expected to reach well over 230 million by the year 2021!
To keep up with both online and brick-and-mortar competitors, and to ensure customer loyalty while boosting sales across both channels, retailers need to provide a seamless experience for customers who shop both online and in-person. Integrating the online and in-store shopping experience, or retail integration, is essential for retailers, as consumers expect a smooth transition from one outlet to another. Today’s customers demand brand consistency and price matching for both online and in-store shopping, and to find brick-and-mortar stores and retail sites similar in how they’re organized and in their appearance.
To ensure seamless integration between your online shop and your brick-and-mortar store, consider four essential areas of retail integration that apply to every retailer, no matter their product or industry. A retail pro point of sale system is the best solution for high end retailers looking for a truly seamless integration between their store and ecommerce operations.
- Inventory Availability
One of the most obvious advantages of online shopping is that a consumer can have their chosen items delivered to their front door, sometimes within just a day or two, but not every shopper wants to wait for delivery no matter how speedy. A customer might check an online site for pricing and other specifics and then head to their local retailer to find a particular item.
However, many consumers assume that seeing a product available through a retailer’s website means that the item is automatically available in the store! Having someone go out of their way to shop in person, only to find that a product they saw on a website is out of stock in the store, is a surefire way to lose that customer. Not having items on hand when they’re advertised on a website is also a common reason for lost customers to leave poor reviews on social media sites.
Inventory availability refers to real-time notification of the stock of items in your store. A consumer can note if items are on store shelves, and even how many are available, or when a product will be available again. Email or message notifications as part of this integrated retail program can also alert consumers when an out-of-stock item is back on store shelves. Customers can then avoid wasting time looking for something that has sold out, and an email or text message might impel that customer to purchase an item they had forgotten about while waiting for it to become available!
- Live Chat
Imagine standing in the middle of a store with a question about a particular product’s price, size, and so on, and needing to send an email to the customer service department and then having to wait a full day before you could get an answer to that question. Naturally, this doesn’t happen in a physical store, which is one reason customers appreciate shopping in person; they can flag down an associate or visit the customer service desk and get immediate, one-on-one attention to their questions or concerns.
Online retail sites, on the other hand, might only respond to emails or offer a clumsy automated phone service. A customer with a question might then abandon that site for one that is much more responsive to them.
Avoid losing online customers in this way by offering them the same one-on-one attention they get in brick-and-mortar stores via live chats. Store representatives who operate these chat windows can often work with more than one customer at a time, even offering a few automated or “canned” responses with the click of a button. Customers are then less likely to leave your website or abandon their cart if they can get an immediate response to their questions and concerns, just as they do when shopping in person.
- Integrate Your Associates
While shopping in-person does offer the advantage of store associates who can answer immediate questions, this might not happen if those associates are less familiar with your online advertisements and inventory than your customers! Many consumers today often start their shopping experience by browsing a store’s website before they visit a brick-and-mortar location, so questions they ask of associates then might revolve around the information they’ve found online.
Integrating your associates, or ensuring they’re as familiar with your online store as they are with the store in which they work, is vital. Associates won’t be sufficiently helpful if they aren’t familiar with your online site, or can’t access it while talking to customers. To integrate your associates, they should have mobile devices that allow them to quickly dial up the same website as the consumer, so an associate can see what the customer sees. They can then better understand questions and concerns, note the exact products to which customers are referring, and so on.
- Integrate Promotions
As with brand, price, and inventory consistency, consumers today also expect that promotions, coupons, sales, and other such discounts and specials will be available both online and in person. Unless a website says in big, bold, bright letters that a particular price drop or other such promotion is only for online shoppers, you can expect customers to show up at a store register thinking that a specific sale or promotion they saw on your website is applicable in person. In the same way, customers might also abandon their online carts when they realize that the sale they saw advertised in a circular doesn’t apply to online purchases.
There is nothing wrong with running specific promotions to promote your most profitable means of selling; for example, offering free shipping for certain amounts of online purchases, or running in-store sales that are not advertised elsewhere, to quickly move excessive inventory. However, it’s good to be aware of the expectations of your customers and ensure that you are not losing their business because your promotions are not part of your retail integration. Otherwise, your customer might abandon their shopping and turn to a competitor who does have integrated retail, and is offering a similar promotion on their website or in their retail store.
In conclusion, note that today’s retailers must consider the expectations of their customers when it comes to shopping online and at brick-and-mortar stores. While a retailer wants to ensure that their customers have a great experience in both locations, sellers also need to provide a seamless transition between the two. Customers expect to be able to switch easily between a website and a physical store and to be able to find information about products while also getting questions answered quickly no matter their choice of shopping outlet.
The right retail integration software such as retail pro point of sale systems can integrate your online store and physical location, to ensure your customers always have the positive shopping experience they expect, no matter their choice of outlets. In turn, you reduce the risk of lost sales and give your customers a reason to keep coming back to shop through both channels.