In this challenging retail consumer environment, the ability to serve your customers in an ever more efficient, cost-effective manner has become an absolute necessity to survive. With the emergence of the Internet in the last decade as an effective, proven commerce channel, many retailers are faced with the complexity of integrating their various digital channels into their more traditional channel mix. Done effectively this creates a holistic consumer message. Done poorly, it creates a poor experience for the consumer and likely internal conflict within the organization.
A common mistake that many retailers make is attempting to integrate channels in ways that don’t compliment each other (Second Life storefronts to sell physical goods). Others fail to invest in meaningful cross-channel integration or do not pay attention to ways that increase the relevance of their digital presence.
One “killer app” of cross-channel integration has been the ability for customers to “buy-online/pick-up in-store”. This has rapidly evolved from a “wouldn’t it be nice” to a “we need to have this NOW!” It’s become a feature we consumers have become accustomed to having as another delivery option from big-box retailers.
By way of example, my wife and I are expecting our first child and decided it was time to do our part to stimulate the economy by purchasing a camcorder so we can be those parents who record every minute of their child’s life. Once we had decided on which camcorder we wanted, BestBuy.com helpfully showed me the five closest stores it was in stock at. Picking the one I would be near later that day, I added it to my cart. Realizing we’d need a bag to lug yet one more baby-related item around, I found a bag I liked, and added it to my cart as well. Unfortunately it wasn’t in-stock at the store I had selected to get the camera from, but the site let me know that I could pick both up at another store nearby. Changing the pickup location was quick and painless. I completed the order like any other eCommerce transaction, and went about my various to-dos around the house. Once I was ready to run the errands, I made sure I had the “Your Order is Ready for Pick-up!” email, printed it out, and went on my way.
Once I arrived at the store, I went to the dedicated BestBuy.com pickup location at the customer service desk. Within minutes of arrival, my ID and credit card had been checked, the camcorder and tote bag were bagged up, the receipt was printed…and I was on my way. On the way out of the door, my Blackberry trilled with a new email. It was from BestBuy.com thanking me for picking up my order. Think about that…in what was, at most, 60 seconds after the Point-of-Sale register closed the transaction, the store back-office system fired off a message to BestBuy.com. From there BestBuy.com triggered an email to be sent from their email provider, and all this was executed in less time that it took me to walk from the register to the exit. Not only was this one of the least painful or aggravating consumer experiences I’ve had in years, it highlights what a good cross-channel implementation consists of; namely, having each channel playing to its particular strengths to improve the consumer purchasing experience.
The eCommerce site showed me a variety of products, reviews, and had what appeared to be near-real-time inventory of their retail locations. Email was used to notify me of my order status and order completion, and the large retail network was used to fulfill my order in a quick manner. Each channel had its role to play, one tailored to its particular strength and they played their roles well.
However, as with all evolutionary change, comes additional complexity. This includes tactical issues such as how to provide near-real-time inventory to your eCommerce site, and strategic issues such as which channel gets the credit for the sale. Last but not least are the business processes of how an order is picked and marked as ready to be fulfilled. True cross-channel integration takes no small amount of careful thought, planning, and evaluation of your technological capabilities, resources, and business processes.
Done half-heartedly or on the cheap, it can not only drive away customers, but can spill over and negatively impact your brand’s equity… done right cross-channel integration is a beauty to behold.