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Pick the Low-Hanging Omnichannel Fruit

This blog is the third of a series on how retailers are addressing the challenges of becoming an omnichannel business. We’ve talked about how omnichannel selling is not really about rushing to invest in some whiz-bang technology – in fact, I think stores often try to do too much at one time.

Instead, a smart approach to your implementation is to find the low-hanging fruit – projects that have the highest probability of effectiveness and can be measured against business targets as a whole. Remember that every store has its niche, and one size does not fit all. By achieving rapid successes up front, you gain funding for the next piece of your strategy, building from success to success to achieve omnichannel entry.

For example, some retailers look at how to make it easier for shoppers to buy and return where they want. Stores don’t carry the same selections from region to region, and they need processes and systems to make such an approach successful. The key is inventory management: figuring out how to sell, reorder, and exchange products in stores that also serve as fulfillment centers.

Other retailers focus on building a strong relationship with shoppers through excellent customer service. For example, instead of picking up the red bat phone or having “Customer assistance on Aisle 3” called over the loudspeaker, consumers can contact remote experts on their own mobile device or through a kiosk. Still other stores may put resources into user interfaces, branding, and site useability. These personalized approaches also pay off in better information about the customer, allowing retailers to use video analytics and sensors to get help to the shopper faster.

To help stores define their best path forward, they often make use of “innovation platforms,” systems designed to allow you to quickly set up and try out new merchandising, practices, or seasonal locations.  Innovation platforms let you experiment with capabilities that leverage organizational strengths, hitting on the cylinders you want to address. Each success helps build the business justification for the next stage, supported by your cost/benefit analyses, baselines, and measurements.

Let’s talk more about this at the NRF Big Idea Sessions, where I’ll be speaking on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2:00-3:00 ET, in Room 4. My topic is “Detect, Connect, Engage: Enhance your Customer Experience with Mobility,” and I’ll discuss how to personalize the mobility journey and new strategies for delivering a meaningful customer experience. Visit Cisco’s NRF website to learn more about these very popular seminars. As well, please take time to attend some of the demos in Cisco booth #1954. These include several technologies that fulfill the requirements discussed above.

I’ll see you at NRF!

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Omni-Tech for Omnichannel Selling

My last blog talked about the challenges of becoming an omnichannel retailer, and how stores are still learning how to make changes that cut across their entire business. We discussed how, appearances to the contrary, omnichannel selling is still about meeting a basic business requirement – finding the best outcome for you and your customer. However, finding these outcomes is a more complex proposition than it used to be.

Logically, to achieve consistent outcomes you need to achieve consistent consumer outreach, input, and sales approaches. But stores are also facing the demand to create a more personalized sales experience. How do you meet these seemingly contrary requirements? The key here is to find new ways to reach out to shoppers as part of the whole shopping experience, no matter what the channel.

For example, Cisco’s Remote Expert solution is a way to offer unique, personalized, yet centralized retail experiences for customers. It connects each shopper with a product expert wherever they are located, in real time, via mobile, immersive, or on-site channels. You save by leveraging your experts across single or multiple locations and devices using a pool of experts who may or may not be co-located, instead of providing expertise at every site or asking them to travel extensively. Retailers can also use the same solution to host training and corporate meetings, or to enable store feedback on products and merchandising. The result is a personalized shopping experience at a lower cost for the store.

Pretty sweet, don’t you think? To learn more, take the time to attend the webcast “Just Ask the Expert: Connect Your Shoppers to Virtual Experts, Anywhere, Any Time,” being held on Nov. 7. You can register here.

Truly omnichannel technologies are designed to support cost savings and efficiency, providing a more seamless interface for service that is customized for the shopper. As I said in my last blog, these approaches focus first and foremost on customer needs, making it easier to do business with your company.  A customer-centric strategy cuts across the business and all its channels, creating a different kind of relationship between you and your shoppers. See what Retail Systems Research has to say in their latest report about omnichannel strategies.

I love retail trivia! Comment below if you know the answer to this question: What is the second-most visited retail business in America? (Wal-Mart is first.)

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How the Heck Do You Omnichannel?

The buzz in retail these days is “omnichannel” – we see slogans such as “Engage with Today’s Omnichannel Consumers,” “Develop Your Omnichannel Business” frequently. Cisco itself uses this word often. But in all honesty, I don’t think many people fully grasp the concept and its potential. And I don’t know of any retailer that has a complete approach to it. That’s right: None. 

Omnichannel retailing is about opening the store, its products, and services to shoppers in an immersive way that drives customer interaction across any point of access, at any time. “Omnichannel” is not just about connecting existing systems, it’s a transformational way to look at how you conduct business.

Becoming an omnichannel retailer is a broad undertaking, and many retailers are creating new executive positions to lead this strategy. However, I think these companies may be missing the boat. When thinking about omnichannel strategies, consider three key points:

First, a customer-centric strategy cuts across all organizations in the business – it can’t be sidelined into one business function such as IT. I often consult with retailers who experiment with different capabilities in a disconnected way; essentially, they throw technologies at the wall and wait to see what sticks. Instead, why not start by asking, “What does my customer want? How can I build a loyal relationship with them?” It’s all too easy to assume that showrooming is the enemy. But, really, why, for example, is Amazon successful? It’s not because they are available on a mobile phone. It’s because they are easy to do business with, offer good pricing, and deliver quickly. It’s about the way they address customer needs.

Next, I think stores often try to do too much at once (see wall-sticking, above). Instead, I recommend a phased approach that starts with the low-hanging fruit – projects that have the highest probability of effectiveness and can be measured against business targets as a whole. Every store has its niche, and one size does not fit all. By achieving rapid successes up front, retailers gain funding for the next piece of the strategy, building from success to success.

Finally, accept the fact that an omnichannel business will change how people work. Are you avoiding Internet access because you think associates will waste time surfing the web? Some may – but your good salespeople will be able to leverage online information to help them serve shoppers. Concerned that showrooming on the floor will drive customers away as they find lower prices online? Build your own identity, brand, and incentives into the online environment to drive sales. Worried that an online storefront or call center will undercut in-store sales? Run the numbers on losses over time as consumers find your store is the only one without convenient mobile customer support.

Omnichannel is not about the technology. Rather, it’s about finding the best outcome for you and your shoppers. To achieve success, IT and business must work together to solve customer problems for the store as a whole – there’s no other way to do it with complete success. Check out this great blog by Cara Waters, Five Lessons in Retail Trends.

I love retail trivia! Comment below if you know the answer to this question: What is the oldest US retail company?

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It’s About Retail, Not Technology

Hello, and welcome to my inaugural blog! I am happy to be here sharing my thoughts and experiences with you, because I have to tell you: I have the coolest job in the world.

I’ve spent my entire life in retail, starting as a part-time worker while in school and moving up through merchandising and operations to regional vice president at Shopko Stores, Inc., overseeing the work of 12,000 employees. Over more than 20 years, I fell in love with the whole process of retail. When I was invited to work in the retail technology sector, it seemed a natural extension of the work I was already doing. Relatively few tech companies build their solutions around store needs – too often, they tend to focus on technology for technology’s sake. In fact, sometimes retailers do the same thing! I saw an opportunity to impact how vendors – and retailers – think about technologies that truly add value to the business.

Today’s trend toward mobility, or BYOD, is a great example. I’m sorry if this shocks you, but mobility without a strategy has no value at all for the retailer! I have seen stores invest in Wi-Fi networks while continuing to build cell-based apps – this despite Wi-Fi’s higher speeds, more flexible capabilities, and ability to improve the shopping and selling experience. They don’t want employees surfing the Internet, so they block employee access to the network and information that could help improve sales. They understand that shoppers are “showrooming” – sharing opinions and comparison shopping online from the store – but do not leverage the same behavior to promote products and analyze customer trends.

Mobility is a vehicle for improving the business, an extension of overall strategy. (You might like to check out this Lippis Report on “Monetizing Public Wi-Fi in Business to Consumer Relationships.”) I work with companies to help determine how to use such vehicles to define the customer experience, collect and manage large masses of data, and make store operations more efficient. I also help design the Cisco solutions that solve these retail business problems.

Join me on a journey to learn how stores are approaching, managing, and dealing with today’s innovations and how they are meeting customer needs. We’ll talk about how stores are using today’s systems, the most recent trends, the latest research, and how retailers are dealing with this very rapidly changing industry. Please get back to me with your own stories and questions in the comments section.

One more word: I love retail trivia! Comment if you know the answer to this question: What retailer in the country has the highest amount of sales per square foot of its stores?

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The importance of retailers understanding consumers and delivering great customer experience

Recently at the  Forrester’s Forum for Customer Experience Professionals in New York on June 26,  Graham Atkinson, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer at Walgreens, spoke about his work to transform the company from one that traditionally differentiated based on location to one that differentiates based on experience.

As reported in a recent blog by Harley Manning of Forrester, Graham talks about three customer experience initiatives underway, including:

  • Delivering the well experience
  • Transforming the community pharmacy
  • Taking the Walgreens brand to the world

You may have seen a recent Cisco video commercial on the area of customer experience called “Weekend Warrior”:

Here at Cisco, we believe that customer experience is part of the connections made possible by what Cisco describes as the Internet of Everything (IoE).

To further our knowledge in this area, Cisco recently released the Cisco Connected Customer Experience Report focused on the retail shopping experience.

In this report, we discovered that:

Read More »

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