Is Omni-Channel the answer for retail?

There have been a few articles around recently warning retailers not to rush into multi-channel or omni-channel retail, given the differences in the model and challenges in distributing product.  In fact, one commentator who I admire and normally agree with on most things labeled “Omni-channel is a pipe dream”.  In the article he states retailers should focus instead on “being the best physical retailer there is”, and “Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean that it is right for you”.

Online-shopping-cartWhilst I agree with the sentiment expressed above, the article misses a fundamental point.  That is retail is undergoing a massive structural change which is being driven by a move by consumers to shop online and on mobile devices.  Retailers who don’t respond to the change will indeed be in danger.   Just doing more of the same, better – will not work with structural change.  Retailers need to respond to the change or face the prospect of being left behind or worse.

In a report titled “The Future of Retail – Consumer adaptive retailing” the authors from PWC and Frost & Sullivan state “Online retail is now embedded in consumers behaviour and will force changes to the traditional retail operating mode; those retailers that do not move to the new model will not survive.”

A new approach is required, which is hinted at in the PWC report. It is an adaptive and agile approach to utilising technology to implement a new responsive business model which addresses how consumers will be shopping in the future.  This model is characterised by new open, cloud based offerings covering all of the retailers customer facing systems (in store, online and mobile).  Structural change is not going to be addressed by just putting up an online store (ticking the multi-channel or omni-channel box) and hoping that it will work.

Re-visioning all of the retailers customer facing systems is required; from in-store Point of Sale, to an integrated Online Store and Consumer Apps for smart phones and tablets.  All these customer facing systems should be integrated, sharing the same cloud based back-end pricing and promotions engines and sharing all customer information and insight from each of the channels.  This will provide in-store staff with the tools and information in their hands (with mobile Point of Sale) when customers first enter their store,  letting them know what the customer was interested in and discussing online and on their mobile device before they arrived.

Retailers must give customers the convenience and flexibility to shop the way that they want.  The flexibility to browse online, on mobile or in-store; to buy online, on mobile or in-store; to pick-up in-store or have delivered and provide ongoing after-sales services for returns and refunds so that the customer has confidence to shop when, where and how they want.  All with the same great, consistent customer experience of course.

Technology is driving structural change in retail as it is in other areas of life.  It is disruptive change, the fuse is short and the bang will be big for retail.  For retailers to survive the structural change they must also respond with technology – focusing on how the customer shops, now and in the future to ensure customers have the consistent, convenient experience across all channels.

So is Omni-Channel the answer for retail?  I think it is definitely part of the answer, the full answer is to ensure that the customer experience is consistently great, where ever and when ever they shop that will keep them coming back for more.

Visa’s digital wallet V.me launches publicly, plans in-store rollout in 2013

Visa’s digital wallet V.me helps simplify transactions online and on mobile and will move to in-store point of sale next year.

Gigaom

Visa’s (s v) digital wallet and PayPal (s ebay) competitor V.me is now ready to go prime-time after debuting in beta a year ago. The credit card company is officially launching the service today and announcing 50 banking partners and two dozen merchants who will support the wallet initiative.

V.me is Visa’s attempt at creating a digital wallet that makes transactions easier. It allows users to pay online with a Visa or other credit card using a user name and password instead of entering a 16-digit card number and their address. V.me is available online and on mobile and will roll out to in-store point of sale next year.

Visa is relying on banking partners to help sell V.me to their 50 million customers. It has signed up deals with PNC and U.S. Bank along with about 50 other smaller banks, who will offer V.me directly to their customers. Some…

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PayPal offers price matching, free return shipping for the holidays

How good is this? PayPal offering price matching to customers who pay with PayPal

Gigaom

PayPal (s ebay) is getting even more aggressive in courting consumers with the rollout of new holiday promotions for cost-conscious shoppers. Now, consumers can get price-matching, free return shipping and six-month financing on purchases online or in-store through the end of the year.

When a purchased product is advertised for less by any merchant within 30 days, consumers who pay with PayPal can get reimbursed the difference. They need to fill out a request and submit a copy of their receipt and the advertisement to get reimburse. Users can get up to $1,000 in total price matching through Dec. 31  and up to $250 on any one item. This applies to airline tickets that go on sale within seven days.

PayPal is also offering free return shipping on products. Consumers who file a claim will get a pre-paid shipping label within five days or they’ll get a refund in their…

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Traditional POS at a Tipping Point?

A couple of studies undertaken by US publication RIS News recently got me thinking seriously about the future of retail Point of Sale systems installed at the majority of retailers today.  Is retail Point of Sale (POS) technology at a tipping point now? Could retailers potentially be facing a requirement for a major upgrade of their customer facing systems over the next 12 months?  Should they be thinking about it now?

iPad POSI feel that the answer to all of those questions is a definite “Yes”!  If so then what are these new customer facing systems going to look like?  For the answers the stats in the RIS Studies are quite illuminating.

Firstly in an RIS News study by Joe Skopura on “The Y2K Moment for POS” found here there are some great insights into the future of POS systems in the US.  No-one would argue that retailing has changed significantly and structurally over the last couple of years.  The model for physical stores is under siege “Stores are over built, downward margin pressure is a contagion, fixed costs are rising, online and mobile shopping is booming, and showrooming is catching fire”.

To be effective, POS must now be cross-channel ready and enabled where the customer wants you, when they want you, armed with the information they want – out on the shop floor with the customer.  As the hub of the customer experience the retail store can offer a powerful face to face advantage over online as long as the sales associates are empowered with the technology and information to meet the needs of the educated and now mobile equipped shoppers.

In the study 61% of retail respondents said that their POS is more that 5 years old (the number will be similar in Australia) and 48.8% noted that they would need to change in the next 12 months.  With the “Addition of Mobile POS” being the main driver to upgrade (60%) along with “Enabling Multi Channel selling in store” (60%) and “Enabling new Payment options” (52.5%).

Why POS and Why now?  Simple POS is the essential store operations platform and the pivotal enabler for additional services to improve the customer shopping experience.  To combat further erosion of market share and margins to online – retailers need to act now!  The fact that retailers are looking at mobile POS as a key driver and new (read mobile) payment options shows that retailers are looking to replace expensive fixed POS terminals and static counters with cheaper mobile devices that allow sales associates to get out from behind the counter onto the shop floor to serve the customer better at the point of decision rather than letting customers walk out the door to buy online later.