If you’re a retailer hoping to reel in foot traffic on Small Business Saturday and then ring up online sales on Cyber Monday, you’re already thinking about how to manage a multichannel operation. But you might also benefit from the advice of nChannel, a provider of software that simplifies cross-channel selling for retailers. nChannel says its research shows that 71 percent of shoppers expect to view in-store products online, and half want the ability to buy online and pick-up in-store.
“Today’s consumers are engaging with sellers in many different ways and they expect a level of service, simplicity and style in every aspect of their shopping experience,” says nChannel president and CEO Steve Weber. “Extending offline business in an online market can present unique and very costly challenges.”
He offers this advice to merchants who are managing multichannel operations:
1. Invest in your website as you would your physical store. The Web is more than just an advertising medium, Weber cautions. To get the most out of it, create a deliberate online strategy and invest time and dollars into your online presence, he says. “So many retailers come to us and say, ‘I want to put up a website.’ There is a big difference between that and a company that says, ‘I want to expand online.’” Weber says he sees too many retailers who spent half a million dollars to open a new brick and mortar store throw a mere $5,000 at developing a website. “Don’t just hire a high school kid. With Silicon Valley investors getting into selling everything from men’s pants to fishing lures online, mom and pop retailers need to recognize that there is a new breed of competitor entering the market, and geography is no longer protection.”
2. Give good reasons for customers to shop on your site. Speaking of geography, Weber asks, “If you’re based in Ohio, why would a Miami consumer want to buy from your website?” His advice: Share your passion. “Bring your in-store experience online to give people a reason to want to buy from you.” For instance, he says, if you own a bike shop, make it known on your website how active you are in the community sponsoring races, campaigning for bike lanes, or giving free lessons.
3. Being consistent is critical. Products and pricing must be uniform across all of your store’s channels, Weber advises. Customers should have the same experience no matter how or where they are shopping with you. They shouldn’t go home from your store and log onto your website to find out they could have saved money or gotten their item in a better color if they had ordered online.
Weber also suggests that you can ensure you never run out of stock and understand what’s selling and why by connecting with your supply chain to improve inventory tracking and purchasing with vendors. “By staying on top of performance, you can better identify areas for improvement and which channels are the most successful.”
4. Employ the best software for your needs. “There are a lot of snakeoil salesmen trying to sell single systems that will do everything a multichannel retailers wants to do,” Weber warns. “But what works for a golf shop will not work for Texas Tamale. When you look for systems, go for the best of breed for your industry—from your eCommerce platform to your point of sale solution and your financial management tool. Weber also recommends integrating all of those to create efficiencies and more clearly see new opportunities for growth. For example, you may realize that you need additional physical stores or that certain online marketplaces can drive more sales.
5. Customer service is still king. “Process orders quickly, ship the same day, communicate order status, and respond to inquiries with speed and accuracy,” Weber says. During last year’s holiday sales season, he says 100 percent of nChannel’s customers shipped items within two days of the order date. They also personalized customers’ shopping experiences by knowing their order history and offering product suggestions that made sense. “Treat Web orders as part of, not an exception to, your business, and focus on customer experience, period,” Weber says.