Published on: May 10, 2017by Kate McMahon
I recognized the look of disdain. The department store employee glowered when I politely said I was returning a recent online clothing purchase – in its original packaging, tags attached, with a receipt -- to be refunded to my store loyalty credit card. The message was clear: You’re an imposition, not a valued customer.
Later that day I read about a threatened strike at Bloomingdales' flagship store. Commissioned-sales employees were angry they had to assist customers contemplating or completing an online transactions without any compensation.
And I thought, they just don’t get it. As the retail industry continues to undergo seismic shifts, everyone from the person in the corner executive suite to those working at checkout needs to focus on a more seamless omnichannel experience for the consumer, whether it takes place online, on a mobile device, in the physical store, or a combination of all three.
Since the explosion of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers have bellyached about “showrooming” – when consumers comparison shop and research products in a store and then make their purchase online. There has been less discussion of “reverse showrooming” or “webrooming” – where consumers do research online and then complete the transaction in a store. A recent study by the Consumer Technology Association found most shoppers are researching online but are still likely to make an in-store purchase.
The bellyaching is counterproductive. It doesn't matter whether retailers like it or not. Shoppers like it, and retailers have to adapt. The ones that do, and figure out how to make it work for them, will succeed. The ones that don't will have a much tougher time.
Amazon, by the way, has been shown to be both the top site for showrooming and webrooming ... in the latter case, people are actually researching products on Amazon and then buying them elsewhere. If Amazon continues to explore a bricks-and-mortar future, it may be in part so it can capture those sales.
There are plenty of examples of retailers that are embracing the omnichannel opportunity. You can buy anything on LL Bean's website and then return or exchange it at one of its stores, and the folks working there are nothing but cordial and helpful.
A strong example of omnichannel retailing is the “reserve in store” option offered by select Gap and Banana Republic stores. After perusing availability online, BR consumers can have up to five items held on reserve at the nearest store, no purchase necessary, until the end of the next business day. Your items are set aside in a garment bag, and sales personnel greet you and offer help with sizes and accessories. It’s seamless.
The bottom line is that it is all about easy math -- when retailer X makes a sale, whether in-store or online, the revenue hits its balance sheet – even if the consumer scoped out retailer A (Amazon) or retailer W (Walmart) in the process. If a person makes a purchase online and then returns it to the store, it actually is an opportunity to cement and nurture the relationship by offering a compelling experience, engaging with the shopper, and maybe even making another sale in the process.
Bloomingdales and its employees averted a strike, made some changes in salary/commission structure, but there continues to be discord in the ranks and there is more work to be done in remaking the culture to embrace the realities of modern retailing rather than fight it. It is critical to create a culture - and this may well mean fundamentally remaking the ways in which people are compensated, that reflects and responds to shopper priorities.
Just saying you are an omnichannel retailer doesn't make you one.
The walls that separate functions within organizations need to be broken down, or walls will end up being built – between the retailer and the customer.
Comments? As always, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- KC's View: