The White Whale of Retail: Facing the Beast that’s Devouring your Sales

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The role of store engagement in omnichannel strategy

Delivering on the promise of omnichannel experiences and commerce can seem like a chasing the White Whale, a noble and highly coveted goal but one that is nearly impossible and can drive retailers mad. Facing the White Whale of retail, that elusive gem hidden in the depths of the omnichannel commerce sea, first requires delivering personalized digital experiences across all touch-points, then battling omnichannel fulfillment complexities; but that is not all.

Now that we have conquered the tides and navigated our way to face this mythical beast, it is time to finally take what is rightfully ours as retailers: seamless omnichannel experiences and execution that include physical stores as a key participant and competitive differentiator.

Physical stores offer an experience that is unmatched by online stores alone. Standing in front of a store window, seeing displays of glimmering products, and the friendly “hello” from a retail associate are what most of us associate as an invigorating shopping experience. As we embrace the digital age, the excitement of purchasing is not lost – it has simply expanded to ecommerce. The experiences of wonder and adventure have simply been freed from square footage shackles and replaced by the agility and speed of digital commerce and fulfillment. The challenge is – now that consumers’ needs can be met without them having to leave the comfort of their homes, how can brick-and-mortar stores possibly keep up? The saga of the White Whale continues as traditional retailers have trouble persevering in the face of such a harrowing beast.

The pressure on store operations leaders these days is insurmountable, as more stores will close this year than in any single year ever before, and the stores that do survive will be re-organized and re-focused to handle omnichannel initiatives across the brand. This calls for stores and store personnel to provide higher levels of customer service and deeper personalized assistance along with proficiency in pick-up, shipping and return disposition capabilities.

To face this beast head-on, advancements must be made that keep up with the convenience and personalization that purely online retailers provide. Imagine walking into a store and the employees immediately have comprehensive knowledge of your buying history, recent shopping carts, payment preferences, previous conversations with the organization and social media information. Your shopping experience would be easier and more engaging, allowing you to access everything you wanted and more. Why would the consumer go anywhere else with this level of personalization?

If employees were empowered with the knowledge of the location of every item in the store, and had a detailed understanding of the steps to pack, ship or process any fulfillment request, they would be more efficient and effective at serving omnichannel customers, you would require less labor and your employees would have more time to focus on the customer.

The ability to see everywhere and fulfill anywhere, freed from the constraints of legacy systems and limited insight is the key to restoring wonder to the physical store. Having the capacity to compete with fast, personalized online experience is nothing short of a challenge. Using the right tools to optimize in-store performance is vital to continuing the marvel of storefront interactions. Without updating the brick-and-mortar experience and empowering associates, retailers will be dragged down by the White Whale. But with artificial intelligence and cognitive technology, retailers have the strength they need to defeat the monster and provide the ultimate omnichannel experience.

Tackling the White Whale – omnichannel experiences – is not for the faint of heart. He will test every facet of your organization and tax your systems harder than anything ever before. The White Whale can be defeated, however, and your organization can thrive in the sea of complexity surrounding today’s consumer. But it will not be done without empowering the organization with omnichannel ready tools across the buyer journey. If only Captain Ahab had the power of Watson on his side.

Get the whole story. Read parts 1 and 2 of the White Whale journey.

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