In a today’s connected world, the nature of retailing has changed dramatically and forever. The way we make purchase decisions and how we shop has evolved into a combination of online, social networking, personal recommendations, and other sources. According to industry analyst firm eCounsultancy, more than 35 percent of consumers check products online before purchasing them, and 25 percent of those surveyed use their mobile devices to shop.
Price and convenience are still key drivers, but retailers have had to rethink how they drive sales; they have had to reinvent the manner with which they engage with their customers. For example, “showrooming,” whereby a shopper visits a brick-and-mortar store to check out a product but then purchases it online, looms as an ever-growing threat to retailers’ business model.
Today’s successful retailers must deliver a consistent marketing and sales process to their customers who experience their brand simultaneously online, in-store or on a mobile device. These customers may perform research through one channel, then purchase via another.
In the connected products space, changing the shopping experience has never been more challenging. Consumer expectations in retail are very high. They expect an integrated multi-channel experience with aligned product offerings, pricing, and promotions across online, in-store, and mobile that enables “buy anywhere, get anywhere” consistency through their engagement with the brand, including purchasing a product, ongoing maintenance, trade-ins, etc. They even expect to “stay connected” through a product repair or return process.
What does this mean for retailers and network operators? They have spent millions putting in place the systems to operate these processes.
In wireless retail, unlike softgoods and other retailers, the product sale frequently is tied to a service provider and a commission plan. In its most basic form, a wireless retail transaction either in-store or via an online website is a complex transaction. They both require a complicated technology integration that is closely coupled between a retail outlet’s point-of-sale and commission systems, and the back-end billing systems of the service provider (e.g., AT&T, Verizon, etc.).
Problem is, when wireless retailers try to overlay multi-channel retail solutions into their traditionally “stovepiped” environments, proper integration of the various systems is almost unsolvable due to legacy IT investments, organizational structures, and other policies. As such, delivering a true multi channel shopping experience in wireless retail requires an extensive understanding of network operator back-office capabilities along with unique transactional management capabilities to control and reconcile commissions, etc. The investments required to deliver such a shopping experience are so large that only deep-pocketed corporations such Apple or Best Buy have implemented what can be considered state-of-the-art retail solutions.
To navigate the complexities associated with these processes, many wireless retailers have turned to third-party providers that offer multi-channel commerce solutions that address the required technologies (e.g., ecommerce and mobile sites, point of sale, activation, inventory, etc.), merchandising services, sales-force training and field services, call-center outsourcing, and more.
An ideal third-party provider will understand well the multi-channel wireless retail challenges faced by big-box retailers and network operators who operate both stores and corporate websites. Optimally, to mitigate any risks associated with capital-intensive investments in new systems and integrating them with legacy components, third-party providers should deliver a true multi-channel wireless retail experience on a “SaaS, pay-as-you-go” type of basis. In this manner, retailers benefit from the investments that the third-party provider already has made in creating and implementing multi channel retail solutions in the wireless category.
As retailers evolve from the traditional model of operating in-store and online channels where they have separate people, separate processes, and separate technologies running the business, they should partner with a third-party provider that is highly specialized in migrating them from where they are today to where they need to be in the future, requiring very little upfront capital investment to do so.
Dave Stritzinger is the head of multi-channel retail services for Brightstar