There’s been plenty of buzz in the news lately about the changing face of retail and the alleged death of traditional brick-and-mortar shopping. Indeed, it’s inarguable that the retail industry has seen a significant shakeup in recent years ― the rise of digitally-influenced omnichannel shopping and the resulting impact on consumer expectations have changed the game and raised the bar for retailers looking to gain market share in an increasingly competitive space. However, despite the closures making headlines, the physical store still plays perhaps the most important role in omnichannel retail.
A rapidly changing retail landscape actually presents an opportunity for savvy brick-and-mortar retailers willing to embrace these changes. However, the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest” does apply; capitalizing on today’s retail revolution requires a willingness to adapt and re-evaluate the shopping experience.
Understanding the landscape
In an effort to better understand the evolving relationship between consumers and retailers, Manhattan Associates recently commissioned research that surveyed 2,000 retail professionals and 2,000 consumers across North America about shopping habits and expectations. The results showed that 89 percent of shoppers still go to brick-and-mortar stores to evaluate and purchase products — validating the value of the in-store experience. Stores provide a way to physically interact with products that e-commerce can never deliver, and according to this research, that advantage still resonates with consumers.
Clearly, people do still visit stores, but the way they interact with those stores ― and what they expect from those stores — has changed significantly. Today’s consumers want in-store shopping to fit in seamlessly with the omnichannel experience. An overwhelming 77 percent of shoppers said they expect a seamless experience across channels, and a majority of the respondents say that more consistency across channels would keep them loyal to a brand. Unfortunately, in most cases, this has yet to be achieved with 68 percent of respondents reporting they perceive noticeable differences between online and in-store shopping.
One of the biggest reasons for service discrepancies across channels is that retailers are not arming in-store employees with the knowledge required to properly serve today’s omnichannel consumer. Consumers now expect store associates to have access to product availability information across an entire store and warehouse network. Unfortunately, a disconnect exists between what consumers expect of in-store help and what retailers prioritize. While almost half (47 percent) of consumer respondents said that checking inventory was the most important service provided by store associates, only 39 percent of retailers thought it was employees’ main role, making it third on their priority list for improvements.
Additionally, with the ability to research products online before even setting foot in a store, many consumers are entering stores with more product knowledge than associates. In fact, 83 percent of consumers surveyed said they felt they knew more about the products in question than the store associates who are paid to help them.
Achieving inventory insight
To address these issues and deliver a true omnichannel experience, retailers must equip employees with the ability to see the availability of inventory across an entire network, including in warehouses, distribution centers and other store locations. If a store runs out of a particular product, employees need the ability to “save the sale” by identifying where the inventory resides and shipping it either to the store for pickup or directly to the shopper’s home. According to the survey, only one out of 10 retailers felt they had an accurate view of inventory across all channels in real-time. Inventory visibility must be addressed if brick-and-mortar retailers hope to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience and meet consumers’ current expectations and demands.
There’s no denying the retail industry is in a state of flux. Consumers still value the in-store shopping experience, but their expectations of what that experience should be are changing. As digitally-influenced shopping becomes increasingly pervasive, retailers must listen to consumers’ requests for a more seamless cross-channel shopping experience. This requires focusing on the technologies needed to gain a complete and trusted view of inventory availability across the entire network, creating a unified experience across any channel.
Brick-and-mortar retail is far from dead, but those retailers who fail to hear consumer desires for a new shopping experience risk extinction. For forward-thinking brick-and-mortar retailers, there’s a distinct way forward ― invest in technologies that break down the silos of information in your organization and provide your employees the information they need to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience.
Chris Shaw is director of product marketing, Manhattan Associates.