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The Customer-Centric Future of Path-to-Purchase

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Leaving university and starting my retail career at one of the largest department store chains as a merchandise trainer, I learned the store manager’s main mantra very quickly and it has stayed with me throughout my career: “The customer is king, always right, and must always be taken care of.”

That mantra has become even more important as we see the majority of retailers looking to maximize the customer experience — no longer just in the store but across every available channel. In short, simply selling in multiple channels today is not enough. Retailers need to embrace a true omni-channel solution and really allow their customers to interact seamlessly across all their channels and across different technologies. The key to success is knowing your customer.

Retailers, we believe, will see ‘omni-channel’ as a very customer-centric model, where the retail channel is amalgamated into one consistent path to purchase for the consumer. This path can be accessed by various technologies: web, smartphones, tablets, PCs and social media. This consistent customer engagement in the path to purchase allows retailers to understand their customers better and develop a tighter and more mutually beneficial relationship.

Focus on flagships
A true omni-channel solution promotes the brand as the focal point of the customer shopping experience, instead of the respective retail channel. The shopping experience for the consumer should be channel-agnostic.

This experience can be facilitated by a multitude of diverse devices and technologies. A consumer can hear about a product on a retailer’s Facebook page, go online to make sure it is in stock, use his smartphone to check the location and business times of the store and then arrive to buy it in person. In the past, this would be credited as a bricks-and-mortar sale, but it is actually an omni-channel sale.

The fastest growth has been in the area of mobile devices, which means the consumers’ path to purchase can commence at home around the breakfast table, continue on the train to work and during her lunch hour and then be completed by visiting the store after work.

Bricks-and-mortar remains an important cornerstone of any retailer’s omni-channel strategy. We may see traditional retailers focus on flagship stores, scaling down smaller or non-performing stores and augmenting a strong bricks-and-mortar presence with a well-executed omni-channel strategy.

Going forward, the most successful retailers will be omni-channel retailers — but they will need to ensure they have all their customers’ information at their fingertips to provide a seamless and superior shopping experience. Retailers must learn as much about their customers as possible, and a strong omni-channel strategy is necessary to facilitate that initiative.

Meeting every need
The use of technology will prove to be a key component for providing customer satisfaction: Services like click-and collect, reserve-and-collect, same-day delivery or order from store with varied pick-up options are now or will very shortly be basic levels of expected customer experience. However, the technology must be bulletproof, as fulfilling the promise is tantamount to providing the ultimate customer experience.

Today, it’s the customer’s journey to the retailer that has become paramount. That journey is not always about what is actually in a single store, but more about the customer experience across all channels irrespective of where she shops, providing access to the retailer’s entire product range and always being able to fulfill customers’ needs.