As I was shopping for shoes the other day, I watched in curiosity as my sales associate wandered off to check if my out-of-stock size was available in another location. While he was gone, I found myself reflecting on a couple things. One was how annoyed I was at being made to wait for an answer to what by now should be a simple question. Having helped dozens of retailers discover and implement Endless Aisle solutions in the past several years, it really did frustrate me that this poor guy had to make a (wait for it…) land line call to look for my size.
My second, related thought, was just how unnecessary this was. I realized that even I, an eyewitness to the struggles retailers face as they try to keep pace with rapidly – and constantly – shifting shopper expectations, had finally come to expect more.
Like every other consumer today, I now expect to be able to use my devices to instantly learn whatever I need to know, when I need to know it. Having seen so many associates in so many retail stores gain the ability do so in recent years just increased my irritation — and eventually sent me toward the door. It wasn’t that long ago that I had more empathy than expectations, but now I guess my attitude has changed. Instead of standing around, waiting, wondering what was going on or if he would ever come back, I actually felt better searching for another retailer—one that would offer me both the products and level of service I had in mind. It’s not an unreasonable expectation.
Or is it? Maybe my attitude change was premature, after all. In our “fast-forward” age, when advanced technologies can connect us to everything and enable every task, it’s easy to wonder why any business would choose to remain stuck in the past with outdated systems that are out-of-step with changing needs. After all, aligning what a business offers with what its customers want remains fundamental to its success.
Not so fast. Even when we know what perfect alignment looks like, and there are technologies available to make it happen, limited resources and competing priorities often dictate incremental change. Maybe I had lost sight of how these business realities always force us to make difficult choices about what’s most important first, where to start and what to do next.
Shaping the Learning Curve
I have also seen firsthand that nowhere is this truer than it is in retail. We all know what today’s shoppers want. They want to be able to get whatever they want, whenever and however they want it, with a seamless experience that’s convenient at every step.
We also know how to deliver what customers want. With the help of unified commerce solutions, we can break down silos between individual systems and divisions to gain cohesive, enterprise-wide views of customers and inventory, while managing pricing, offers, promotions, orders and rewards across channels. These tools can help retailers link every touchpoint together while greatly improving their own operational efficiencies.
There’s even broad agreement on how important this now is. Studies show that by 2020, the vast majority of retailers will have some form of unified commerce in place. Singular commerce solutions, delivered via the Cloud, are the established new standard in our industry, and they are already driving dozens of top brands to new levels of success.
Yet despite this shared singular commerce vision, few retailers are in a position to make the transition all at once. I know only too well the challenges they face when trying to fully integrate disparate, legacy systems. For many it means pushing a rock up a hill: it’s a long, costly approach that won’t scale to support growth.
So, rather than sit in judgment, perhaps I can help by sharing some of my experiences here.
Where to Begin?
For most retailers, the answer lies in the POS. In a unified commerce environment, POS functions not only as a secure transaction processor but as a hub for all the customer, inventory, and order information needed to enable rich interactions that support omni-channel everything.
When we surveyed 100 senior retail executives for our “Retailers Tell All: the Future of POS” survey, 76% prioritized the need to leverage POS as a tool for better customer engagement; 63% want better integration to loyalty programs; and 56% emphasize in-store mobility. Fully half of those surveyed are actively engaged in or planning these initiatives now.
When we polled store managers, they had a complementary perspective. In our “Managers in the Mall” survey of this group, almost three-quarters of respondents favored using the stores as hubs for endless-aisle shopping and omni-channel order fulfillment.
The store managers we surveyed also favored enhancing POS to drive customer intimacy by integrating CRM and Clienteling to provide access to rich information on customers’ profiles, shopping histories, preferences and rewards at the cash wrap and on mobile devices. Close to half agreed that the POS has the greatest potential to impact their customer interactions and financial results. Download our eBook to learn more.
Keeping Pace with Change
While modern POS systems would have eliminated my recent shopping dilemma, for the time being anyway, I decided I would reserve judgment next time I shop. Because while I know well that if his POS had been better integrated with the right solutions, that intrepid associate could have known and found my size, ordered what I wanted, and arranged delivery without wasting my time.
I also know by his effort that he cared about me and truly wanted to serve me. All of that should have been more than enough to keep me from walking out. But I forgot how challenging these transformations can be, and I regret that I didn’t have more patience and empathy knowing he had limited tools at his disposal.
Maybe next time I will give him a break, leave him my business card, and offer to help. Because while the landscape of our industry is littered with broken brands that could not keep pace with change, it’s constantly being reshaped by those who do—who leverage technologies such as advanced POS to align their business with their customers in a clear win-win.
For everything we’ve learned about retailing and the formulas for success, perhaps that’s the lesson worth remembering above all.