I hadn’t been to the eCommerce Expo at London’s Olympia for a couple of years, so I was really excited to go this year and to see how the event has evolved since I last attended.
The exhibition space was larger than I expected, although not as large as it would have been 10 years ago, with a good mix of established brands and new names. There were also eight theatre spaces covering a wide variety of topics. With that much on offer, it’s difficult to get an overview of everything, but there were a couple of key themes that came up again and again.
The first was omni-channel. It seems that whilst the UK continues to be one of the world leaders in omni-channel experience, many retailers continue to struggle meeting their customers’ expectations. This is in large part due to the level of service and competition being so high in the UK. Amazon continues to lead the industry with their excellent customer service and fulfilment flexibility and it is often by their standards that all others are judged.
So how can retailers improve their cross-channel journeys?
- It’s all about the customer: For a start, it’s important to recognise that customers don’t know what omni-channel is. For them it’s just ‘shopping.’ It’s also important to ensure the customer journey is put first, and that all processes revolve around the customer and not the needs of the business.
- Inventory accuracy: Knowing where your stock is at all times is key to enabling cross-channel fulfilment.
- Showing the right information at the right time: Be clear as early as you can about your fulfilment options – don’t let a customer drop their basket halfway through checking out due to it being the first time they realised that you don’t offer next day delivery.
- Promote in-store online: Being able to check store stock online is one of the key features desired by consumers.
- Promote online in-store: According to a stat I heard at the expo, 33% of retailers do not promote their online channels in store and some stores continue to see online as a competitor. This mind-set needs to urgently change to meet the demands of today’s customer.
- Implement supporting technology: There’s a lot of technology that can help, from customer first Order Management Systems (OMS) to seamlessly handle orders across all channels, to customer service tools that handle customer chats, queries and problems no matter where they’re coming in from, to flexible fulfilment partners offering services such as 45 minute delivery, same day delivery, parcel shop services and lockers.
The second hot topic was around live chat and chatbots; these are also part of the omni-channel conversation. Chats have proven themselves to be an important part of commerce strategy but offering a live chat across all channels, all the time, rapidly becomes an expensive overhead.
And this is where chatbots can help. According to the evidence presented, deploying a chatbot can improve the omni-channel journey through a combination of machine learning and intelligence. This is especially true when used in conjunction with a real customer-service representative within the same chat medium on the occasions that the chat has reached a too high level of complexity to be handled competently by the bot.
Chatbots can be deployed across the full range of mediums, from Slack, to Facebook Messenger, to What’s App, to a straightforward chat app on a retailer’s website, and can handle a large percentage of everyday chat requests such as ‘Can you deliver next day?’ and ‘Do you accept Amex?.’ They can be live 24/7 and can be more cost-effective than just offering the human chat variety. It’s a technology I’ll be watching closely.
If you’d like to learn more about my experience at the eCommerce Expo, or if you have any questions on how Aptos can support retailers with their omni-channel transformations, please contact me at email@example.com.