Mihai Mike Dragan is an ecommerce expert and the cofounder and COO of Oveit, a global company focusing on live experiences technology, both virtual and in-person.
Mike has an experience of over 15 years in building digital products, with a focus on ecommerce. He has worked with some of the largest consumer brands in the world, advising on their digital go to market strategy.
Mike Dragan is also the author of the "Understanding Omnichannel Retail - beyond clicks vs. bricks" ebook, a guide for companies that understand consumer behaviour across media. He holds two degrees, one in International Economics and one in Computer Science.
What better way to get advice on implementing and improving omnichannel retail than asking the experts. So we did ask the experts and we started with Mattias Pihlström, founder and omnichannel consultant at Brightstep AB.
Mattias is experienced in implementing ecommerce, multi-channel and omnichannel processes with industry leaders such as ABB, Apoteket, Ericsson, SCA, Indiska, Interflora, TeliaSonera and many others. He specializes in integrating internal processes, in terms of logistics, financial flows, user experience, loyalty, analytics, increased conversion rate and order value.
You can follow Mattias on Twitter or get in touch with him on LinkedIn but for now – let’s have a look at his insights on omnichannel retail:
Netonomy.NET: What do you think is the essential difference between multi-channel retail and omnichannel retail?
Mattias Pihlström: Multichannel for me was the first phase for retailers, meaning getting up new parallel sales channels (e-commerce, m-commerce etc). Omnichannel retail is the next phase where retailers start getting this channels to work together seamless to the consumers.
Netonomy.NET: What do you think is the biggest challenge for retailers in implementing omnichannel retail?
Mattias Pihlström: I think these are the main challenges:
Enterprise architecture and integration of IT systems, master data management (consumer data, products, orders etc)
Organization and reward systems
Netonomy.NET: What technology vendors would you recommend for companies interested in implementing omnichannel retail processes?
Mattias Pihlström: There are many leaders in this area and too many to mention all, but SAP/hybris, Oracle, Adobe, Intershop, IBM are a few I would like to mention as niche players.
Netonomy.NET: How do you think omnichannel retail will impact online pure-plays?
Mattias Pihlström: Here in the Nordics we see many pure-players setting up physical stores, both pop-up and normal stores. I also think a pure-player should have an omnichannel strategy in place even if they don’t have physical stores. There are so many other channels and touch points that should be part of such a strategy (like e-mail, social media, customer service etc).
Netonomy.NET: How much do you think smartphone and tablet adoption have changed consumer purchase habits and decisions?
Mattias Pihlström: Very much.
Netonomy.NET: What is the most interesting innovation you have seen retailers implement in the past 2 years?
Mattias Pihlström: Reserve online and pick up in store (meaning not sending goods from central warehouse, but fulfill orders directly from store).
Netonomy.NET: As a consultant – what do you think is the biggest challenge in helping companies get results?
Mattias Pihlström: Change management and getting the understanding from top management.
Shopping cart abandonment is one of those dreaded issues both online and omnichannel retailers hate. There are many reasons for customers to just leave a webstore after they have picked their products, instead of completing the order.
Some customers find better prices elsewhere, some fail to navigate the store but most (56%) give up on their order when they are presented with unexpected costs.
Data gathered and compiled by the Payroll Blog shows that 68% of all consumers abandon their cart, leading to $18 billion in revenue lost each year but there are ways to avoid this. The infographic below outlines some of the most effective ways to avoid shopping cart abandonment and increase conversions.
Amazon is testing drones and Google is building self-driving cars. At the same time Mercedes and Volvo are each developing its own solution for moving goods by truck in a driver-less manner.
Building driver-less trucks or at least improving the truck’s autonomy in a way to improve the driver’s performance could be huge for logistics.
How big? Well, in 2012, the US logistics industry totaled $1.33 trillion, 8.5% of national GDP. In that year, truckers moved 9.4 billion tones of freight, 68.5% of all freight transported in the US (source). To say that trucking is big is really an understatement. The trucking industry is backbone of global logistics. Without it, there would be no retail as we know it.
But moving billions of tones of freight is no easy task. To do so, truckers need to eat, rest and be alert during the whole trip. The trip itself has to be as fast and as cheap as possible. Otherwise, logistics would become useless or too dangerous to drivers.
Volvo, Mercedes and others are tackling a very difficult task: how could one improve the trucking industry in a way that can replace drivers in the future, but be met with joy by said drivers. Technology may replace truckers one day but today, they are the one in charge so truck makers need to make their job as easy as possible without making it useless.
The road train
Volvo has joined European backed project SARTRE that aims to make highway driving safer with the help of road trains. Simply put, car and truck drivers can join a group lead by a professional driver. While in this highway group they can relax and the cars will do most of the work by just mimicking the leader car.
This will mean fuel efficiency, safer roads and of course longer trips which logistics companies could really use. The video below shows a demonstration on how cars can connect through wireless technology and copy the leader car movements. The technology could hit the roads as soon as 2020, if legislation is in place.
“It never gets tired. It’s always 100 percent and sharp. It’s never angry; it’s never distracted” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member for trucks and buses.
This year Daimler launched a truck prototype dubbed “The Future Truck 2025”. The truck can accelerate, steer and stop by itself. It can also go up to 85 km/hour (52 miles/hour), it navigates with the help of a built in GPS system and looks a bit like a starship. The driver needs to get the truck on the highway, merge with incoming traffic and hit the “Highway Pilot” setting. From that point on, the truck driver can recline in his comfortable chair and take a break. At any point, the system can be overridden by the driver.
However, The Future Truck 2025 won’t be joining our highways for a few years from now. Legislation for self-driving cars or trucks is not yet in place but Daimler is patient enough to get us and legislators prepared for it.
Once these trucks will hit the market, drivers will be ready to carry more freight, ship orders safer and farther. Logistics companies will improve costs and will be able to increase their reach. In the end – technology will do what it has always done: make everything faster, better and cheaper.
With its legacy store network already in place, growing online sales and the new marketplace, Staples can compete with Amazon on an omnichannel level. Its vendors can now access its online sales channels but with future improvements, their products will be probably ordered offline as well.
The second biggest change is in Staples’ logistics strategy. So far the company relied heavily on its own fulfillment centers. Now orders are increasingly shipped by vendors through drop shipping. This is the most efficient way for Staples to increase its product count and it seems to be working: Staples increased its product count from 30 000 in 2012 to 200 000 in 2013 to a whooping 1.5 million SKUs in 2014, according to Internet Retailer.
As Internet Retailer reports, Staples is still curating the vendors’ offers but it will soon switch to a fully integrated platform in 2015. Even now the new tool allows vendors to receive orders, see real-time alerts, access analytics data and manage inventory, without the cost Commercehub’s technology implied.
Could waiting for online orders to arrive actually be a pleasant experience? What about all those next day delivery and in-store pick-up features retailers brag about? What is the point in that?
Apparently not only is it pleasant but it may sometimes be more fun than buying products in store. The anticipation of orders arriving at our doors keep us on our toes. As a recent Razorfish report mentions, 76% of American consumers and 72% of UK consumers are more excited when their order is delivered at home than when they buy it in store.
Let’s stop for a moment and really look at these numbers: 3 out of 4 customers in the US, UK, Brazil and China would rather wait for purchases than receiving them right away.
This are amazing findings. It shows that instant gratification may no longer be the optimum trigger in marketing messages. It also means that what we thought was a liability for online sales is actually an asset, if used properly.
Building anticipation and delivering items on time is making customers happier than receiving it right away.
The distinction between online and offline is already irrelevant thanks to the smartphone
But don’t think that customers have lost their interest for offline OR online purchases. The channels have started blending with the help of smartphones. The same study reveals that:
1. Digital has a major impact on the retailer’s brand: Almost all those interviewed responded that a bad web store negatively impacts their opinion on the brand. 84% of consumers in Brazil, 92% in China, 73% in US and 79% in the UK are turned off by lousy digital experiences.
2. Customer journeys are not delivering what the customer wants: a cross-channel experience that works. Retailers are not yet delivering on the omnichannel promise. This leads to frustration and a growing gap between what the consumer wants and what the retailer delivers.
3. There is a huge difference between Gen Xers and Millennials, in terms of shopping. That difference lies in how much they rely on their smartphones. Millennials use their phones at least twice as much as Gen Xers when shopping offline (see figure above).
Twitter seems bullish about its place in the omnichannel retail arena. After hiring Nathan Hubbard, former Ticketmaster president, the company started seriously developing ecommerce features for its users.
It all started with rumors leaked online about Twitter dipping its toes in ecommerce. The news were soon followed by a “buy now” button tested for a while and a few months back the “#AmazonCart” partnership was announced. The Amazon Cart project allowed customers to add Amazon products to their carts by linking their accounts and adding them to their carts via Twitter.
Twitter now launched Twitter Offers, a way for advertisers to drive social media traffic directly to brick and mortar stores. The process is pretty straight forward or Twitter users: they link their credit cards to Twitter, claim rewards from advertisers and then redeem said offers in store.
As it seems Twitter sees commerce not just online but offline as well. The vision includes online and offline shopping, social media, Amazon accounts linked to Twitter and … payments.
Long story short: everything Twitter has done so far is outlining a strategy where the company targets more than social media. It’s targeting omnichannel retail as a way to increase its revenue. It has the user base and it’s building the payment infrastructure. Its focus and drive may lead it where Facebook failed – setting foot in commerce land.
So why not bet everything on ecommerce? Why change direction again and include those “old” brick and mortar stores, and warehouses and such? Why build omnichannel retail facilities?
Short answer: because the customer is not a robot. The customer does not have to shop online. It will shop online when it feels better.
Ecommerce is indeed a revolution in the way we do business and indeed it has changed the retail landscape but consumers still exist in the physical world. Consumers do spend time online but they also walk by store fronts, they like to touch the products they buy and they like to see how fashion items, for example, look like in real life.
That means that real life stores will continue to exist. But so will online stores, sales call centers, interactive kiosks and marketplace outlets.
Retailers need to figure out how to connect all these channels. This new wave of customer centric retail is called omnichannel retail. The term means that no matter the sales channel, everything behind the scenes is connected. The inventory is universally available to all stores. The customer info is available on all channels also, so he or she can be instantly recognized and offers personalized. Product info is also available cross channels but most important – Fulfillment can be managed on all possible points so as to serve the customer in the timeliest and most effective manner.
Managing Omnichannel Fulfillment
One of the biggest challenges in omnichannel retail is fulfilling orders cross channels. Today, retailers that deal with both online and offline sales have to split fulfillment in two separate areas, each with specific operations.
The first is offline fulfillment, namely what happens in brick and mortar stores. Offline sales have been optimized to run on a pretty specific supply chain, not very flexible. It starts with the manufacturer, continues with forwarding merchandise to the wholesale buyer and then products end up stored in the retailer’s warehouses and stores.
Because ecommerce came as an addition to existing sales channels, it was added to the existing supply chain as a type of extra store, with its own specific operations.
However things got complicated when the web store had to split into the mobile store, the interactive kiosk, the marketplace outlet and others. Then customers wanted to buy online and pick up offline. But they didn’t stop here: they wanted to order in the store and receive home, ask for inventory info in the offline store and more. Pretty soon they started demanding it so now omnichannel retail is a question of customer service.
Retailers realized that what the retail world is facing is both a huge challenge in terms of customer demands and a huge opportunity. Those companies shifting their business strategies to fit the new, empowered consumer, will be the leaders of tomorrow.
But to do that, retailers need to develop new order management software hubs. These order management hubs need to connect all fulfillment options to all sales channels. That means that all stores, all warehouses, all suppliers, all drop shippers need to be connected and managed by an order management tool that filters orders from all stores, both online and offline, interactive kiosks, call centers, mobile apps and others.
Some companies are handling omnichannel orders just great. Others need to improve their policies and most of all their IT infrastructure. To do that they have to figure out what factors need to be taken into account when fulfilling orders. Here are the top 6 most important:
Most important factors in omnichannel fulfillment
1. Proximity to customer – this obvious indicator will track which is the closest fulfillment outlet that can ship orders to customers.
2. Inventory levels across all fulfillment outlets – that includes inventory levels in the warehouses, stores, goods in consignment, drop shippers or even supplier and manufacturers. Yes, sometimes it can be more effective to ship directly from the manufacturer or the supplier than it would if the goods were shipped from the store or the warehouse.
3. Order split costs – orders that have more than one product per customer sometimes need to be split to multiple locations that have the products in stock. Products can be shipped individually or shipped to a single fulfillment facility (store or warehouse) and then shipped to the customer. Ideally, orders are fulfilled from the same point but sometimes that is not possible. In this case, the order management software should recommend the most efficient route products should take to the customer.
4. Information on customer history – fulfillment has to factor in the customer previous purchases and behavior. Retailers have loyalty programs that offer better costs and features to more loyal customer. A speedy fulfillment, complimentary gifts or just a thank you note may be outputs from the customer history.
5. Fulfillment capacity per location – estimating the maximum fulfillment load for each location can help prevent overload situations where store associates have too much orders to fulfill and can’t manage their day-to-day tasks. It can also prevent overloading several warehouses and leave others with zero workload, just because a specific area has placed more orders.
6. Seasonal fluctuations – stores get really crowded on holidays and store associates are way better answering customer questions than they are packing orders. Seasonal fluctuations need to be taken into account when implementing omnichannel retail.
The US Census Bureau released data on US retail and it shows ecommerce as a growth driver. Data shows that in the third quarter of 2014 Americans spent $78 billion online, compared to $67.1 billion in the third quarter of 2013.
Ecommerce is now 6.6 % of total US retail
a. Ecommerce has grown from 5.9% of total retail in 2013 (3rd quarter) to 6.6% this year.
b. Ecommerce sales have went up from $67.1 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2013 to $78 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2014:
c. Both growth and overall sales look great for online retailers but ecommerce really stands out when comparing total retail and ecommerce year on year growth. While total retail struggles with single digit growth, ecommerce is growing at double digits:
To get an overview of how the past two years add up to ecommerce growth in the US, have a look at this chart from Statista, showing yearly growth in ecommerce since 2002 ($72 billion) to 2013 ($322 billion):
As an online retailer, you probably have your ecommerce site up and running already, quite possibly bringing you some sales and revenue too. At this point in time, you are probably wondering how to increase the sales.
This post will show you three effective methods to achieve just that – grow your website traffic and boost sales.
Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
This is an online advertising service provided by all the three major search engines today (namely Google, Yahoo and Bing). The following steps will allow you to start advertising your site online using the PPC method. (You’ll have to repeat these steps for each search engine where you wish to advertise):
Open an account
Create one or more ads for your site (with text and/or graphics)
Enter a list of keywords corresponding to which you wish your ad to be shown
Specify your geographic and/or demographic targeting preferences
Specify how much you wish to spend/pay each time a user clicks your ad and visits your site
Specify campaign duration, spend limits etc.
And that’s it. Within a day or two from the time you finalize your campaign (often faster), the search engine/s will start displaying your ads and the traffic (and sales) will start rolling in.
Of all the web marketing methods this article will cover, PPC advertising is the only method that delivers almost instant gratification. It is also a highly accountable method that provides totally measurable ROI.
You can read up some more on PPC advertising as it relates to online retailers at Entrepreneur.com.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the art and the science of getting your website to show up at or near the top of the results when the prospective buyers of your products search for keywords related to your business and products at various search engines.
High search engine result rankings for the keywords relevant to your products achieved via SEO will almost certainly boost the traffic of potential customers flowing in to your web site, with the resultant increase in sales and revenues.
SEO, however, is not a path that you should tread lightly, for two reasons. First, it is not an easy or a trivial task. In order to be executed successfully and effectively, SEO requires deeply entrenched knowledge, expertise and experience, backed by ongoing study and knowledge update processes. Secondly, if executed in a manner that violates the arbitrarily and rapidly changing best practice guidelines of the search engines in any way, SEO can potentially backfire drastically, causing your site to get blacklisted by the search engines in the worst case scenarios.
Insomuch as you have an online retail operation going, it is quite likely that your website has been built using one of the several ready-made ecommerce software platforms.
While most of such software platforms provide at least some basic features to facilitate SEO, there are huge differences in SEO features across different platforms.
Social Media Marketing (SMM)
SMM, you can say, is the ‘newest kid on the block‘ so far as online marketing is concerned. As you can readily imagine, there are gad-zillions of people (including your potential customers) spending untold numbers of hours everyday at various social networking sites and services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc. And therefore, marketing your online retail business at these social media sites can certainly be a very lucrative way of growing your brand visibility, traffic and sales.
Most of the popular social networks offer their own self-service advertising programs under various pricing schemes and models, including PPC (that we looked at above), with Facebook, as is to be expected, leading the pack in terms of reach as well as ease of use.
And then, there are many third-party services and agencies that help you grow your website traffic and sales using various social media platforms.
You can read this article at the InternetRetailer portal to get interesting information on social media vis-a-vis small retailers.
Online retailing is a highly competitive business so make the most of the tips above to enhance your marketing operations.
Author bio: Catalin Zorzini is the founder of Mostash.com (a digital marketing studio). He likes hot soup and hot jazz.
Belly is a startup focused on loyalty. It launched in 2011 and has since grown to be active in 18 markets and more than 6500 locations. It aims to reach 10 000 locations by the end of this year and as things look, it might just do so.
The product works by allowing customers (aka “Belly Members”) to “Belly” every time they visit a “Belly Business”. That basically means scanning their unique QR codes every time they visit a partner location. In exchange, customers receive loyalty points that can be used to claim rewards.
The system is part old-school loyalty program and part gamification. Belly Businesses can encourage customers to keep coming back by adding increasingly valuable rewards, redeemable with an increased number of points.
The product is free to use for customers. Locations that feel the product is right for their marketing efforts pay a subscription fee and get fitted with the nice iPad used to interact with visitors, belly cards and access to digital features in the app.
Features include data on visitors, social media marketing options, access to reputation management on Yelp and the ability to attract new visitors with the help of Belly Bites. These are special rewards offered by locations targeting new customers. By gathering data on users, Belly can recommend the right customers with special rewards based on previous behavior.
The company has been among the first to be featured in Apple’s Passbook and is also integrated with Google Wallet and Samsung Wallet. With these integration up its sleeve as well as its game-like approach, Belly can become one of the leading solutions in loyalty programs.
But to do that, it will have to connect both offline and online experiences, providing a truly omnichannel loyalty approach, ready for the next of innovation. That is not going to be easy as what may today means payments , tomorrow can include loyalty. Apple, Google and PayPal are hitting each other hard in this market. They can surely tackle smaller companies.
But the other way around is also an option. Loyalty can turn to payments so maybe there’s more than meets the eye for Belly.