photokina: 26.–29.09.2018 08.–11.05.2019

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The best from two worlds

Retailers often lose their customers at the interface between online and offline channels. The close integration of brick-and-mortar stores and internet platforms can retain consumers and increase sales at the same time. In order to do this, however, companies will first have to invest in IT and further training of staff.

Nowadays, it is the norm for many consumers to switch between shopping online and offline. They first gather information about products on their smartphone, then seek in-depth advice at a specialty store, to then finally order the selected product from their home computer. For the retailer, this is not a problem if they can lure the customer from their mobile platform into the store and in the end get them to buy in their own internet shop. The reality, however, is completely different: Only every eighth consumer who switches channels during a shopping spree remains loyal to the provider – that is what the e-commerce specialists at ECC Köln found out.

Multichannel is the concept that more and more retailers are implementing: Traditional retailers are setting up online shops while pure internet retailers are increasingly enticing customers with brick-and-mortar stores. However, individual channels are often still managed independently of each other even if they share the same brand. Only when all sales channels are merged with each other do experts use the term cross-channel solutions. The German retail sector is still hesitant in this area. Only six percent of all purchases are actually made across multiple channels according to ECC.

Platforms for all channels

In order for this to happen, all information must also converge digitally. This means that retailers have to combine technically reliable platforms with targeted marketing so that customers become aware of individual cross-channel services and then implement them. All of this only works with comprehensive networking of the systems – and not just in terms of contact with the customer. In the backend, companies will have to enhance their IT so that all important data can be merged together – including data from suppliers.

Modern ERP systems, often offered as cloud-based leased software, provide the technical platform to supply customers with the right products both online and offline. This is where data from the stores and web shops comes together with centralized information from purchasing and logistics. If the interaction is successful, companies can work more efficiently.

An important starting point here, for example, is inventory management. If high demand for a product in the online shop is met by the brick-and-mortar store, this can reduce warehouse costs. In addition, traditional shops may no longer have to offer deep discounts in order to get rid of merchandise. This creates considerable opportunities, such as in the fashion sector where collections change very quickly.

Rethinking old strengths

With a well-integrated IT, popular services with consumers such as online inquiries about which stores carry the products – combined with being able to reserve online – can be implemented. “Click & Collect” is a service that enables customers to order goods online and then pick them up at the store, such as on the way home from work. Of course, the retailer’s online department has to know whether the item is available. Real-time communication is necessary so that the store employees can take the item from the shelf and not sell it again.

Despite the new digital tools, companies should not forget the staff. Providing competent advice is still a traditional strength of the brick-and-mortar retailer. The sales staff in the store is trained to address each customer individually and find the right product. In the cross-channel company on the other hand, they have to take on a new role – also with the support of IT systems in their daily work: Has a potential buyer already received a recommendation online? Can the buyer redeem a promised online discount in the store as well? Retailers not only have to make this information available but also train sales staff in how to retrieve and use it. Only then does the customer get the best of both the online and offline world.