If there’s one thing “premium brands” share, it’s a retail experience that caters to the customer’s wants, needs and desires. The mantra is always “yes” — no matter how ridiculous the demands. As a result, premium brands often emphasize a set of “hand crafted” attributes: a unique and genuine look and feel both online and off; an appeal to a niche audience passionate about avoiding the latest mainstream trend; unusual and rare products that feel authentic; individual attention and high-touch engagement opportunities — all key differentiators in a world of ‘big box’ brands.
It’s those brands in the middle that are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place — aspirational enough to have grown beyond the boundaries of a single brick-and-mortar store, but lacking the resources to truly integrate the in-store and online shopping experience. These brands have a multi-store operation and a dynamic online presence, but simply can’t afford the custom-built, integrated retail and ecommerce systems that provide the glue that keep a premium brand’s customer experience tight and consistent.
But they can hack the problem with the following tactics.
Accurate inventory and pricing — There are many commercial point-of-sale and eCommerce systems designed for this market, solutions such as Lightspeed, Shopify, Magento, StitchLabs and more. And they certainly excel at a set of core features for selling in-store or online. What they lack, however, is the full suite of tools necessary to sell across multiple physical or online stores in a way that’s easy for both retail staff and customers.
That’s because these systems don’t offer customers a dashboard that continuously checks pricing, inventory and product information, and synchronizes all changes to systems without interrupting a brand’s operations. These mechanizations should be automated and take place in the background, 24 hours a day, so that a brand’s systems are always accurate, its customers know exactly what they are getting and the retailer’s staff spends less time dealing with disappointed customers.
In-store pickup – Premium brands set the expectation that customers can shop via any channel and receive the order via any other — for instance: shop online and pickup in-store. And that’s a great option for smaller retailers. How? By saving the retailer and its customer time and money on shipping! It also creates an opportunity for a high-touch customer engagement and check-out experience. Visiting a brand’s brick-and-mortar locations also encourages the customer to do something owners want them to do more: shop!
For smaller retailers, the biggest challenge to in-store pickup is ensuring that both the product and the order details are available at the right location.
Maximized inventory – Retail buyers have to stay ahead of the “next big thing” without overspending. All it takes is one bad bet on a lame product trend to ruin an entire quarter’s worth of profit. Yet, customers expect a chosen brand to be a trend picker, and a leader in what’s cool. Those that don’t take chances never gravitate to the level of a tastemaker — a status every small brand hopes to achieve. Add in the complexity of managing multiple brick and mortar stores, plus a warehouse (each with its own stock), and juggling inventory is suddenly a huge challenge.
The smart way to handle inventory is to maximize it across all locations, carrying just enough to handle immediate demand. To work, the POS/ecommerce system must accurately reflect and share inventory, and notify the business owner when it is time to order more. This “just-in-time” delivery feature is critical to running an efficient operation – efficiency being a hallmark of the premium brand’s shopping experience.
Multiple online stores – Many premium retailers have taken the step of creating online stores separate from the main domain that are highly targeted at a particular customer segment. For example, Nordstrom also offers TrunkClub.com and Hautelook.com. Why manage multiple brands? The reasoning is simple: customers receive an experience that feels built “just for them,” while Nordstrom can micro-target a very profitable segment of its best customers.
It’s the ultimate customer experience offering, but also ups the ante for smaller retailers because managing multiple online stores can feel like running multiple companies. This is especially true without a central dashboard to manage the different stores, control pricing/inventory and synch all online stores with the POS system.
Gift cards – Gift cards are now ubiquitous for premium brands. In fact, 72 percent of customers spend 20 percent more than the stated value of a gift card, and 90 percent of gift cards are used within the first 60 days of purchase. Additionally, a whopping 93 percent of American consumers purchase or receive a gift card annually and spend an average of $213 per year on them. And yet, less than 3 percent of SMB retailers currently sell gift cards online! That has to change.
For smaller retailers, implementing premium brand shopping features comes down to being able to hack the best parts of the shopping experience. I have provided five areas I think are the easiest points of entry, but hacking those features requires a fully integrated ecommerce and POS system. The sad reality is that the majority of small retailers lack that level of integration, simply because the business owners haven’t done their homework or engaged with the proper technology vendors.
Evan Brubaker is the CEO and co-founder of Accumula. Accumula’s cloud retail platform helps small-to-midsize retailers integrate eCommerce, POS, and CRM systems, uniting the online and brick and mortar shopping experience.