How Retailers Can Prepare Omnichannel Operations for Looming E-commerce Fatigue

2021 can already be defined by a single word — fatigue — when you consider that we’re practically at the one-year mark of socially distanced life. Children are fatigued by distance learning. Teaching virtually and work-from-home professionals alike have “online meeting fatigue.” Families at home 24/7 have what you might call “cabin fever fatigue.” Merely uttering the phrase “the new normal” is enough to induce eye-rolling in most people. 

There’s another kind of fatigue that should be of particular interest to retailers: e-commerce fatigue. As state and local health mandates have greatly curtailed foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations, shoppers have shifted their mindset from viewing fast-shipping online purchasing as a luxury to an absolute necessity. Retailers have adjusted their marketing to the point that 78% of U.S. shoppers say they have felt overwhelmed by more frequent digital communications from brands since the pandemic, according to a recent study.

Given that e-commerce fatigue is real, how can retailers adjust their strategies to account for it across omnichannel operations? Online shopping will remain an important aspect of overall omnichannel strategy, but brick-and-mortar locations will only grow in relevance as storefronts open up longer hours to create greater customer capacity. 

The answer likely lies in the nexus between online and in-store shopping: hybrid models including curbside pickup, delivery from stores, and Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS). Executing these hybrid models requires retailers to focus on the user experience and how they can leverage their mobile technology programs to improve upon it.

Key Insights Driving Retail Innovation

These key insights are shaping retailers’ plans:

  1. Consumers appreciate being helped in a store — if the associate can safely provide real value. Consider that:
    – 64% of consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience and 71% would rather interact with a human than a chatbot or some other automated process, according to PwC.
    – 88% told TimeTrade they are somewhat or extremely likely to make a purchase when helped by a knowledgeable associate. NCR and IHL Group reported 77% higher sales growth for retailers providing mobile sales tools for staff and 92% higher for mobile points of sale (mPOS).
  2. The priority for many customers today is to get in and out of the stores as quickly and safely as possible. According to McKinsey & Company, safe delivery modes such as BOPIS, drive-thru, and contactless checkouts are increasingly important and have seen a lot of growth since the pandemic.
  3. Consumers love self-service, until they don’t. Goldman Sachs uncovered this duality from an adjacent industry, retail banking. According to Bloomberg, a Goldman Sachs consumer survey found that “People want to find answers without assistance — until they can’t and immediately want help from a qualified banker. There’s high tolerance for self-service until it fails, and then there’s no tolerance. As banks across the country reassess branches, those findings keep getting validated.” Self-service is altering the formula for customer experience with shoppers preferring to have the ability to find the products they need quickly and easily. There is no second chance.

It’s All About the Personalization

If consumers want a more efficient and tailored experience, how can retailers leverage their mobile technology to help them achieve just that? For many types of retailers, especially apparel and specialty retailers, clienteling is the best answer to that question. This approach enables store associates to develop sustainable relationships with customers by maintaining contact beyond the store environment.

Clienteling includes:

  • Contacting customers via email/SMS to share links to suggested products online or in-store
  • Informing customers when similar or new products are in stock
  • Inviting customers to in-store events and promotions
  • Reminding customers to repurchase items that might be running low
  • Sending personalized birthday or anniversary messages/discount codes
  • Informing customers of updated shopping hours or new safety protocols

The aim is to increase customer loyalty and drive sales, while also increasing associate motivation by rewarding them for the resulting revenue uplifts.

Consumers want associates at the ready, armed with tools to reduce confusion and help them complete the sale. For this reason, retailers are shifting from predominantly shared mobile devices to 1:1 or 1:Few. Retailers can choose devices that deliver exactly the capabilities their associates need without overspending on capabilities and capacities that will go unused. 

Best of all, the right mobile device is multi-use, empowering associates to execute clienteling, barcode scanning, and mobile point of sale (POS), all from one convenient device. As more routine tasks like checkout and taking inventory increasingly lend themselves to automation, retailers see a golden opportunity to move associates away from cash lanes and pickup areas and into the middle of the store, where they can provide quick and personal services to customers.

The powerful combination of empowered associates and feature-rich mobile devices is crucial to reducing e-commerce fatigue and invigorating shoppers who want to re-engage with the in-store experience. They enable retailers to completely transform the store experience. It’s up to retailers to ensure they make the right choices to support this pivot.

Dipesh Hinduja is Director, Mobile Solutions Architect, at Stratix.

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