When Online is Not Enough: Building Omni-Channel Experiences to Drive Customer Loyalty

We recently explored some interesting ways e-commerce retailers can build customer loyalty and a competitive advantage by making themselves stand out from the pack. Among those were using machine learning to provide more compelling personalized recommendations, providing more information and transparency so that customers feel both in control and cared for, and finding a balance between automation and the human touch. All these are important when it comes to making customers comfortable selecting you over a competitor and making sure they keep coming back for more.

In a world where everyone and everything is connected, packing your online retail site with these and other features is no longer enough. Connected is not referring to network connectivity, but rather the continuity of experience across devices. Today’s customers want options. Options not only for how they shop, but also how they communicate with vendors and take delivery of their items.

To extend competitive advantage even further, retailers need to build omni-channel experiences that meet customers where they shop, provide assistance and delivery through a variety of channels, and keep customers informed every step of the way. And that means building an agile, highly integrated, and comprehensive e-commerce solution that delivers an experience that can’t help but drive customer loyalty.

Seamless integration across all sales channels

What does it mean to deliver an omni-channel customer experience? One way to put it is this: when a customer walks into a store, the store should know as much about that customer as it does when it interacts with them online. Given that most retailers have aging POS systems, one might think that upgrading or even replacing the POS is a necessary first step for this—not true at all. What it does require is unification of customer data and interactions so that customer experience is seamless, regardless of the customers preferred channel. Whether the customer uses a desktop browser, mobile app, in-store kiosk, online chat, or even a telephone support line, the same unified view of that customer should be presented.

Let's say a customer walks up to a checkout terminal in a pet supply store such as Petco and provides their phone number or rewards card to the associate. The cashier should immediately be presented with data on what that customer frequently buys (or orders online). They should know what kind of pet the customer has, the last time they brought the pet for a vet checkup or grooming, and, based on history, even their dog’s favorite food or toy.

In a typical retail environment, that information might come from a half-dozen or more separate systems. The integration of these systems and their data is critical to providing a rich experience. This data gives the store employee a sense of empowerment and a deeper understanding of their customer, allowing them to be more helpful. For example, addressing the customer by name and mentioning that they might be running out of flea-and-tick preventative soon. The shopper gets a premium experience, a sense of welcome and caring that increases customer loyalty, and the associate has an opportunity to upsell a product the customer needs but hadn’t put in their cart. The same premium experience and opportunities can be applied to an e-commerce site or app.

A premium omni-channel experience: curbside pickup

Given the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, curbside pickup—and all types of contactless retail—have never been more timely. Despite the necessity factor, any contactless additions should not be rushed. It is necessary to provide a premium omni-channel experience that is seamless, engaging, and convenient. When shoppers love their experience, they are proven to reward the retailer with their loyalty and will continue using the service long after the pandemic has passed.

Let’s take a look at what such a solution might include.

Website, mobile site, or mobile app

These are the basics, including an e-commerce site or mobile app that allows shoppers to register, easily search for, find, compare and add products to a cart, then provide payment information. These are some of the tables stakes e-commerce retailers must provide.

POS integration

Don’t forget the POS. Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce, the lion’s share of many retailers’ revenue come through the store’s POS. Often a retailer’s oldest and hardest-to-upgrade system, it’s important not to overlook it.

Product recommendations and upsells

You should provide recommendations for other products, whether based on their current items, previously purchased items, or a smart market basket analysis. These recommendations may be presented pre-cart, post-cart, or even post-purchase, but they should always be helpful and easy to add to the order.

Inventory information and integration

For any item, it’s important for the shopper to know how quickly they can get it. Is it in stock at their preferred store (the pickup point)? If not, where and how quickly could they get it? The answer to these questions requires integration with inventory systems of multiple locations and vendors.

A seamless, optimized checkout flow

No one likes to go through a dozen or more pages to checkout, especially if they are a repeat customer. Checkout should be as simple and frictionless as possible, even to the point of one-click checkout, if no account details need to be changed.

Simple scheduling and pickup

Most grocery stores implementing curbside pickup (or home delivery, for that matter) must deal with scheduling. The shopper should be able to select a convenient pickup date and time, of course. The times presented must also be coordinated with other back-office systems to ensure store resources are available to have the items selected, bagged, and ready to deliver when the customer drives up.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

The last thing a customer wants is to arrive expecting to pick up their order curbside and find out—nothing at all. There is no one to meet them and no notifications of any kind to indicate the current status of their order. The solution must simplify and automate notifying the customer early and often via multiple channels—including an app notification, email, SMS, or phone call—especially if there is a delay in fulfilling the order. It should also allow the customer to easily notify the store when they arrive for pickup, and identify the type of vehicle or which parking space they are in.

Build omni-channel experience and customer loyalty quickly and smartly

Building a seamless, frictionless customer experience may sound like a tall order, especially when so many front-end and back-office systems are involved (and likely a few new ones). However, that’s exactly the kind of experience today’s shoppers expect from a retailer to which they give their loyalty.

The great news is that a solution that accomplishes these objectives needn’t take years to build. In fact, by choosing the right architecture and its microservices approach to integration, JBS Custom Software Solutions recently built a full-featured curbside pickup solution for a retail client in just six weeks. (View our recent webinar for more technical detail on how we applied our expertise and best practices to a real-world example of curbside pickup.)

Does your e-commerce solution provide a highly integrated, truly omni-channel experience that builds the customer loyalty you need to stay competitive? JBS Solutions has years of experience implementing efficient, full-featured solutions for multi-billion-dollar retail environments. Contact us for a free half-day assessment to find out how we can help deliver on your business goals while greatly reducing your time to market.

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