2020 changed everything, and 2021 continues to bring us new learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the retail industry in ways still to be determined, but one thing we know for sure is that the way retailers do business – and how consumers shop – has shifted remarkably.
Many retailers adapted quickly, tapping into the power of ecommerce as more and more shopping activity moved online. While organizations with already-robust platforms and processes had a head-start over those without, everyone was forced to reevaluate and reallocate significant resources on the fly.
Fact is, no one survived the past 18 months without a few scars. The effort is paying off, however, as consumers maintain their newly acquired shopping habits.
The pressure is (still) on
As the retail landscape continues to shift under our feet, it’s more important than ever to develop an efficient omnichannel (ecommerce + stores) platform with seamless collaboration across systems and departments.
Consider all the touchpoints along the consumer experience – the online storefront, BOPIS (buy-online-pick-up-in-store) and BORIS (buy-online-return-in-store) transactions, shipping, delivery, and curbside pickup – where the slightest slowdown can create a frustrating bottleneck.
Having advanced omnichannel technology tenfold in just one year, the opportunity for retailers now is to refine what works, revise what doesn’t, and keep growing their business.
Yet even the most optimized omnichannel systems experience unforeseen problems and pressure points that keep retail operations and ecommerce leaders up at night. From shipping logistics to loss prevention to retaining loyal shoppers, the stakes are high. It’s how you handle the pressure that makes the difference.
Let’s take a look at three key pressure points – and the questions every retailer should ask themselves to streamline operations, increase efficiency, and enhance the consumer experience.
PRESSURE POINT 1: RETURNS & EXCHANGES
The moving parts of an omnichannel platform can get really complicated, really fast, when processing returns and exchanges. Data from different channels must be reconciled in real-time. Compliance with company policies must be maintained. Employees must be well trained – and shoppers well behaved.
Every retailer should ask:
- What policies and procedures are in place to ensure an easy returns process for the majority of consumers while protecting against losses?
- How can we ensure products being exchanged or returned were purchased from us originally?
- How can we help in-store or call center employees balance detailed return requirements with the need to keep lines moving, keep consumers happy, and minimize risk from bad actors?
- How can we integrate more automated functionality and data-science solutions within our back-office systems to reduce the need for manual processes?
PRESSURE POINT 2: PAYMENT TYPES
Confusion often reigns when payment types used for returned online purchases veer from typical credit card transactions. Some ecommerce platforms struggle to identify gift cards, bank cards, or third-party tender payment card tokens during a return, which may force retailers to pay monies due in cash, merchandise credit, or a different tendered method than originally used – none of which are ideal.
Every retailer should ask:
- What solutions can we put in place to ensure all approved payment types are recognized and processed online and in-store?
- How can we encourage consumers to spend merchandise credits quickly, so today’s numbers don’t show a deficit?
- How can we maintain consistency across channels to ensure accurate data reporting and transaction records?
Rising demands on fulfilment centers, increased warehouse and distribution activity, and increasingly diverse home delivery methods introduce new challenges. Managing these logistics in a way that benefits both retail operations and consumers is a tenuous balancing act that all too often eats up profits.
PRESSURE POINT 3: SHIPPING & DELIVERY
The logistics of shipping and delivery have reached critical levels causing some retailers to bypass the old supply chain. Rising demands on fulfilment centers, increased warehouse and distribution activity, and increasingly diverse home delivery methods introduce new challenges. Managing these logistics in a way that benefits both retail operations and consumers is a tenuous balancing act that all too often eats up profits.
Every retailer should ask:
- What policies do we have in place for products that are mislaid, missing, or damaged in transit by third-party vendors?
- How can we identify bad actors versus consumers with authentic grievances about non-delivery or missing items?
- Can we reduce costs by using local couriers to deliver products to consumers directly from stores?
- Can we encourage customers to pick up and return items in store to offset risks and costs?
Change for the better
Some retailers had no ecommerce capabilities or a minimal online presence prior to COVID-19. To successfully add and manage an omnichannel platform that integrates finance, marketing, operations, logistics, loss prevention, and other teams – all in the middle of a pandemic – is no small feat.
We applaud you. (We’d set off fireworks if we could.) Of course, the challenges of ecommerce aren’t going away anytime soon. Having advanced omnichannel technology tenfold in just one year, the opportunity for retailers now is to refine what works, revise what doesn’t, and keep growing their business. We hope these tips will help you along the way:
- Develop clear processes and guidelines, and make sure your employees understand and apply them consistently.
- Ensure accurate reporting so you can leverage your company’s transaction data to enhance the consumer experience.
- Always focus on good consumer service, which includes policies to weed out bad actors.
Last but not least, don’t forget to keep asking yourself all the important questions discussed above – so you can prepare for the next pressure point.
Carrie Cassidy, Director, Marketing, Appriss Retail
A technology advocate for more than 25 years, Carrie makes information about advanced data analytics solutions accessible to retail professionals through a variety of media. She has written numerous white papers, case studies, and articles for a variety of industries ranging from motion control to human resources.