Topshop’s recent announcement that it will launch an Australian ecommerce platform this month has caught the eye of many local retailers.
The UK-headquartered brand has been something of a fashion retail pioneer since it came to life in the 1970s. From its initial laser-like focus on teenage women to its aggressive international expansion earlier this decade, Topshop has been a trendsetter in the business world as well as on the clothing rack.
Now the brand has communicated the desire to synchronise its physical and digital worlds to provide customers with a seamless omnichannel experience
It remains to be seen how the company will meld the physical and online shopping environments, however, it strengthens a growing business case for a bricks-and-clicks approach to fashion retail.
According to the Commonwealth Bank’s recent retail insights report, 40 per cent of Australian retailers are looking to open at least one more channel in the next 12 months.
However, delivering on an omnichannel strategy isn’t without its challenges. Issues such as inventory visibility, which is already a challenge for many physical-only retailers, become infinitely more complex as the potential route to purchase becomes more varied.
For example under the omnichannel strategy detailed by Topshop, physical stores would act as distribution centres, offering services such as click-and-collect or free express delivery. This approach is in demand by consumers, but requires the business having immediate access to information on inventory locations, fulfilment times and other pertinent details to keep customers satisfied.
Sometime Topshop partner Nordstrom is also tackling a similar issue in the United States. As part of its omnichannel project Nordstrom will be equipping point of sale devices in stores with more detailed stock and delivery information.
Using leading cloud computing technology, store associates can use rich product and inventory information to locate and order the right products across the supply network quickly and easily, on any device.
But although the likes of Nordstrom and Topshop are moving towards a new omnichannel approach, it isn’t always easy. For smaller local businesses it can be quite difficult to know where to start.
Understand it’s all about U(sers)
In omnichannel environments, your customer determines the strategic approach. Chances are your target market, their shopping behaviors and preferred engagement path is going to be very different to other retailers in your neighborhood—let alone those headquartered on the other side of the world.
Spend time gathering information on your customer. Really push for genuine insight based on meaningful data. This is the foundation for success.
For example, while a global store may see fashionable (and expensive) in-store stylists as a critical strategic differentiator in their omnichannel strategy, there may be other drivers to attract your customer in-store.
Don’t limit this discovery period to just one channel. The way a consumer shops across one medium can be completely different in another format.
Retailers should be probing customer interactions across multiple channels and at every stage of the purchase path. This will allow them to find, understand, and engage customers faster and more effectively through all channels, and deliver powerful insights to personalise customer experiences and improve business strategies.
Get tech-y with it
The next stage is to understand what you can realistically deliver on. There is often a huge disconnect between a retailer’s vision for their business, and what is legitimately possible.
For example, a recent PayPal report found that 71 per cent of Australian consumers use their mobiles to make purchases, yet only 49 per cent of businesses had optimised their online services to accept mobile payments.
You’ll also need to consider how robust your approach is when unplanned events occur. What happens when you experience a stock shortfall or unexpected mark-down? Without whole-of-business inventory visibility your business won’t be able to deliver a reliable ‘buy online, pick up at store’ program or any other version of the ‘buy anywhere, deliver anywhere’ experience.
Fortunately a new generation of industry-specific technology products can help tackle these problems. These retailer solutions use customer data to inform the entire processes, rather than just deal with isolated opportunities or issues.
These tools can help retailers dramatically improve their speed of delivery, demand planning, stock replenishment and price competitiveness. All of which are critical in omnichannel environments.
Overall success lies in those retailers who embrace marketing management technologies. It is these who will find themselves competitively positioned against these global retail pioneers, and will have the ability to establish a more intimate, prescriptive sales model linked to customers’ personal behaviours.
Helen Masters is the vice president and managing director of Infor South Asia – Pacific and ASEAN.
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