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Half of Retailers to Offer Consumers “Start Anywhere, Finish Anywhere” Capabilities Within Five Years

Consumers are increasingly fickle, so rather than guess where they might spend their money, retailers are choosing to cover all bases by offering the ability to shop whenever, wherever and however.

According to a recent report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP), 56 percent of retailers said their top digital priority is to create a consistent experience across all channels. Moreover, 50 percent will offer people a “start anywhere, finish anywhere” option within five years, following the customer’s journey as she shops across and among channels.

“Today’s unified commerce imperative moves the heart of the transaction to a centralized platform,” stated Jeffrey Neville, vice president at BRP. “This allows retailers to become more innovative and agile with their digital commerce offerings to further enable a personalized customer experience. It is promising to see that retailers are laser-focused on delivering the seamless, cross-channel experience consumers expect.”

BRP surveyed more than 500 North American retailers in June and July (29 percent of which sell apparel, accessories and footwear), asking about their digital commerce plans, priorities and future trends.

Personalization was a top digital priority for less than half of those surveyed (40 percent), while 50 percent said they want to have customer-identifying technology within stores in two years and a further 58 percent are hoping to use geolocation by then.

In addition, 46 percent of retailers pointed to improving the mobile shopping experience as a top priority (not surprisingly, respondents prefer mobile websites to separate native mobile apps) and three-quarters are aiming for a single shared cart across channels within three years.

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“While the main goal of mobile technology from a retailer standpoint may be to drive in-store sales, it is also the conduit that bridges the convergence of the digital and in-store experience,” the report said. “A customer’s smartphone is the key to customer identification and personalization of the store shopping experience.”

Of course, a retailer’s technology and organization needs to be aligned across all channels in order to offer a seamless and consistent customer experience. BRP’s report pointed out that a major hurdle today is that when a customer visits a store, most of her pre-purchase research and behavior is not available to the sales associate, which makes personalization almost impossible.

To that end, 73 percent of retailers surveyed plan to utilize an order management system (OMS) as their unified commerce platform within three years, enabling them to view and access their customers’ order history, wish lists and purchase behavior across all channels. In addition, three-quarters are adding new roles and employee incentives to accommodate omnichannel tasks, such as store-level pick, pack and ship or in-store pickups.

“Digital and mobile commerce has elevated shopper’s expectations of the customer experience,” BRP said. “She expects service anytime, anywhere and any way she wants it. Retailers realize they need a different approach to enable a unified experience, one that supports today’s convergence of the digital and physical worlds. The answer is unified commerce.”

BRP’s suggestion: take one step at a time. First, understand how customers want to engage and how that differs by customer segment. Then align next year’s commerce initiatives with those preferences and prioritize so that the digital and physical worlds converge to support a seamless experience across all channels.