02 May 2016

E-commerce Challenges Brick & Mortar – but can Either Provide an Omni-Channel Experience?

A true omni-channel connectivity doesn’t yet exist. Instead, it’s a goal that organizations reach for to improve internal operations, customer experience and revenue.

This is made obvious by the fact that many organizations…

  • offer discount pricing online but not via phone or in-store channels
  • don’t allow you to return items in-store when you purchase them online
  • can’t access your online purchase history in-store
  • have different inventory online versus in-store
  • incentivize in-store employees to sell in-store inventory versus helping a customer find out-of-stock items online
  • don’t profile customers in-store, only online

It is obvious that a large majority of consumer organizations are still trying to figure out how to connect their brick & mortar channel to their digital channels. We see stores founded on the brick & mortar experience like Target and Macy’s investing in a digital channel presence. On the other side of the coin, e-commerce organizations like Amazon, Blue Nile, Frank & Oak, Warby Parker and Casper are opening brick & mortar storefronts.

e-commerce Stores Invest in Brick & Mortar for a Connected Experience

Omnichannel While it’s a shock for some to see e-commerce organizations opening up storefronts – it makes sense when thinking about the elevated customer engagement an in-store experience can provide. By entering the brick & mortar channel and investing in new, modern technology that integrates customer data, these organizations are also getting closer than anyone to an integrated, multichannel experience.

When you visit an Amazon store, you can scan a product with the Amazon application and choose to save it, purchase it online or buy it in-store. The purchase is a fluid process. Amazon also gains information about what their customers are looking for, so they can stock what’s needed and market to customers in a personalized way. If you live in Manhattan, Amazon offers a pickup window at their store and for Amazon Prime buyers offers one-day shipping via bike messengers. While online organizations struggle to compete with the gratification of a same day purchase, Amazon’s one-day shipping is getting them one step closer to fulfilling this customer need.

If you think about how we experience the world – we use all 5 senses. This is important when purchasing an item as well. By departing from a purely digital presence, e-commerce organizations gain…

  • Showrooms where consumers can touch and engage with what they are purchasing. For Blue Nile, a jewelry e-tailer, this gives consumers the chance to feel, see and gain knowledge about a high-priced purchase before pulling the trigger online. Casper mattresses has opened up showrooms in major cities and recently started opening pop-up stores that give buyers a unique experience and let them try out mattresses prior to ordering. Bonobos opened several shops that serve as guide shops for customers to learn their clothing size and then order online thus limiting a poor experience around returns.
  • A way to showcase and heighten their brand identity since digital makes differentiation difficult. Hip eye glasses company, Warby Parker, opened two pop-up shops in hot shopping meccas like SoHo and Michigan Avenue and realized they actually lifted online sales – they quickly opened 40 additional store locations. The stores acted as marketing vehicles, pushing buyers online and growing their customer base.
  • Targeted locations that are culturally aligned with the organizations brand. Frank & Oak crowd sourced their brick & mortar locations, giving customers a list of store locations and letting them vote. The locations given to customers were based on shipping information, so they opened stores in areas where their customer base already existed. All strategic decisions are made by real-time customer data leading to higher growth margins.

It is no surprise that online organizations are able to integrate their brick & mortar channels with their digital channels more easily than brick & mortar stores trying to elevate their digital presence. This is because e-commerce organizations don’t suffer from legacy systems that are disconnected by channel.

Because e-commerce organizations are relatively new, they benefit from the latest technology that’s designed to provide a strong customer experience. They open their doors, so to speak, with a customer relationship management system and have one system of record that connects web, e-mail, social and now their brick & mortar stores. Having the ability to see customers across channels gives them a leg up.

With over 800,000 online stores competing for consumer attention via Google, Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst at Forrester Research, believes that e-commerce must have a Brick & Mortar store to succeed.

Brick & Mortar Stores Struggle to Integrate Digital Channels

Woman Looking at Phone While ShoppingOn the flip side, if you take a closer look at how Brick & Mortar stores are integrating digital channels, they have launched e-commerce stores that are completely siloed from their in-store experience.

For example, in Target, you can self serve at registers and have low wait times, while online you have to navigate through a huge inventory to find what you want and then when it comes time to make a purchase, their transactional environment is often times down or forces you to enter your information over and over again due to glitches in their system. Also, you might find an item you like online, but you are unable to find it in-store. This creates channel inconsistency. If you’ve visited Ikea’s online store recently, you have probably noticed that the most stylish, in demand items are showcased in marketing ads but have been out of stock for months…with no date of when they might be available.

While there is great room for improvement for many organizations that initiated their business with Brick & Mortar stores, there are exceptions to the rule. Apple uses its customer portal as a bridge between in-store, digital and voice customer support. No matter which channel you interact with Apple in – you are guaranteed to have the same brand experience.

Whether your organization is looking to move in-store or online, make sure that your expansion strategy has an un-siloed approach. Marketing, sales and service should have a shared approach across digital channels and the brick & mortar channel. Make sure your customers don’t have to make a choice on how they purchase from you or make a return. The experience you provide in your physical presence and digital presence should be mirror images of one another to uphold your brand identity and holistic customer experience.

Read my former blog to learn what organizations are doing to get to the heart of the customer.


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Lynn Olson

As VP of sales and marketing, I have 18+ years of experience in the CX space. I’m a partner at heart – driven to add value through shared goals and knowledge transfer. I carry a true passion for marrying the voice of the customer with an organization’s business drivers and vision to execute on strategies that reinvent customer engagement.


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