By Gerry Brewer, CEO and Managing Director, Teamuniformorders.com
Traditional retailers struggling to stay afloat amidst intense competition and more innovative online shops have a bigger advantage and more opportunities for growth than they may realize. The traditional retail mindset, often perpetrated by seasoned managers who came up through the ranks in a different time, leads to missed opportunities and an unnecessary dread of the online world and the “Amazon effect.” This mindset creates an artificial advantage for pure-play online retailers, which need not exist, thereby exaggerating the twin myths of the Amazon effect and the retail apocalypse.
There is one distinct advantage traditional retailers have that, all too often, goes unrecognized and unleveraged. That is, they have multiple opportunities to personally interact with their customers — effectively to know them better, and interact with them personally — both online and in person. Too many retailers view online and e-commerce as separate channel strategies. This often leads to a “bolt-it-on” mindset and approach, and separate and often opposing factions within the same operation.
Instead, the opportunity is to approach every interaction from the vantage of the customer. The same consumer who walks into a brick and mortar shop will log-in to an online store late at night, from the comfort of their homes. Imagine the potential of having one, unified experience, and a unified approach to enhancing the customer experience at every point of contact. By looking at channel strategy from the customers’ vantage point, we see that customers tend to want equal access to all channels, and want to have the same experience, regardless of the channel they choose. That is the opportunity retailers have, yet may not realize.
At the core, both the traditional, person-to-person, brick and mortar model; and the more disruptive digital, online e-commerce model, have the same goal — to be in service to the customer on their terms. The retailer must be responsive, understand the needs of the client, and react accordingly. Digital technology and e-commerce are simply new ways to accomplish the same goals.
The first step towards maintaining share — and not losing out to online competitors — is simply continuing the core competency retailers have known and done for years, just by learning and applying some of the advanced technologies which are readily available today. Two examples: With little cost, retailers can easily connect all purchases and interactions with each customer in centralized data repositories. And another: Being responsive to customers 24/7 is now imperative. Readily available online customer care solutions such as chatbots enable retailers to scale and serve as never before, even during what are traditionally considered “off hours.” Again, all on the terms of the customer.
That purely human operated call center may create an initial appearance of personalization, but in fact the digital support center working in close concert with the human call center is going to create more actual personalization than a human call center could ever hope to achieve. Considering the customer first and not the channel is the true retail advantage.