E-commerce goes omni-channel (part 3)The future of online technologies for the local retail store

E-commerce goes omni-channel (part 3)

Online technologies like NFC, LFC, Beacons, WiFi-Tracking, MEMS und LEDs allow for the tracking of customers while shopping. What does that mean for the future and for the fusion of online business and the physical retail store?

Online/offline fusion

A smooth transition between all channels is important, especially in omni-channel retailing. Thus, it is absolutely necessary to incorporate the internet into the retail store and to create a flawless overall coordination – because the customer has come to expect this “seamless customer experience“. In this context, cross-channel payment options are becoming increasingly important.

Technologies like Beacons bridge the gaps between different channels, between online and offline retail. As mobile commerce becomes more relevant, it enables a hybrid of shopping experiences between physical points-of-sale and smart devices.

The online/offline fusion opens up new marketing opportunities:  it creates a foundation for location-based advertising and the retailer can get to know the customer better outside of his online activities.  Yet since most of these technologies – like Beacons or WiFi tracking – only work in one direction, it is still necessary for the customers to download the relevant app to their smartphone, in order to be able to collect any customer behavior data. Once the customer can be identified, even possibly linked to his digital activities, it is then possible to surprise and inspire him by offering him attractive service benefits.  In addition to the seamless transition between online and offline retail, there are many opportunities for personalization; and with carefully thought out offers it is possible for the customer's commitment to increase automatically. 

Conclusion

The boundaries between the individual channels are disappearing – a development that above all is accelerated by the customer's expectations. It is only natural that the comfort of the online shopping experience is desired within the walls of the local retail store. On the other side, the online shopping experience can be enriched through the possibilities of “real” stores: products that can touched and tried on, sales personnel who can offer face-to-face advice, and products that can be taken home immediately. 

The technologies already exist and are being continuously developed, the main challenge is again – the customer: the success of the link between the online and offline worlds is dependent upon his willingness to participate (not only) because of the legal frame work.  That is why it is important to persuade the customer with offers that truly produce an added value for him and significantly improve his shopping experience. Plus it has to be taken into account that the customer wants to protect his data and to have his data handled carefully – so transparency also plays a very important role. 

The experience made thus far in e-commerce has been very encouraging: Here we have seen that the customer is very willing, often from his own initiative (like during information searches or the maintenance of his own customer information) to contribute to, or to accept that large amounts of data are collected about him. 

So the ball is in the retailer's court: Creativity as well as an understanding of the customer's wishes and sensitivities are in demand.

Dr. Jochen Wiechen

CEO Intershop Communications

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