3 steps to making your business multi-channel

shutterstock_197513384It’s all very well having a plan to become a multi-channel business, but do you have a multi-channel business plan?

Retail Week’s ‘Fashion retail 2014’ reports that multi-channel is driving an agenda of innovation across retail organisations and that it is the biggest investment priority for fashion retailers right now. ‘Providing quality multi-channel service’ is the most mentioned challenge the sector faces, with eight out of fifteen retailers interviewed putting it in their top three issues. Meanwhile, nine out of the fifteen retailers have ‘investment in multi-channel’ in their top three priorities for the year ahead, with eight rating it as their number one priority. It goes on to highlight that almost half of consumers regularly use three or more channels to do their shopping, making an integrated and seamless retail experience vital.

As with many objectives in business, the aim of providing a multi-channel service is to deliver a high level of customer satisfaction while consumers channel hop so that you can achieve growth and financial gain in return. Yes, right now your customers are likely to be very tech savvy and ready to adopt new technology-based experiences with you. However, there’s no point throwing a business into the complexity of multi-channel and investing in new and innovative equipment unless you can justify its need and utilise it fully. Building a solid foundation to support a multi-channel business that has the ability to connect with consumers and build loyalty is key to its survival and in within this there are three vital steps:

Step one: Do your current systems, processes and organisation support excellent operational performance?

Think of where you are right now and where you want to be in five years time. What’s currently holding your business back, slowing things down, or could just benefit from being faster, better or cheaper? This is your starting point. Next you need to find the hidden factors that are affecting your business without you realising it. Run periodic reports on product sales, stock wastage, staff hours, marketing and anything else that takes up a proportion of your business, and analyse the results to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This task in itself will open your eyes to the amount of data you have available to you and crucially whether it is the right kind of data and good enough to support a multi-channel business. Finally talk to your staff and customers to find out what changes they would make to the business.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a quick fix. Be prepared to invest time and capital into this step in order to achieve truly valuable guidance and get your business ready for a multi-channel operation. According to recent figures by Oracle Retail, retailers are already shifting capital towards IT systems, with 58% of global retailers increasing IT budgets this year.

Step two: Do you have a data strategy to manage targeted marketing?

Do you have access to live big data that can consistently support a targeted approach to selling? This means linking the data from your sales, stock, delivery, customer history, promotions, etc, to a central system that can manage and report on actions by staff and customers. When creating a strategy, it’s important to understand what combinations of data are needed and how they can be used in order to effectively handle each aspect of your business from sales to stock orders, deliveries to returns, customers’ preferences to product promotions. With this big data you can optimise customer experience to give a seamless experience with your business whether it be in-house, online or via an app.

“You have to optimise your website for multiple journeys and then ensure that you are aware of each stage of the journey and the data is carried across all devices”, explains the chief director of a multiple fashion brand retailer.

Step three: What do you need to do to achieve a best practice multi-channel model?

What selling channels will work for your business? Showrooms, pop-ups, self-service tills, digital tables, mobile tablets, websites, apps, catalogues, call centres? Should each channel offer equal functionality? Or do they play different roles? Your multi-channel business model needs to support the features and services you offer as well as the needs and expectations of your existing and future customers. Following this, once the foundations of your multi-channel business are in place and the plan is executed remember to keep fine-tuning it to stay on top.

One fashion chief executive says: “Because omni-channel and digital growth will continue in importance, retailers will have to continue to invest to stay ahead of the curve. Consumer expectations have changed dramatically because they have so much more information at their fingertips and they know what’s possible”. Another adds: “Multi-channel is the key to our success and our growth, whether you are talking about wholesale, stores, online or concessions in shops. No matter what market you are aiming at, multi-channel is top of any management agenda”.

Ranking high on multi-channel investments are mobile and click and collect services, both of which support customer loyalty by giving them added flexibility and a service 24/7. Meanwhile it has been suggested that physical retails outlets will embrace the future and remain an essential part of the shopper’s multi-channel experience by becoming hubs and showrooms used to support the digital services.

Final thought…In the quest to deliver as a multi-channel business some may be tempted to focus solely on this area. Yes, the multi-channel and digital era is positively transforming retail, but it cannot replace the need for a broad knowledge across the entire business. “While there is no denying that understanding multichannel is crucial for the majority of retailers… this is needed alongside an understanding of finance, logistics, merchandising and every other factor that is relevant to retail”, advises Carly Syme, Senior Analyst at Verdict.