Offline-Online Integration - the Key to Connect Retail and E-commerce
Online-offline integration between e-commerce and physical stores enables the customer to move between the two shopping environments. Through this seamless transition, all retailers can increase revenue. However, it’s not just online stores that can introduce new solutions.
Offline-online integration (retail to e-commerce) turns the process around by providing access to and knowledge about the online store at a physical store. In the case of brick-and-mortar stores, qualified staff and the store interior are the keys to an effective connection between the offline and online shopping environments. To make offline-online integration easier to understand, let’s follow the five categories of a great shopping experience.
Offline-online integration is impossible without following basic customer experience rules, engagement being one of them. Polite, caring and helpful personnel present the brand in a positive light and build trust with the customer. Only then you can think about implementing new strategies to increase revenue, such as integrating the physical store with e-commerce.
Once you have the basics covered, it’s time to educate the staff about the offline-online integration going on and help them understand their role in the process. Make sure your personnel are aware of all e-commerce tools the brand is using: online store, mobile app, interactive digital signage, etc. The key is to have the staff advocate these tools for the customer in the appropriate context, e.g. when they are looking for an item that is unavailable at the store. Don’t hesitate to reward the staff for their engagement.
After making sure your staff shows engagement and understands the goals of offline-online integration, it’s time for them to learn more about the online store and the way they could use it to improve the customer experience. The store personnel should be well trained in how to use the e-commerce store and provide advice to customers when necessary. Clients often need assistance in signing up, creating an account in the loyalty program, checking order status, etc.
The next factor is online inventory visibility. If a desired product is not available (model, size, color, feature), the shop assistant should offer an alternative from the e-commerce inventory.
Finally, offline-online integration features cross-selling and upselling. It should be a standard practice for Click & Collect orders. When collecting an order, the customer may be offered complementary products, like socks when someone picks up shoes.
Brand experience inside the store
The next crucial element of a successful offline-online integration is the store interior. Starting from the store entrance, there are different ways to introduce clients to the online store and not distract them from shopping inside. The cost of implementation may vary depending on the store area and technological advancements used.
It’s important to provide clear signage about the online store, e.g. a sign on a doorway, in fitting room cabins or any other place where customers are exposed to advertising messages. You may promote the store’s URL or direct the customers to self-service online kiosks or Click & Collect points.
Digital display and signage can create a unique atmosphere with beautiful visuals and animations. Clients become a part of an immersive shopping experience, enjoying the look and feel of the store and the convenience of e-commerce just next to them.
Today’s technological advantage gives retailers unprecedented opportunities in terms of a captivating customer experience. Engage customers with elements of surprise or unexpected convenience, like a free high-speed Wi-Fi connection, beacons or virtual changing rooms (see how it works below).
Physical stores suffer from one important disadvantage compared to e-commerce stores: waiting. Lines to fitting rooms or checkout are inevitable. It’s up to the personnel and store equipment to minimize the waiting time, and it’s another situation when technology comes in handy.
There are many queue-unloading solutions available:
- Assisted service (e.g. an e-commerce order made at the cashier desk or with a handheld terminal)
- Self-service (e.g. kiosks) - such a solution not only improves the queues, but also allows customers to participate in promotions available in the shop application (eg after scanning QR Code).
- Mobile POS (especially useful in high shopping periods, e.g. Black Friday & Christmas),
- Flexible delivery and payment options
- Separate Click & Collect points, like a separate queue for the Click & Collect customers. Checkout points should be located in an easily accessible area but also offer the possibility for cross- and up-selling.
Even when you strive for the best shopping experience possible, customers may encounter different issues from time to time, mainly with returns and claims processing. Again, an integration with an online store may come in handy. The clerk should be able to access the entire customer history in order to learn the context of different situations. Also, it should be a common practice in the integrated shopping experience to handle online returns and claims at the physical store.
Best practices for offline-online integration
Offline-online integrations poses specific challenges. In the e-commerce environment, the retailer controls the website content and how it functions while the physical store environment leaves less control to the retailer on-site.
How can you delivery the same quality of online solutions at a brick-and-mortar store?
1. Provide high-speed Internet access in stores, which is especially required for digital signage, terminals or mobile POS to work properly.
- Obsess over details and test a lot! This is particularly relevant for digital signage and kiosks. The retailer is fully responsible not only for the displayed content, but also for the hardware layer:
- Does it serve the desired content?
- Is it fast and reliable?
- Does it look pleasant and correspond with the store design?
- Is it firmly attached to the wall or floor?
2. Pay close attention to the physical environment layer as well.
- Where are the devices located? Are they easily accessible?
- What are the lighting conditions?
3. Customers expect great experiences. If just one layer fails (if the hardware is slow, or there’s no premium content available), the entire system delivers a poor experience to the users. Image quality needs to be adjusted to the platform, so if a 4K video wall is installed, the retailer should provide video content shot in 4K resolution.
4. Different screen sizes and different locations serve different purposes. For example, a human-sized screen may work great to attract customer attention, but it’s not suited to act as an online store platform. The users won’t finish a purchase on such a screen when other people are watching. When it comes to kiosks, adjust the device to the customer intentions in different contexts. Make sure it’s visible and easily accessible.
5. Train your staff and turn them into your omnichannel ambassadors! Provide incentives and trainings to help them implement the offline-online integration strategy at your store.
Contrary to common beliefs, connecting e-commerce and retail stores causes no problem with competition. Scientific research proves e-commerce and retail integration results in the increase of competitive advantage and revenue growth.
In offline-online integration, all the means of implementation have one thing in common: improving the customer experience in a complex way. Pay close attention to all digital displays at the store and their functionality and aesthetics, make sure the customers are served by qualified and trained personnel and provide constant access to high-speed in-store Wi-fi.