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I made my way to Chicago to attend the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) conference a couple of weeks ago. For those of you who may not be familiar with IRCE, this show typically focuses on ecommerce, but this year brick-and-mortar retail was included.

Personally, I was very happy to see this “co-mingling” as it is reflective of a retail trend that is way past due, in my opinion – finally, finally, finally retailers are combining their brick & mortar and ecommerce teams and allowing them to work together for the common good. Ecommerce should not be, nor should it ever have been its own separate function within a retail organization. Customers are customers – whether that is online, offline, or both-lines, they are customers, period, end.

This leads me to my first takeaway:

1. Single-Channel Retail is Pretty Much History

Customers are not single-channel any more. This is not new news to most people as the majority of retailers have been multi-channel for a while now. Multi-channel falls short though because historically different channels have operated in silos – different teams, different inventories, and limited interaction.

Omni-channel is where we are today, and we can see it everywhere. Order online, pick up in store or at the curb. Try on clothes in store, order online for delivery at home. Another example given was the Amazon purchase of Whole Foods and how there has been a shift to drive sales and customer engagement through the combined effect of both channels.

Key Learning: Marketing, engagement, and relationship building strategies always should be at the customer level, not the channel level. Channels need to be “omni,” meaning they work harmoniously to engage customers, deliver a seamless experience, and as a result, drive the business.

My second takeaway from the conference is closely related:

2. Customer Experience is King

Customer experience is definitely front and center in the minds of retailers. How to make it simple, convenient, and more enjoyable to do business are key questions. A couple of examples include: Amazon delivering groceries and Walmart delivering groceries and putting them away for you.

In my world, the customer experience is front and center but is not limited to placing items in the shopping cart and taking possession of said items. Whether those items are online, through an app, or in-store, remaining cognizant of the customer experience at check-out is essential. Keeping data safe and delivering ways of making it easier to pay, such as card-on-file, virtual transactions, and one-click or touchless payments are pretty much table stakes for delivering a positive customer experience.

Key Learning: Delivering a positive customer payment experience is predicated on keeping your payment environment secure and your customers’ payment data current. The last thing you want is to inform customers of a data breach or need to decline a transaction because some piece of card-on-file information is out of date. If you have issues with either of those, there are some great solutions I can suggest. You definitely need to make repeat transactions safe, seamless, and simple for your customers, and we can help you do that quickly.

3. Data Collection Drives Expansion

Making smart strategic decisions that are rooted in data has long been a cornerstone of successful retailers. For years retailers have turned to their customer databases to understand what messages and offers should be delivered to which customers through what channels, to maximize the ROI of their marketing programs.

There is rich insight to be gleaned regardless of the level of data you collect. Insight that can drive product expansion, sales expansion, and customer expansion. Consider the following examples:

  • Amazon sells a ton of other companies’ products including consumer packaged goods such as Tide. Aggregating and mining this data is delivering insight into what products Amazon should develop under its own private label – e.g. The Amazon of Tide.
  • Netflix shows a bunch of older movies that not only drive entertainment options for subscribers but also deliver insight into what types of content are most popular across its subscriber base. This, in turn, drives the content of the shows and movies that Netflix produces.

Key Learning: Get creative with it. Even a little bit of data can go a long way to supporting key strategic business decisions from operations to inventory mix to product development.

One Final Thought

Retail is an exciting, dynamic industry that is being driven by the customer experience and fueled by rapidly evolving technology. The key lies in knowing how to leverage the latest in technology to deliver that customer experience that sets you apart and keeps your customers returning time and again.