The 5 Secrets to Omnichannel Success Revealed at NRF 2019

Today marked the start of retail’s biggest conference – NRF 2019. I had the opportunity to present at the event this morning in a session titled 5 Secrets to Omnichannel and Retail Success.

The presentation included primary research gathered by Applause from our community of highly-vetted testers (see the slides here). As part of the research, the testers completed functional and omnichannel tests during the holiday shopping season – both during Black Friday weekend and the month of December. The Black Friday to Cyber Monday tests were focused on 22 leading retailers in the US while the December shopping tests focused on 30 top retailers, ten each from the US, UK, and Germany. The results showed that unfortunately not everyone was ready for the holiday season.

Based on the findings of the research, I put together these five secrets for successfully delivering omnichannel experiences your customers will love. Now while you may think you've heard these secrets before, I’d argue that the research shows it’s never a bad time for a refresher.

Secret One: Walk in Your Customer’s Shoes

Consumers don’t think in terms of individual channels. They just think about interacting with the brand as a whole. They bounce around channels and touchpoints at will, and expect them all to be consistent and integrated. If they’re not, consumers can grow frustrated with the buying experience and bring their business elsewhere.

Retailers inherently know this, but they’re not taking the steps necessary to create a unified omnichannel experience. In fact, according to Periscope Research, 78% of retailers admit they don’t provide a single brand experience across all channels.

This is something our testers noted during the holiday shopping research.

"The mobile and PC shopping experience wasn’t close to matching. I shopped on my phone, put things in my cart, and moved to my laptop to see details," said one tester when reviewing their experiences buying from a global discount store.

Retailers should consider using real-world testing with actual customers and targeted demographics to ensure they are walking in the customer’s shoes and providing consistent experiences across the omnichannel.

Secret Two: Make Training a Priority

If your store associates aren’t properly trained, your omnichannel experiences can get derailed. Store associates that don’t know where to find pickup items and those that prioritize in-store customers over omnichannel ones can make wait times frustrating for customers.

We found a lot of evidence of this in our research. As part of our holiday shopping tests, we had usability experts complete a specific omnichannel journey – buy online, return in store. One tester in Germany found the experience to be incredibly cumbersome, saying "It was very difficult to return the online item in the store. It took too long to find the right counter. It was also very busy and I was in the queue for half an hour."

In-store experiences should be tested just as closely as digital ones. To get a sense of where in-store associates lack training, retailers should send in testers that can go through an actual omnichannel purchase – from digital to in store. Especially during high-traffic times, this will help pinpoint if store associates can find items, direct customers, and answer questions correctly and consistently.

Secret Three: Ensure Quality is King

Customers demand high-quality experiences whether they are interacting with a brand online or in a physical store. But retailers are failing to deliver as US retailers alone lose an estimated $24 billion in revenue due to poor mobile experiences each year, according to Hobson & Company.

Poor quality can directly impact a retailer’s bottom line, especially when these bad experiences occur during the purchase process as one tester during our holiday shopping research found, saying, "I couldn’t apply a new credit card on the account page. I already had an account with the retailer, but my old card expired and I can’t get the new one to save."

Retailers must test across all relevant payment methods, devices, browsers, and operating systems to ensure they get the coverage they need to provide quality experiences wherever shoppers choose to buy.

Secret Four: Validate Localization and Personalization

Personalization in retail has gone from being a competitive advantage to an operational necessity. Consumers expect retailers to know what they want, make recommendations, then instantly expedite and fulfill an order in the most convenient fashion.

This is something many retailers are struggling with as we saw in one example on Black Friday from a customer that said, "I felt that too many suggested or recommended items were duplicate, redundant, or simply off-brand versions of the same item."

To get the most out of your personalized communications and offers, you should validate them with the people who will be seeing them – your customers.

Localization is also essential to reach your customers how they want to be reached and ensure you are communicating in the correct language, with the correct cultural focus. However, localization is more than just a one-to-one translation. Many brands have found this out the hard way. KFC’s "finger licking good" slogan was translated to "eat your fingers off" in Chinese while the American Dairy Association’s famous "Got Milk?" campaign became "Are You Lactating?" in Spanish speaking countries.

Applause helps retailers validate content, personalization, and localization efforts by providing real-world testers in-market that speak the languages retailers are trying to reach.

Secret Five: Put Customers at the Center of Development

Consumers want to pick how and when they engage with brands. But retailers, too often, aren’t thinking about customers when developing software.

We saw this problem pop up again and again in our holiday shopping research. "Shipping costs were added in the end of the transaction. I just wish they had told me up front," said one tester.

Retailers must be direct with consumers and fine-tune experiences to meet their needs. The best way to do this is by sourcing real feedback from real customers. By gaining this real-world feedback, retailers can understand and prepare for all parts of the customer journey – how shoppers search for products, the shipping speeds and cost they’ll accept, and they payment methods and devices they use to purchase.

Check out the full presentation. We’ll be posting daily recaps from NRF so stay tuned for more as the event progresses!


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