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Stakes are high for retailers’ return policies

BizJournals – As online shopping continues to grow, the pressure rises for retailers to offer return policies that satisfy customers. Retailers are making an effort to take the guesswork out of online shopping while providing fair return options, Glossy reports. The backlash against L.L. Bean’s decision to pull its unlimited returns policy demonstrated how a policy can impact a brand.

The average online return rate is about 30 percent, more than double the rate of in-store purchases, according to a report from Bold Metrics. Before buying anything online, a report from Narvar, a retail software service company, shows that 57 percent of consumers check a retailer’s returns policy, Glossy reported.

“Retail returns policies will likely evolve to moderate returns policies that won’t turn off customers and won’t bankrupt the company,” David Naumann, vice president of Boston Retail Partners, told Glossy. “A reasonable returns policy will have a realistic time limit and won’t charge shipping for damaged, inferior or exchanged goods.”

“Today’s consumers have high expectations; they demand convenient ordering, fast and free shipping, and a friendly returns policy,” Naumann told Glossy. “These are now table stakes for retailers, and the cost of these features need to be built into the pricing model for sustainable profitability.”

Read Full Article: Stakes are high for retailers’ return policies

The Role Artificial Intelligence in Improving Customer Experience

CustomerThink – We have all heard or read a lot about artificial intelligence. It is a controversial topic with many fearing that it may result in unemployment for humans. However, the big question is, what is artificial intelligence and what does it entail? Artificial intelligence (AI) is in other terms known as machine intelligence. This intelligence is demonstrated by machines which are programmed to perform tasks that humans would otherwise undertake.

The artificial intelligence history can be traced back to 1956 when it was first introduced as an academic discipline. Over the years, artificial intelligence research has been facing some drawbacks which relate to knowledge, reasoning, perception, and the use of natural language. During my research, I came across companies that are considered the biggest players in AI technology. These companies include Amazon, AlBrain, Anki, Banjo, Apple, CloudsMinds, Facebook, and Google.

However, one major thing I realized is that this technology is starting to replace humans in the business world. According to experts, AI has the potential to boost the economy but also bring a negative effect to humans in the job market. Companies have started relying on this technology when it comes to customer satisfaction, as we will discuss below.

In a recent study conducted by BRP Consulting, it was discovered that in the next three years, there will be a 45% increase in the use of AI by retailers. It is expected that retailers will use the technology to improve customer experience.

Read Full Article: The Role Artificial Intelligence in Improving Customer Experience

Same-Day Delivery Drives Brand Loyalty and Purchase Intent

TotalRetail – While the holidays come just once a year, a brand’s reputation can easily be damaged and customers quickly lost when expectations aren’t met during the pivotal shopping season. This past holiday season, we saw retailers make changes to their delivery options to provide shoppers with conveniences they increasingly see as essential, like same-day delivery. At the same time, in what’s become an annual ritual, the major shipping providers announced an array of rate increases and late holiday deliveries.

Managing shipping costs is a challenge for retailers, which are already facing tight margins and immense competition. While last-mile delivery, or the final transit of a product to its destination, can be the most expensive and poses numerous challenges for retailers, it’s nonetheless a key differentiator and an offering retailers can no longer ignore.

According to Dropoff’s 2nd Annual Holiday Survey, 60 percent of U.S. holiday shoppers indicated they were more likely to purchase holiday gifts from retailers that offered same-day delivery. It also showed a significant number of consumers — 67 percent — planned to do last-minute shopping, and expected retailers to accommodate their needs. Ninety percent of last-minute shoppers said they were more likely to purchase from retailers offering same-day delivery.

Interestingly enough, Boston Retail Partners’ 2017 Digital Commerce Survey showed that same-day delivery was offered by 51 percent of retailers in 2017. While that number seems significant, more than half of those described their service as “implemented and needs improvement.” It’s clear retailers are headed in the right direction, but there are a few areas to focus on to ensure you’re on the right path to delivering the most cost-effective, efficient and reliable same-day delivery for your customers.

Read Full Article: Same-Day Delivery Drives Brand Loyalty and Purchase Intent

Survey: 81% Of Retailers Will Deploy Unified Commerce Platforms By 2020

Retail TouchPoints – Retailers understand that gaps between shoppers’ personalized experiences online and in brick-and-mortar stores are problematic, and they are employing technology to satisfy consumers across every channel, at any time and via the method of their choosing.

Boston Retail Partners (BRP) identifies cloud-based unified commerce — the use of a single platform to support commerce for stores, mobile and the web — as the linchpin to competing in a fast-changing, omnichannel environment. In an online survey of 500 top North American retailers, BRP found that 28% of respondents have already implemented unified commerce, more than three times the percentage (9%) reporting that capability last year. By the end of 2020, 81% of retailers will have deployed unified commerce.

“Retail and customer engagement models must transform,” said Brian Brunk, Principal at BRP in a statement. Because legacy retail applications and infrastructure are not equipped for today’s requirements, “retail winners in 2018 and beyond need to accelerate the transformation to cloud-based unified commerce.”

Three Top Customer Engagement Priorities For 2018

In its 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, BRP evaluated retailers’ progress in implementing technology solutions to meet customers’ ever-rising expectations. Retailers’ three top priorities for 2018 are:

  • Customer identification/personalization of the customer experience (62%);
  • Alignment of the customer experience across mobile apps and the web (54%); and
  • Empowering associates with mobile tools (51%).

Read Full Article: Survey: 81% Of Retailers Will Deploy Unified Commerce Platforms By 2020

With Amazon Go’s popularity, luxury must determine the cashierless model’s relevance

Luxury Daily – The long-awaited Amazon Go retail store has finally opened and there has been immense praise for its cashierless model, but is the concept one that can be emulated by luxury?

Amazon’s in-store concept works by letting users sign into an Amazon Go account on a mobile device, and then simply pluck desired items from the shelves and walk out with them while the smartphone tracks what was picked up, automatically charging the goods to the consumer’s account. While it is clear that the idea has immense potential, two questions arise: is it possible and is it right for luxury brands?

“The question is ‘Do other retailers have the competency?’ and that’s unclear,” said Jeffrey Neville, senior vice president and practice lead at Boston Retail Partners, Boston. “More likely, there are pieces of the Amazon Go model that retailers should look at incorporating as they plan for their store of the future.

“Part of the benefit of the Amazon Go experience is speed and convenience for the customer, for the luxury market, this grab-and-go technology doesn’t necessarily make sense since a large part of luxury shopping is the time evaluating a high-ticket item and the interaction with the sales associate asking questions about fit, care and use,” he said. “However, the elimination of the traditional POS may open the door for retailers to redesign their stores and eliminate the classic cash wrap desk to enable more customer- associate interaction.”

Read Full Article: With Amazon Go’s popularity, luxury must determine the cashierless model’s relevance

Retailers Reveal Top Priorities for Customer Engagement

HFN – As the retail industry adjusts and embraces the merging of brick-and-mortar and digital experiences, BRP’s annual POS and Customer Engagement Survey said yesterday’s retail model is dead, and retailers must transform their customer engagement models to an omnichannel approach.

Unified commerce is the new retail imperative, according to the survey, which polled more than 500 top North American retailers about their planned initiatives and priorities for 2018. Unified commerce combines in-store point-of-sale (POS), mobile, Web, order management, call center and clienteling (fostering long-term relationships with customers based on their shopping habits and preferences) into one integrated platform.

“Retail and customer engagement models must transform,” said Brian Brunk, principal at BRP, a retail consulting firm. “However, the legacy retail applications and infrastructure still in place at many retail organizations are not properly equipped to support changing retail models and continuously evolving customer expectations. To meet the demands of their customer, the retail winners in 2018 and beyond need to accelerate the transformation to cloud-based unified commerce. Victory belongs to the agile.”

Top 2018 priorities for retailers include omnichannel integration, added capabilities to current POS system upgrades, payment security, a single commerce platform, mobile POS, and hardware upgrades, according to the survey.

While legacy retail has focused on POS, customers have come to expect a personalized, seamless, and secure experience in real-time, BRP said.

“Understanding the importance of personalization, 62 percent of retailers indicate customer identification is their top customer engagement priority as they transform the in-store customer experience,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP.

Read Full Article: Retailers Reveal Top Priorities for Customer Engagement

The 3 Keys for Marketers to Survive in 2018

Martech Advisor – In the age of Amazon, customer expectations for tailored, personalized experiences and instant gratification — across every industry — are at an all-time high. While daunting, technological advancements in marketing have made it possible to keep pace with this changing landscape. Using data as a guiding light, brands can tell powerful stories and deliver cohesive journeys across channels. How will this play out for marketers in 2018? Read on to find out:

  1. Customers are your best marketing—give them a story to tell

A great storyteller knows his audience, and in marketing, it’s no different . Forrester’s ‘Predictions 2018’ report foresees a faction of forward-thinking brands leaping ahead of the competition by fully embracing customer-obsessed marketing. Long gone are the days of creating a customer experience in a siloed process that takes months of focus groups. Consumer preferences are evolving in real time. Increasingly, customers are doing research online before they purchase a product or service, and they’re more heavily analyzing customer reviews and social media to inform their purchasing decisions.

This means that as retailers look to create engaging customer interactions that leave a lasting impression, the unification of personalization and experimentation will play a key role. According to BRP’s 2017 Digital Commerce Benchmark Survey, 38 percent of retailers indicated that improving personalization is a top goal for digital customer experience. Truthfully though, many brands assume they have successfully achieved personalization when they really have barely scratched the surface. Companies need to combine a range of best practices to ensure they’re personalizing at scale and looking at the digital experience from both a user interface and feature level perspective. There is no silver bullet for how this will be achieved, but, rather, it will take a skillful combination of factors to gather the right data insights and take action to provide the best customer experience possible. The marketers who adopt continued testing and experimentation and collaborate with their technology and eCommerce partners to gauge customer engagement and adopt continuous innovation strategies will be the most successful in driving the right business outcome.

  1. Develop an online-offline strategy or die

Over the last few years, retailers have come to understand that online and offline markets are converging. In 2018, omnichannel retail orders will get smarter to adapt to consumer preferences – for example, retailers are seeing an increase in demand for in-store pickup of online orders, forcing the hand of marketers to bridge the gap between online and offline experiences. In fact, according to a recent BRP Digital Commerce Survey, 90 percent of retailers will offer the ability to buy online and pick up in-store by 2020. Retailers must start to analyze online and offline data together to get a more comprehensive picture of their customers’ shopping journeys  — or risk losing loyal shoppers.

 

Read Full Article: The 3 Keys for Marketers to Survive in 2018

Mobile holiday shopping shot past desktop in 2017: Facebook

Luxury Daily – This past holiday season, mobile shopping grew as the channel of choice for consumers in the United States. In a report conducted by Facebook, data showed that customers picked mobile over desktop at a rate of 81 percent on Singles’ Day Nov. 11 and 74 percent on Black Friday, Nov. 24. As time goes on, Facebook has seen more customers embrace mobile shopping and retailers adjust their strategies to adapt to the increased focus on the mobile channel.

“As more consumers use their mobile device for shopping and buying, retailers need to continue to optimize their e-commerce site for mobility,” said Marty Whitmore, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP, Boston. “Focusing on lighter content for fast loading, better visual formats for mobile, less clicks and ‘on-click’ transactions to make the purchase frictionless.

“To attract more mobile shopping retailers will need to also shift more of their marketing spend to mobile advertising,” he said. “Mobile apps are also a great way to increase engagement with loyal customers.

“The challenge is make your app very compelling so that consumers download and use your app, as they typically will only keep three or four ‘retail’ mobile apps on their device. Key app features that add value include tracking orders and getting real-time updates on services such as delivery time.”

“For U.S.-based retailers that don’t have a global presence today the challenge will be to build a global logistics capability,” Mr. Whitmore said. “Without a global e-commerce site, is difficult to fully participate in global events like Single’s Day.

“Fortunately, there are ways to expand to global markets quickly by leveraging cross-border global commerce services that accelerate the development of global e-commerce sites and navigate cross-border logistics.”

Read Full Article: Mobile holiday shopping shot past desktop in 2017: Facebook

5 Building Blocks For Retail Consumer Centric Success

Retail TouchPoints – Cross-Channel Demand Planning Drives Results For Aldo, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Groupe Dynamite And Others. Although 71% of retailers currently lack formal omnichannel planning processes, those that do are achieving gains, such as:

  • Aldo eliminated 95% of aged inventory;
  • Groupe Dynamite boosted automated replenishment to 80% of orders; and
  • Nebraska Furniture Mart made organizational shifts to support cross-channel collaboration rather than internal competition.

Download this white paper to find out how your company can benefit from an integrated retail optimization solution.

EXCERPTS OF FINDINGS FROM BRP SURVEY REPORTS:

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However, retailers typically aren’t organized that way. So, when consumers cross channels during their shopping journeys, retailers have limited, silo-based visibility of available inventory. While the store might be out-of-stock, the e-Commerce distribution center may be in stock and able to ship that day. Avoiding out-of-stocks, backorders or delays in delivery requires both visibility and synchronization across all inventories to allow each channel the opportunity to meet demand and its financial targets. One channel is unable to meet demand for certain products, while excess inventory languishes in a separate, disconnected supply chain. The fact is, as many as 38% of retailers still plan their brick-and-mortar locations as an individual channel, according to BRP’s Merchandise Planning Survey 2016.

A collaborative, cross-channel planning solution is essential to enable retailers to look at inventory investments in aggregate, as well as in granular detail. This o ers better buying leverage and ensures there is one version of the truth, one plan for a business that can be served through multiple channels or across multiple regions. However, the BRP report found 71% of retailers currently lack such formal omnichannel demand processes.

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A more rapid  ow of allocations to the warehouse also helps the retailer satisfy consumers’ intensifying demand for faster deliveries. According to BRP’s Digital Commerce Survey 2017, the number of retailers offering same-day delivery has more than tripled over the past year, from 16% to 51%; and within two years, 65% plan to offer this service.

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Just 11% of retailers have integrated their planning teams across channels in a way that’s working for them, and only 9% are satisfied with their approach to integrated assortments, according to the BRP study. When retailers plan their businesses separately by channel, they confuse the customer and introduce ine ciency into planning, assortments and inventory.

Read full article: 5 Building Blocks For Retail Consumer Centric Success

How the Retail Industry Rethought Delivery in 2017

eMarketer – Drones, augmented reality and algorithms are the new normal for many retailers and logistics companies. Here’s how the retail industry changed the way they deliver goods to consumers this year.

Robots and AR and Algorithms, Oh My

This year, logistics companies have been leveraging different types of technology to help meet demand for fast, cheap and consumer-centric deliveries. DHL is a prime example. Not only has the company been testing robots that roam around warehouses to pick up orders, but it has also used AR and developed in-house tools using machine learning and algorithms that streamline the delivery process. Meanwhile, UPS has been using advanced package scanning and sorting technology to increase processing speed and accuracy, and FedEx has been using sensor technologies that maximize the use of trailer space during the loading process.

Next-Day Delivery Is So 2016

Speed is a big factor in the delivery process. Nowadays, many consumers want the product they just ordered in their hands right away—as in the same day. And retailers are listening. Take Walmart—which recently acquired Parcel, a New York-based same-day and last-mile delivery startup—to provide same-day deliveries of general merchandise as well as fresh and frozen groceries from both Walmart and its Jet.com unit. Then there’s Target, which earlier this year acquired Grand Junction—which offers a marketplace that connects retailers, distributors and third-party logistics providers with a network of more than 700 carriers—to help meet demand for speedy delivery. Overall, more than half of retailers in North America offer same-day delivery, according to a study from BRP (Boston Retail Partners). By comparison, just 16% offered the service in 2016.

Read Full Article: How the Retail Industry Rethought Delivery in 2017