In my opinion: connect the online and offline worlds via retail analytics, says Intelligence Node

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Many companies still treat online and offline worlds as separate entities, hampering any chance of success, warns Intelligence Node’s Sanjeev Sularia

Sularia:

Sularia: retail analytics are key to melding online and offline business

The big disconnect continuing to distort retailing in 2016 is that consumers don’t see any meaningful difference in where or how they buy – but retailers still don’t recognise how offline and online and mobile intersect, hence the confused ‘debate’ about omni-channel.

Consumers don’t care ultimately. They buy items online, use online to do their research so they can validate the purchase before they enter the store to pick up the item they have marked out. Sometimes they like to go to the store and browse; some items they will probably never want to buy without seeing and holding. It’s that simple; shoppers like the wide selection and information they get from the Internet, but for some items nothing can replace the ‘touch and feel’ of an in-store purchase. The point is they expect to shop any way they like!

Of course there are retailers that appreciate this and have created a unified experience between online and store, such as Apple. iPhone users can complete the sales process in-store using their Apple store app and pay with EasyPay, or alternatively buy online. And even the most traditional of retailers are trying to compete; in the US, Walmart recently went head-to-head against Amazon’s Prime with a free 30-day trial of its ‘Shipping Pass’ that offers unlimited free shipping on many online purchases.

Shipping Pass is a great product, and at $49 a year it stacks up well against Amazon’s $99 pricetag. But whilst Shipping Pass is free two-day shipping on best selling products, Prime offers that as well as film streaming and one-hour delivery. The rivalry continues, which is ultimately going to be great for customers – but along the way, it looks like a lot of painful lessons will have to be learned.

Clicks and bricks: the nuptials

Take Amazon’s recent move into brick and mortar bookstores, yet another sign that at least some retailers understand that customers want a seamless experience. The e-commerce giant opened a physical bookstore in Seattle earlier this year, and it is believed that it has plans afoot for San Diego and New York.

For a company that has made its name online, it struck some as an odd or a mistaken move. But Amazon is exactly on trend here; it has realised that a growing number of its consumers, particularly Millennials, like buying print and visiting bookstores. Plus, a bricks and mortar store is a way of boosting its Kindle e-reader sales, giving consumers the chance try out the devices and discuss them with sales staff.

Amazon isn’t the only allegedly pure-play online retailer to set up in the shopping mall. Lingerie brand Adore Me, eyeglasses brand Warby Parker, eco-friendly clothing company Faherty, men’s clothing company Bonobos are just a few of the others retailers following suit. And the smart money has to be on many more online players opening bricks and mortar stores. A customer we work with, for example, Indonesian retail giant MAP, was really a traditional chain store with a website attached. MAP was basically running two businesses, online and chain store, with no clear connection between them. That’s diametrically opposed to what the consumer wants. But MAP realised that the physical store represents a great fulfillment centre, and the customer can now simply purchase online and do a ‘click and collect’ to save on both time and cost.

Analytics has a place in the mall

The key piece to the puzzle of how to make the retailer’s business processes the seamless web the consumer expects – is data and the way it is used. According to Gartner’s VP research Gareth Herschel, who tracks the analytics space, e-commerce giants like Amazon have seen their total data volumes increase by around 1,000% year on year, as more and more information on customers is collected. The volume of data being generated online is encouraging retailers to get faster and smarter at processing it in order to get a competitive edge.

That matters as what the best retail analytics shows is information on how to make the best decisions to get ahead in the game. Which is what that Amazon physical store proposition is all about. It only has about 5,000 items on display, but they are the right 5,000 items. Amazon’s data analytics work has revealed which books, based on reviews, recommendations and sales, people are currently reading – so when customers walk in the door, Amazon will have the right product to sell them.

That’s the kind of fusion of real world, cyberspace and logistics the consumer wants right now. The challenge is that retailers are still working to get to grips with all this omni-channel demand, as they increasingly demand to shop across any device from anywhere.

But we can and will solve this issue using data. The problem is that many retailers still lack the insight to transform browsing behaviour into a purchase, be it online or in store. The more retailers know about their customers, as well as their competitors’ pricing, promotions and merchandising strategies, the more effective they can be at serving them across channels as well as focusing on the products that are relevant and timely.

Retail analytics is the way to unify the whole business process, after all, bringing together in one efficient whole the bricks and mortar and online shopping cycle, enabling retailers to know their customers and better communicate with them.

That will make them happy – and as happy customers equals more sales, I think we can all agree retail analytics has to be a priority for everyone in the sector.

The author is the founder and CEO at Intelligence Node (www.intelligencenode.com), a leading retail analytics company that helps brands and retailers make smarter pricing decisions.

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)