Boosting the cross-channel experience
The retail experience is changing in the digital age. Consumers now turn to the internet to make purchasing decisions—but they often still buy products inside a store. It’s a trend called cross-channel retailing, and research group Forrester predicts that such sales will reach $1.8 trillion by 2018.
As consumers embrace the omnichannel (or multi-channel) retail experience, hardware dealers must respond. According to Whisbi, 84 percent of customers believe that retailers should be doing more to better integrate their offline and online channels. That is, the better the omnichannel experience is for consumers, the better positioned retailers are against their competition.
The good news is that improving omnichannel in the hardlines industry doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Frankly, most of it comes down to enhancing product data and information management. Start with these four steps:
1. Enrich product data.
Product data is the thread that weaves together the entire purchasing experience. Whether a customer is looking up a product on an online search engine, a retailing website, a third-party review website, or if he asks a retail associate for information inside a store, the product data provided must meet three criteria: accuracy, consistency and completeness.
Completeness means that product data includes:
• A specific title that includes a brand name
• A short description that explains what the product is and does
• At least four bullet points outlining the product’s features and benefits
• All relevant product specs—such as size dimensions, weight, color, wattage, torque, compatibility, etc.
• High-resolution imagery
Data becomes even stronger when it includes user manuals, how-to videos and customer reviews.
However, data completeness is a moot point if it’s not accurate and consistent across every channel. Anytime a product’s data is outdated in any channel—or if the information in a store doesn’t match what’s found online—the customer will become frustrated with the shopping experience. Make sure that you’re working with product suppliers to regularly update your data pool (such as with automatic data feeds), and are populating that data across your in-house, warehouse and e-commerce platforms.
2. Play the Amazon game.
Part of improving a hardware retailer’s omnichannel experience means dealing with e-commerce giant Amazon. Its dominating presence in the marketplace threatens to impinge on your efforts to persuade customers to use websites and stores for research and purchasing.
To compete, you should enhance product data for search engine optimization (SEO). Customers today tend to be quite specific in their searches. Rather than searching for “miter saw,” for example, they’re more likely to search for the specific type of miter saw they want, such as: “cordless miter saw” or “sliding compound miter saw.” The more detailed your product attributes are, the more you can compete for top spots on web searches.
With Amazon’s proven two-day shipping model, brick-and-mortar stores have lost their monopoly on quick fulfillment, so you must also focus attention on logistics data. Streamlining data from all suppliers into a consistent format, such as adhering to standards set by GS1 for its Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), can help retailers move products across the supply chain—via web purchases or store purchases—efficiently and effectively.
3. Make digital catalgues accessible from the field.
Standardized products aren’t always a hardware dealer’s only wares. Retailers may also provide installation services and configurable products that may take sales teams out into the field. Though it may not be as top-of-mind, this customer interaction is another important element of the omnichannel.
It’s important that your representatives are able to access the same data and content on-site with a customer. When digital product catalogues are available, updated and contain strong data, it provides your sales staff with a key opportunity to up-sell to a customer.
4. Leverage analytics.
Product data is just as valuable and informative after the sale as it is beforehand. Whether sold online or in-store or from the field, you can use product content to uncover which products are successful across which channels—and why.
To get the best post-sale analytics, however, data should be well structured from the beginning. By segmenting data via specific product attributes, you can discern which attributes are consistent with top-performers, and which aren’t. For air compressors, for instance, you can examine the sales of compressors that are red vs. orange, portable vs. non-portable, six-gallon tank vs. 30-gallon tank, 90 PSI vs. 115 PSI, etc.
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Though the industry continues to weather change, there has perhaps never been a more exciting time to be a retailer. The rise of the omnichannel experience affords new opportunities for every hardware dealer to engage with customers from different angles. And with a little extra attention paid to data, each channel’s potential will be positioned for success.
Kraig Haberer is the senior VP of marketing at Edgenet, a software as a service company that provides industry-leading retailers, distributors, websites and suppliers with the ability to manage and improve their product content. Learn more at www.edgenet.com.
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