Guest Post by Scott Gilles

2014 was the year when omnichannel went mainstream and became widely accepted as the way in which all commerce will in future be conducted. While most retailers now understand the importance of having an omnichannel strategy to stay competitive in today’s demanding retail environment, many are still struggling to manage their operations efficiently and effectively. The primary challenge facing retailers is how they go about ensuring a seamless customer experience across channels at the same time as making a profit on every sale.

So how can retailers take advantage of the opportunities that this new era in retailing brings?

Outlined below are five common challenges impacting omnichannel retailers, as well as some tips to help navigate through the new retail landscape:

1. Understand Stock Availability and Leverage Network-Wide Inventory

Omnichannel retailers are still viewing inventory in silos, rather than as an entire network of inventory that can be leveraged across all channels and locations. Retailers need to see not only stock levels but also availability of this stock; what’s already on order, in transit or returned. They also need to use every supply source to meet customer demand. This includes stores, which are increasingly becoming mini distribution centres for fulfilling online orders as well as a place where customers still go to shop. Only once they are doing this can retailers hope to have complete operational control across their enterprise.

2. Empower Your Employees

Retailers need to empower employees, be they on the shop floor or in a call centre, to deliver outstanding customer service. However, this can only be done by providing them with the tools that give them a single view of customer transactions. Data that can allow sales staff to track orders, look up product availability, address enquiries and understand customers’ purchasing history and preferences, can not only improve customer interactions and ensure positive experiences, but also has the potential to open up new sales opportunities.

3. Evolve the Role of the Store Assistant

Depending on which services you plan to implement, your store labour force could be asked to take on any number of new responsibilities. These tasks start small, for example, buy in-store, fulfill online simply requires an associate to pull up the ecommerce site and fulfill an order if the item isn’t available in the store. Pickup in store presents a few more challenges as associates must process a queue of orders, pull inventory and record that items have been picked up. The most complex, but perhaps the most rewarding from a top-line revenue perspective, ship-from-store, requires implementing entirely new processes such as pick, pack and ship, along with training associates on new technologies.

4. Make Returns Easier

Many consumers shopping online are often hesitant to buy products because of stringent return policies. Knowing this, omnichannel retailers need to make this a much more seamless process and move towards enabling returns in any channel or location. This way, unwanted stock can be easily converted into available-to-purchase inventory and consumers can easily return goods in a way that is convenient to them.

5. Deliver Consistent Experiences

Delivering a consistent experience for consumers across all channels continues to challenge retailers. In fact, a recent report conducted by Manhattan Associates found that over half of the shoppers (52 per cent) surveyed have found products unavailable in-store that were marked as available online, while almost two thirds of respondents (59 per cent) have experienced differences between online and in-store pricing. Discrepancies will ultimately lead to poor customer experiences, so retailers need to place strong emphasis on ensuring they are delivering the same experience each and every time, regardless of the channel the consumer may be using.

Scott Gilles is the director of retail, Asia Pacific, at Manhattan Associates.