by Suhas Sreedhar, GT Nexus
This past holiday season, shoppers made it clear that their faith in brick-and-mortar stores is waning. In a survey conducted by YouGov (and sponsored by GT Nexus), 61% of respondents said they trusted online stores more than physical ones to have their last minute gift items in stock.1
The result is particularly shocking because historically, it was just the opposite. Customers would rush to physical stores to do their last minute shopping. Despite how disruptive e-commerce has been to traditional retail, brick-and-mortar merchants always saw last minute holiday shopping as one of their last few bastions of success. But this survey statistic, along with the 2014 holiday season as a whole, is just the latest confirmation of the dramatic shift in shopping habits taking place.
Everyone Everywhere is Shopping Online Now
According to IBM Corp.'s Digital Analytics Benchmark Hub report, online holiday sales from November 1st to December 31st went up 13.9% over the previous year. And mobile traffic accounted for 45% of all online traffic, up 25.5% over the previous year.2
You can expect this trend to accelerate in 2015. Customers expect seamless shopping convenience at lower and lower prices – not just during the holidays, but throughout the year.
E-commerce has done a lot of things well and retailers like Amazon have set a precedent for superior service (known as the "Amazon Effect"). Online merchants often have a wider assortment of products, readily accessible customer reviews, convenient customer service, and easy delivery – all at a cheaper price than most physical stores. Plus they put customers squarely in the driver's seat. No longer are shoppers at the mercy of store employees to figure out where to look and what to buy. True, they miss out on value-added expertise, but they also skip potentially frustrating and disappointing encounters.
Omni-channel to the Rescue or in Need of Rescue?
What are traditional retailers supposed to do? For many the solution has been "omni-channel," the idea that you can create a seamless customer experience between your physical store, your online store, and your mobile platforms. Purchase, pick-up, delivery, and returns could all happen in whichever ways customers want, without error or frustration.
But omni-channel's implementation has left something to be desired. There are often many out-of-stock situations and the movement of goods across channels can be convoluted and confusing. True omni-channel is a wonderful dream, but it's a dream in need of help. The retailers who will pull off omni-channel successfully will be the ones who recognize the need to rethink data sharing and delivery, putting technology to use to gain better control over their processes and deliver better customer experiences.
Supply chains have grown long and complex. The hundreds and thousands of steps in between suppliers, buyers, and customers makes implementing omni-channel very difficult. Retailers who use technology to gain better control over their supply chains have a great opportunity to differentiate themselves by living up to the true omni-channel promise. Those who don't will find that their last 39% of emergency holiday shoppers won't stick around much longer.
Suhas Sreedhar is a Strategic Writer at GT Nexus, a cloud supply chain provider that connects retailers, brands and their trading partners on a global network. Sudas writes frequently on technology, supply chain, Internet of Things and retail. His work has been featured in Forbes, IEEE Spectrum and various industrial blogs and trade publications.
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