A blog for all things retail and licensing.
TwitterFacebook

Commercial Windows in Retail Store Design

Guest Blog by Ryan Gavin

Your retail store’s design is one of the most crucial elements of your success. The impact you make on your customer when they first walk in the door is what stays with them forever, so when they hear or see your name anywhere they think of the design. A lot of store owners, however, decide to focus on the interior more than the exterior. The walls, lighting, layout, and colors are all important elements of your design, but the real eye-catcher happens before the customer even walks in the door. The moment the potential customer sees your store, they immediately record this image in their mind because this design is how they’ll find you from now on. That image is their first impression.

Commercial Window Designs

The role commercial windows play in the designing of your retail store comes down to three factors, each highly dependent on your target demographic:

  • Materials
  • Color
  • Features

First, you must choose your target demographic if you haven’t already. If it’s a new store design and you’re a startup store, then this is the perfect time for you to decide. Afterwards, choose materials, colors, and features to match this demographic. As it would be impossible to go through all of the possible combinations of materials, colors, and features for all of the possible target demographics, we’ll focus on just one: teen clothing.

Materials

Targeting something like the teenage demographic means that you have to stand out and be unique among the rest. If they can walk by your store without even noticing you, then you may need a new window design. Some of the materials you have to choose from include wood, vinyl, aluminum, and glass. The teenage generation is likely not interested in wood windows, although there are some complicated designs you could create with them. Full glass windows are likely the best route in this case.

Colors and Features

The glass option could provide you with some interesting design ideas, and is the most popular for retail stores. You could have a framing option with colors, such as blue for a surf shop. However, the real eye-poppers come from the features. Some of the features you could use are tints, films, and engravings. I would recommend asking a designer what they recommend you place in, on, and around your windows. If you are a store like Hot Topic, you’ll definitely use tints to make the windows darker, but still see-through. Engravings are more common for luxury stores, such as a jewelry store, but anything can be effective if used properly. Films provide protection as well as aesthetics, and are highly customizable in terms of giving your window a design. Last but not least there’s what goes in the windows. Posters, products, manikins, sales, and other items can be placed in the window to grab the attention of passersby. The combination of these features and materials with clean new commercial windows can and likely will attract new customers.

Conclusion

Ignoring your commercial windows and your storefront can be deadly to your image. Find your demographic, and target their interests and what design they would look at and remember. Using plain glass windows with posters may cut it, but you should get a little more creative with the materials, framing options, and the numerous features available.

Ryan Gavin is an associate of Aeroseal Windows & Storefront. He believes windows can improve a business dramatically when installed professionally.

Keep Up With Your Customers: 4 Shopping Apps You Need to Know About

Gone are the days of clipping coupons and lugging around bulging coupon organizers. Our on-the-go culture doesn’t allow for that kind of preparation for every shopping trip. To keep up with the evolving technology, you must think about what devices and programs your customers are using. To keep your customers coming back to your shop for the best deals, here are four apps to consider incorporating into your store.

ShopKick

Shopkick gamifies the shopping experience, enabling shoppers to earn points for making purchases or even just browsing at participating stores. Users simply scan an item using the app on their smartphone and earn a designated number of kicks, which are accumulated and can be redeemed for free gift cards. Purchases and linking a Visa card are rewarded with even more points. The app partners with retail giants like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, Old Navy, Sports Authority and Crate & Barrel. Shopkick adds a new level of brand loyalty while making even the most mundane shopping experience a little more fun for your customers.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

CheckPoints

Like Shopkick, CheckPoints is also based on the principle of gamification, but has a wider reach. CheckPoints offers even more ways to score big rewards through integration at grocery stores as well as through games and videos you can play or watch at home. This app uses the latest in geofencing technology to offer users hyper-relevant promotions. You can send your customers push notifications on their smartphones with sales and coupons when they are near your store to make sure they see what you have to offer. With prizes ranging from Amazon gift cards to iPads to American Airlines miles to charity donations, much of this app’s success can be attributed to its ease of use and variety. It has a broad range so your business is sure to benefit regardless of its specialization.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

Checkout 51

This app strictly targets grocery shoppers and rewards them for specific purchases with cash back. Checkout 51 changes their promotions each week and assigns varying values to branded purchases (like Triscuits or Glade plug-ins) as well as non-branded goods like fruits, vegetables and staples like milk and bread. The goods can be purchased from any grocery store, which is a major bonus for users because they don’t have to worry about switching stores. After purchasing promo items, users simply upload a photo of their receipt to redeem deals. After earning $20 in your Checkout 51 account, you are mailed a check with your cash-back savings.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

Key Ring

This app serves as an easy way to keep loyalty and membership cards organized so you don’t have to keep them all on your actual key ring. All you need to do is take a photo of the front and back of each card to store all of your account information. Then, simply pull up your card on the app and scan your phone at the store. Key Ring also offers exclusive coupons, shopping list creation and a social sharing feature, which allows users to share cards, coupons and shopping lists with friends and family through email, Twitter and Facebook.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

No matter what your retail business offers, there are apps that you can partner up with to provide excellent customer service. It will help your customers save some money so they are sure to come back and buy more.

Deck the Halls With Analytics

Guest Blog by By Murali Nadarajah

It’s never been easier for customers to get what they want: from the Internet to social media to mobile and, of course, in-store, shoppers can purchase virtually anything they want anytime from anywhere. As a result of this multichannel approach, retailers now have access to a vast pool of customer data that hasn’t existed until fairly recently.

By analyzing this data, retailers can better predict consumer behavior and respond in real-time to consumers’ individual needs.

To understand how the buyer expects to be “spoken to” in today’s omni-channel world, whether through a smartphone app, store associate or live chat online, retailers reach new depths in understanding customer shopping patterns and desires. Following are the types of analytics that retailers should be paying close attention to this holiday season, all of which could hold the key to not only improving the customer experience, but increasing operational efficiency and profits, as well.

Predictive Analytics for a More Customized Customer Experience

The traditional “one size fits all” approach can no longer address the unique requirements of today’s empowered and informed customers, which is leading retailers to focus more on understanding customers’ personal characteristics and shopping preferences. Retailers can capitalize on this shift by analyzing predictive analytics, which leverages data generated from social media, feedback forms and point of sale systems to extract relevant information related to customers’ preferences. By leveraging this powerful data, retailers can better manage their back-end operations by accurately forecasting future demand, creating a real-time supply chain to engage customers more effectively.

For example, data is compiled from a mobile shopping app like Retailer iQ, which evaluates shopping baskets and shopping history. Based on that data, retailers can deliver a highly personalized experience for their customers, offering coupons and specific updates on products customers want and need.

Marketing and Customer Analytics to Access the Difficult-to-Reach Customers

With predictive analytics, retailers are armed with detailed, customer-specific data that allows them to personalize the shopping experience for existing loyal shoppers. However, to attract new customers in today’s hyper-connected world where they are constantly bombarded with messages from a variety of channels, it’s more difficult than ever to grab – and keep – their attention.

By leveraging marketing and customer analytics, retailers can reign in these difficult-to-reach customers. How? By closely analyzing real-time customer data – obtained through sentiment analysis and understanding motivators of buyer behavior to predict their response – to collect detailed insights on customer preferences and introduce targeted marketing campaigns by varying the look, messaging and tone for the intended customer set.

Once customers are acquired, retailers can use analytics to consistently engage with them throughout their lifecycle, converting them into loyal brand advocates over time. This data also allows for measuring, managing and analyzing a marketing campaign more efficiently.

Armed with predictive, customer and marketing analytics, retailers can:

  • Launch successful targeted marketing, advertising, promotions and product offers to attract customers
  • Modify existing pricing strategies, offering competitive prices while sustaining profit margins
  • Identify profitable target customers through customer segmentation and profiling
  • Establish a close relationship with customers based on a deep understanding of their behavior and wants/needs
  • Identify customers likely to move on to a competitor or elsewhere, and determine drivers and predictors of attrition to reduce customer churn

Reaping the Rewards

The opportunity to achieve a competitive advantage from analytics-powered retail is huge. On the product front, it helps in tracking customer needs, leading to the design and creation of innovative product lines, revenue streams, and in some cases, new markets. On the operational side, this valuable data can help retailers gain better understanding of how to improve efficiency across their business.

Rising GDP growth rates, increasing disposable incomes and growing consumer spending sentiment have driven the global retail industry uptake, with the market expected to be worth approximately $20 trillion by 2017, according to market research firm, Lucintel. In order for retailers to fully tap the market opportunity, especially during peak season, analytics can be a powerful tool for getting ahead in customer relationship building and streamlining multichannel operations, among other benefits.

Murali Nadarajah is CEO, Xchanging Malaysia

Stretch the Black Friday Dollar: How Retailers Prep for Holiday Shopping

When something is so good, it is natural to try to relish in it as long as possible. This is especially true when it comes to shopping, specifically Black Friday shopping. In an effort to harvest as much of the holiday shopping revenue they can, businesses have been expanding Black Friday shopping hours, stretching it out over days, and even weeks, to where shoppers may start referring to it as “Black November.”

One Day Becomes 30

Recent tradition has it that the biggest shopping day of the year is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Eager and well prepared shoppers pile up at the entrance, ready to enter stores like Wal-Mart on Black Friday to begin the frenzy of hunting down the best deals for Christmas gifts. For retail stores, this is the Super Bowl of shopping days. This year, however, things have changed. It’s no longer just a big day of shopping.

In order to compete with other businesses, maximize sales and keep customer traffic flowing as steadily as possible, retailers are advertising sooner, enticing consumers to take advantage of pre-Black Friday bargains and offering vouchers for those who couldn’t find what they were looking for that day, getting them to come in after Black Friday, as well. All of this is to push the sales of non-gift items.

The earlier customers get to their holiday shopping, the less they focus on their holiday shopping list, which can plateau customer traffic at a time when stores should be busting at the seams. Thus, retailers focus on non-gift purchases, getting those shoppers who may already be set with Christmas to come back and shop more for themselves and their immediate families. More than half of consumers who earned $100,000 or more said they plan on purchasing non-gift items during what is now known as Black November, according to Forbes. Thus, getting customers in early and giving them reasons to keep coming back, even after their holiday list is complete, is a stroke of marketing genius for retailers.

Feeling the Pulse of Consumers

There’s an old adage that says too much of a good thing is too much, something many Black November shoppers can relate to. Last year, some big-name stores, like Costco, sensed that backlash and, as a benefit to their employees (but mainly for good PR), the big box store gave Thanksgiving night off to its employees. This proved to benefit the company, as consumers seemed to like the fact that stores like Costco didn’t feed the shopping frenzy on a holiday evening.

Timing, it seems, is vital when it comes to holiday shopping. Jumping in the frenzy that is Black Friday doesn’t always pan out. Even though Kohl’s pulled in the most consumer traffic during its Black Friday special last year, it still came in below their expectations and had to lower their guidelines the next quarter.

Today’s strategies for Black November now include ways to making sure consumers are happy even before they begin shopping. Wal-Mart guaranteed consumers the merchandise they sought would be in stock, holding one-hour, in-stock guarantees twice on Thanksgiving last year. The retailer assured customers that if they couldn’t find any of specific items owing to them being sold out that it would ship that merchandise to a Wal-Mart they preferred before Christmas.

Another strategy that paid off was offering free gift cards with purchases. In fact, one big box store handed out a limited number of free gift cards ranging from $10 to $100 to customers who purchased doorbuster items like iPads and iPhones, flat-screen TVs and Keurig coffee makers. These types of incentives can help boost sales at a time when the average shopper is spending two percent less on holiday shopping than previous years.

Cyber Shopping Trends

Cyber Monday is another strategy that has pulled Black Friday into a month-long endeavor. This shopping extravaganza has added another dimension to holiday shopping. Though it hasn’t killed the tradition of Black Friday shopping, it indeed has become part of its holiday shopping madness. Cyber Monday has given shoppers the opportunity to shop around for the best deals. And they can do so from the comforts of their own homes or on their smartphones.

Thus, retailers are pushing the online campaign hard, building up email subscriber lists, putting out bargains before Halloween and putting all their stock in mobile shopping, where consumers can shop from their mobile devices quickly and easily while on the go.

Social media sites have proven to increase shopping interest during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Pinterest’s traffic was up 3.6 times the average around Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days, according to Piqora. This proves that shoppers aren’t just “pinning” items they like on Pinterest, they’re looking to purchase them, too.

Triggit reported that Facebook saw a similar spike in traffic, with advertisers on Facebook enjoying a 34 percent spike the click-through re-targeting rates on Cyber Monday.

Protect Your Customers, Build Their Trust and Grow Your Business

When your customers come to your site to shop, they’re looking for convenience, ease of purchase and entertainment. They also are looking for protection from the online “bad guys.” Your customers trust you to automatically protect them from hackers, identity theft, phishing, malware, and the like. In light of some recent retail security breach fiascoes, however, a growing number of consumers are wary about shopping online.

How are you protecting your customer’s identities and profiles while they browse your site? What kinds of security policies do you have in place? Here are some ways to increase your security online so that your customers trust you implicitly.

SSL Certificates

You probably already encrypt your data with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer technology); it is the most common form of encryption for e-commerce sites. SSL encrypts sensitive information , i.e. a customer’s credit card information, so that the data is completely secure on your server. SSL protocol is only as good as its certificate, however.

The SSL certificate contains information about who created the certificate, who issued the certificate, gives the site’s domain, and proves the site is what it says it is. The certificates should be 128-bit encrypted; 40-bit is easier to hack, suggest DigiCert.

You can obtain an SSL certificate by getting it from a vendor, or you can sign it yourself. Signing it yourself is not recommended; the whole point of an SSL certificate is to make sure the encryption protocol is correct. If you get the certificate from a vendor, you are assured of the certificate’s authentication.

Authentic SSL certificates mean a safe site and can actually increase your sales. Research has shown that when customers are on an e-commerce site and see “trust marks” like VeriSign, they feel safer shopping with you because they know you’re legitimate.

Explain your privacy policy

Any successful online business owner will have a clear, concise and descriptive privacy policy stated on their site, notes BusinessWeek. A good privacy policy should explain what types of information it is collecting from the customer, including. email addresses and payment information. It should also state what the information is for, how long it will be kept, and why it was required. If you don’t share information with other businesses, put that in the policy, as well. Include your contact information: name of your business, address, phone number, and an email address of an employee.

You will go a long way to gaining a customer’s trust when you explain in detail how you are dealing with their privacy on your site.

General practices

Your website needs to show it can be trusted in as many ways as possible. Have an ‘About Us’ page and have pictures of executives and/or employees, along with customer testimonials on it. This is especially important because this page gives a customer a sense of what kind of business you run.

Check out the security policies practiced by your server. Make sure you have standard security measures in place, such as a firewall and spam filters, and always scan any new hardware before it’s installed on your network, suggests Stay Safe Online.

You might have customers who are overly concerned about identity theft. Have a place on your site (a brief statement on your home page would be fine) that expresses your desire for a safe and pleasant shopping experience, and possibly offer information on how they can protect themselves with an identity theft protection service.

Get a Better-Business-Bureau accreditation, and display this prominently somewhere on your home page. It’s yet another way of showing how legitimate your business is.

It all comes down to trust. The more security measures you implement, both small and large, will go a long way to demonstrating that you care about your customer, their privacy, and their identity. Your business will only grow if customers know that are safe when they’re with you.

Improving Retail Buying Cycles

Injecting Financing and Streamlining the Procure-to-Pay Process
Guest Blog by Leela Rao-Kataria

The saying “the only thing that is constant is change” couldn’t be more aptly suited to the retail industry. Retailers are striving to leap-frog one another and differentiate themselves on the front-end through marketing and advertising, yet their back end problems remain unresolved.

Global expansion and omni-channel are necessary to business growth, but if not done correctly, retailers often lose profits from high operational costs in areas such as the supply chain and supplier management. These costs often stem from lack of visibility in both the physical and financial supply chain. The latter has created such inefficiencies in operating models that the procure-to-pay process (P2P) has become a hot topic for retailers to master to mitigate financial risk and bring their costs down.

In fact, the entire P2P process was explored further in a survey of 83 retailers conducted by Edgell Knowledge Network (EKN) in June 2014, where it was revealed that a shocking 51% of retailers do not use integrated processes or systems when managing purchase orders, buying processes, trade documents, finance options and payment settlements in the supply chain. This article examines the gaps in the modern P2P process and ways to overcome them.

The Need for Unified Processes
P2P is crucial in gaining financial and procurement visibility, efficiency, cost savings, and control. Here are some examples of key benefits:

• Pre-booking factory capacities at supplier sites prior to placing the final order
• Visibility toward availability of raw materials at factories
• Tracking of purchase orders at all times, invoicing, related trade/logistics documentation
• Transaction data collaboration, tax, duties & levies, and payment settlement, among other process collaboration areas.

According to EKN, 40% of companies cited their single biggest business challenge as the lack of a unified purchase order view linking the various points of interactions and stakeholders in the supply chain.  Retailers work with thousands of business partners, including suppliers, factories and third party logistics providers so there needs to be a simple and comprehensive process in place to ensure P2P efficiency.

Diversification in product volume has created complexity in the supply chain, which requires even more engagement between suppliers and buyers. A lack of a unified process will result in purchase order inaccuracies, mismatched invoices, and other errors from playing the ‘telephone game’ with disparate data getting passed along without real-time information. Every order change increases the total cost of goods and squeezes the supply chain.

Enabling the Global Retail Ecosystem through P2P
If there’s one thing retailers have learned in recent years, it’s this: what happens in your supply chain is your responsibility. The health of trading partners in the supply network has a direct impact on the quality, cost and speed of goods as they move through the production lifecycle. For retailers this means becoming a better partner with suppliers.

Retailers can start by enabling their global eco-systems with consistent standards, repeatable processes and a low total cost of ownership for increased P2P efficacy and integrated supply chain visibility. In EKN’s report, the top 3 metrics delivering maximum increase in year-over-year performance were:  contract compliance, percent of on-time paid invoices, and vendor satisfaction. Automating the P2P process opens the door to the following benefits:

• Immediate creation and delivery of orders, invoices and other documents electronically
• Collaboration, negotiation, and confirmation of key order terms across entire spend
• Configurable and automated document checking,  payment decision and execution
• Automated deductions creation and management
• Customizable, multi-level approval workflow
• Electronically managed invoice discount programs

Retailers should focus on key processes like procurement plans leveraging P2P in order to achieve maximum ROI. They should also incorporate a ‘record to report’ model tracking every system modification, and monitor order to cash cycle times to evaluate operation and financial health between supply chain partners and retailers.

Top 3 P2P Trends for Strong ROI
Recently, two places that retailers have focused streamlining P2P processes are vendor payments and invoicing/document management.  Here are the top three trends for creating a seamless vendor payments process:

1. Increase payments through electronic funds transfer, reducing cycle time and errors
2. Optimize payment terms for all vendors/partners
3. Create a touchless environment for processing invoices that manages by exception

Almost all retailers have expanded distribution channels; however, retailers are challenged by diversifying their operations while still making a profit. So how do retailers create efficient business models that allow them to thrive in today’s environment? Creating a fully visible and unified buying cycle that includes all partners from end-to-end buying cycles is the key. Having one clear picture of a unified buying cycle will create a path to a risk-free supply chain.

Leela Rao-Kataria is Retail Marketing Manager at GT Nexus

Four Intelligent Ways to Reduce Losses from CNP Fraud

Guest Blog by Frank Stornello

Since online fraud threatens the profitability of merchants, especially those that depend on card-not-present (CNP) revenues, it’s essential to use all your cross-channel data insights and intelligence wherever possible to deter it. It’s not just the fraud losses you need to avoid; it’s the associated expenses. According to the 2013 Lexis Nexis True Cost of Fraud Study, each dollar of fraudulent activity steals $3.10 from the bottom line of online-merchants.

There are, however, highly effective solutions you can put in place that give you the upper hand in fighting fraudsters and the specific threats and loop-holes they seek to exploit. Take these four steps to build your defenses and prevent criminals from sabotaging your bottom line.

1.     Check IP Addresses for Suspicious Activity

Having access to IP addresses can help you determine the approximate location of a device, such as a laptop or smart phone. Analyze your transaction data and look for trends in IP addresses. For instance, consider the following:

  • Do you experience more fraudulent activity when IP locations are more than 500 miles from billing addresses?
  • Create user profiles and determine if customers have changed their buying patterns. Perhaps a customer suddenly starts buying higher priced items or substantially increasing his or her shopping activity.
  • Is an account being accessed from multiple locations or from locations where fraud is prevalent and in a time period in which it would not possible for someone to get from one place to the next?

There is a wealth of information available in IP addresses, and once you analyze it, you can set up rules that automatically decline transactions you believe might be fraudulent, or flag them for additional manual processing.

2.     Detect Devices with History of Fraud

You can access digital fingerprints which are based on the actual transaction history and gives you a better understanding of the risk of a variety of devices  used for online shopping transactions, such as personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Digital fingerprinting enables you to identify the fraudsters hiding behind the web’s wall of anonymity and block the devices with a history of fraudulent activity.

For example, If a fraudster network gets a hold of credit card data, you likely will see find a high velocity of transactions as the fraudster tries to beat the clock and use card information before anyone knows it has been compromised. Digital fingerprinting can detect velocity on a device and alert you to the problem so you can prevent fraudulent purchases and ensure criminals don’t eat up your profits.

3.     Determine the Locations of Mobile Phones

There are billions of mobile devices moving around the planet. Do you know the locations of the people who are using mobile devices to purchase from your company? Since mobile phones’ have several ways to obtain location including cell-tower triangulation there’s always a way to determine the approximate position of the phone.

This data enables your company set rules to comply with state and federal regulations as well as the brand protection guidelines of major credit card companies. Since, for example, the purchase of certain products isn’t legal in all states, a merchant must ensure it doesn’t accept transactions from areas where it’s illegal to make a purchase.

Another use for mobile phone location information is helping to enforce media blackouts that are established to encourage local people to attend sporting events in person.

Finally, location data can be helpful in determining if a mobile phone is being used outside of its usual geographic area. If, for example, Grandma Jones usually makes all her transactions within ten miles of her hometown in Vermont and is suddenly found on a spending spree in Brazil, it might be cause for questioning and blocking purchases from her phone.

4.     Identify Consumers

You don’t want to do business with the wrong people, but how do you know who they are when you’re not face-to-face? With the right information at your fingertips, you can confirm a customer’s identity with just a name and address. You can confirm the address provided matches the identity or determine their age and, if necessary, avoid selling to minors. And, you can find out if a consumer is a member of a global watch-list, such as the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency that administers trade sanctions against foreign countries, as well as individuals and organizations.

The Right Information, the Right Insights

It is important to take stock in what your available data and channel information is telling you to enact the most comprehensive and effective fraud prevention protocols. It takes time and expertise to build a risk management system and keep up with the shrewd new schemes fraudsters devise every day. That’s why many companies turn to Verifi to ensure they mitigate fraud successfully.

Frank Stornello is Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer of Verifi, a leading provider of global electronic payment and risk management solutions since 2005.

Customer Service: The Forgotten Business Phenomenon

A 2012 survey by QSR magazine asked participants to rate their customer experience at various fast food restaurant drive-thrus. Chick-Fil-A was the only restaurant that received a “very friendly” rating more than half the time (57.4 percent). Meanwhile, McDonald’s clerks were “very friendly” only 27.6 percent of the time, and Burger King fell closely behind at 27.4 percent.

McDonald’s executives acknowledged the issue with all of its franchise owners in a 2013 conference call, revealing that one out of every five complaints the corporate office receives is related to rude and unprofessional employees. The company failed to hit revenue expectations for two consecutive quarters in 2012, which prompted CEO Don Thompson to shake things up at the executive level that November. But the damage had already been done. Despite all the changes, the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2014 that McDonald’s sales dropped six consecutive months, the longest negative slide for the company since 2003.

Entrepreneurs looking to survive must make an honest effort to satisfy customers. According to a RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report, 89 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. Furthermore, consumers are two times more likely to share their bad customer service experiences than they are to talk about positive experiences.

Forget Speed, Satisfy Needs

Fast service is important, but quality service is the key to higher profits. A data analysis by Gallup found that customers care more about friendly, thorough service than fast service. Researchers used Starbucks as an example: the company is not necessarily known for quickly serving up its expensive lattes, but more for the consistent experience customers get regardless of location.

When it comes to customer service, it’s not just friendly service, but also helpful service. Craig Ross, an account executive for Apple Rubber Products Inc., said via the company blog that customers appreciate the staff’s product knowledge and experience in the industry more than anything else. Customers deal directly with company personnel, as opposed to third-party distributors who know nothing about what they’re selling, he said.

Ross said the company, which primarily sells O-rings, prides itself on being able to answer all questions and get the right product to the customer quickly and efficiently.

Cheap and Profitable

The 2013 State of Customer Experience Management report by Forrester found that 90 percent of firms said improving the customer experience is a top priority for them. But of those respondents, 86 percent said they don’t expect much return on investment from better customer service. The investments in most cases, however, are simple human gestures that cost little money.

Sweetgreens, a New England-area restaurant known for its salads, started a program called Random Acts of Sweetness shortly after opening in 2007. The program involves company employees walking around the community and doing random nice things, like placing a gift card on a parked car windshield that also received a parking ticket. Company profits increased 300 percent from 2009 to 2010, and the company opened new stores in Philadelphia shortly thereafter, according to the New York Times.

Humans are naturally inclined to reciprocate acts of good will, but researchers have also found that people evaluate the underlying intentions of good deeds before that instinct takes over. Consumers already need products and know companies are wooing them every time they look at their Smartphones or turn on the television. But when a company goes out of its way for no other reason than to impress or satisfy, the reciprocity instinct almost always kicks in.

Smiles Equal Success

A good customer experience will make all the difference between someone coming back when they need your product again or choosing to go elsewhere. Empathy and smiles are free, while poor customer service can cost your entire business. The decision seems fairly simple.

The Secret to Delivering Phenomenal Customer Service

Legendary providers of customer service like Zappos, Disney, Nordstrom, and Ritz-Carlton are the exception rather than the norm, according to service expert Steve Curtin. He explains the three elements common to all exceptional customer service experiences—the idea that customer service should be the highest priority of every employee, noting that it’s always voluntary and the employee chooses to deliver exceptional service, and it usually costs no more to deliver than poor service. He explains that companies that provide ordinary customer service aren’t asking their employees to provide the exceptional service, that in return could potentially lead to exceptional results.

The Secret

Nordstrom Direct president and great-grandson of the company’s founder, Jamie Nordstrom revealed the company’s big customer service secret at Shop.org’s Annual Summit in three words, “improve customer service.” He says improving client service is always their number one goal because it helps the company sell more.

Nordstrom’s in-store sales strategies include innovative mobile technology that will eventually replace cash registers. This technology makes it easy for customers to experience a hassle-free checkout anywhere in the store with their salesperson. Leaders also realize that customers want the same exceptional Nordstrom customer experience whether they come into the stores or shop online and understand that they two are connected. By providing consistent customer service online and in-store, Nordstrom continues to be a leader in the industry. Businesses can learn from the Seattle company’s examples of always improving customer service.

Omnichannel Service

With advances in mobile technology, online retail, and social media, customers are accessing retail goods and services through a wide variety of platforms. The days of in-store or mail order catalog sales only are long gone. Retail therapy has gone online, mobile, and viral. With customers engaging business in so many ways for purchasing, customer service must be available in all the same channels. Aberdeen Group’s 2013 research shows that providing omnichannel customer service is a top challenge for retailers, business-to-business, and customer service management programs.

Aberdeen defines omnichannel customer care as strategic initiative designed to deliver seamless customer experiences across multiple channels and devices to ensure customers are receiving high-quality customer service everywhere they interact with a business. Aberdeen’s Next-Generation CEM study shows that 65 percent of businesses use at least six touch-points to engage with customers, and omnichannel customer experience management creates a coordinated strategy so that the customer gets the same level of service no matter what device or channel they use with the company. This requires the knowledge, skills, technology tools, access to data, and measurement processes to deploy with a customer service work group, something that’s easier to attain with a cloud contact center. An inbound contact center can simplify your CS strategy by routing customers to specific agent experts, providing your businesses with reporting tools and access to agent metrics to make communication seamless.

Teach Service

Ritz-Carlton’s service values are designed to build customer relationships that create customers for life. To provide an extraordinary customer service that sells more and creates customer loyalty, Steve Curtin says businesses have to do something different than what produces the normal results. He says part of that is asking employees to go above and beyond in customer service. Disney makes sure every employee knows that their interactions with customers should exceed expectations. Nordstrom employees know that improving customer service is the company’s number one priority. Do your employees know what kind of customer service your company expects them to provide?

Top Four Challenges of Omni-Channel Retailing

Guest Blog by Rob Kirkey

From the evolution of e-commerce to social media and mobility, the retail environment has seen a multitude of changes over the last decade. There are now many more variables to consider beyond bricks and mortar. This has led retailers to adopt a new ‘omni-channel’ philosophy that gives customers the ability to interact and transact with a store via any channel – in person, over the phone, or online. Omni-channel retail has enabled many large businesses to capitalize on new opportunities, but for mid-market and other businesses, these new variables introduce a level of complexity that creates many challenges. Below are four common difficulties that retailers face as they adapt to omni channel retail.

1. Aligning inventory with omni-channel demands

While omni-channel shopping presents retailers with new avenues of income, it also highlights shortcomings of legacy systems in use, particularly in terms of allocations, consolidated reporting, inventory, marketing, merchandising, post-sales services and promotions which in turn complicates the retail value chain. The challenge for retailers is tying these numerous channels together, especially with so many components to consider.

2. Remaining competitive in an ever-changing market

The complexity of omni-channel retail – coupled with the pressures of competing with larger and often international companies that have greater purchasing power – has led many mid-market retailers to find ways of reducing traditional supply chain layers. For example, some have chosen to deal directly with manufacturers, have started importing, or have changed their product range to cater to less competitive niches.

3. Providing added value

In the era of bricks-and-mortar retail, most businesses had a speculative understanding of customer interests and behaviors. E-commerce now offers retailers a wealth of customer information, allowing them to monitor and tailor brand messages to specific demographics or even individual customers. The challenge for retailers is to translate this information into marketing and merchandising that is meaningful to their target customers.

4. Gaining a clearer customer view across multiple channels

Every day trading produces a wealth of clearly defined transactional data, but also a lot of unstructured data which is not as easily captured. This information is often referred to as “big data” – large, unstructured, and constantly changing sets of data that organizations can use to yield accurate insights. The challenge for retailers here is to capture data across multiple channels so it can be analyzed and translated into useful information.

How BI and ERP software can help your omni-channel retail strategy

Business intelligence (BI) software gives organizations the ability to gather, access, and analyze “big” data. It features analytic and design tools that allow users to intuitively explore, investigate and unearth trends and patterns in consumer behavior and then creates practical reports with ease.

ERP software creates an IT-based foundation to help retailers streamline operations and secure greater profit margins. ERP lets businesses control, manage and simplify a wide range of retail operations such as sales and marketing management, customer relationship management, distribution, supply chain management, manufacturing, facilities management and financial processes – such as accounts receivable, payable and payroll.

While ERP and BI are traditionally packaged as separate products, there are options – such as Pronto Xi – for ERP systems with built-in BI capabilities. These solutions can minimize the cost and effort associated with implementation, combining enterprise resource management and data analysis in a single, intuitive dashboard.

Integrated ERP and BI solutions present mid-sized retailers with the most efficient and cost-effective option for turning these challenges into opportunities. With the ability to process and analyze big data to extract customer insights and the tools to tailor internal processes accordingly, today’s retailers are well equipped to realize the potential inherent in omni-channel retail. The question for many retailers now is not when they will adapt to support omni-channel retail, but rather how they will approach the challenge.

Rob Kirkey is Vice President of Pronto Software