A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Top 10 Retail Sales Bad Habits (And How to Break Them)

Guest Blog by Kevin Cundiff

Anyone who’s ever tried to give up chocolate or put in more time at the gym knows that bad habits are easy to form but hard to break. And in the monkey-see-monkey-do world of retail sales, one person’s bad habit could spread to the entire team; bad habits equal lower sales and declining revenue.

Have you identified the top ten worst retail sales habits? No? That’s fine, because we did for you. Here they are, along with a few ideas on how to stop them.

#10 – Low self-confidence

Problem: Good salespeople are confident, and confidence is contagious. If a salesperson isn’t confident in their product or in the act of selling, consumers won’t be confident about a purchase.

Solution: Knowledge is power. Know your products and the confidence of both you and your customers will grow (and so will your sales). Practice roleplaying to rehearse pitches and overcome objections and it will translate into success.

#9 – Leading with price

Problem: Once price is established, it has to be overcome with value. This can often be difficult because customers may have already been turned off by the cost.

Solution: Always lead with value. Using knowledge of your customer’s specific needs, build a mountain of benefits that will easily tower over the cost you present later.

#8 – Failing to close

Problem: Sales reps present the value of a product without a closing statement resulting in an awkward silence. The natural reaction is to fill the silence with a data dump, a communication breakdown that can kill a sale.

Solution: At the end of the benefit presentation, employing soft closing statements such as ‘How does that sound?’ or ‘We will set that up for you today as well, sound good?’ can take the customer to the finish line. You’ll either receive a ‘yes’ from your prospect, a clarifying question you can answer to close the sale, or an objection you can overcome. Avoid the awkward silence and guide the customer to the close.

#7 – Failing to connect

Problem: When sales representatives don’t learn anything about their customers, it’s very difficult to inform them of how products and services can truly enhance their lives.

Solution: Take time to learn about customer needs and link those needs to the right product or service solution. There’s no need for a ‘hard close’ or if a customer trusts you. Connect and they will take your recommendations.

#6 – Too much terminology

Problem: Slinging around fancy-schmancy adjectives about your products doesn’t necessarily help you sell more. While certain terminology may be well known internally, it is likely foreign to the customer.

Solution: Know your audience. Talk about products using vocabulary the customer is accustomed to. However, you should still be sure to use the correct legal or compliance language laid out for you.

#5 – Believing you’re short on time and #4 – Believing the store is too busy

Problem: These two habits go hand in hand. Look, we’re all busy; the customer and you included. Still, you have a job to do. Take a breath and proceed.

Solution: Always provide customers with the best experience possible. This includes making them aware of any potential products and services that could benefit them (#10) and treating them like they’re the only person in the store (#7).

#3 – Overwhelming customers with everything at once

Problem: Sometimes knowing the product isn’t the issue, but learning how and when to use it is. Just because a sales rep knows everything doesn’t mean the customer needs to hear it.

Solution: If a connection with the customer has been made, deciding what information to share, and when, becomes easy. Demonstrate that you’ve listened by presenting only what will resonate with the customer, instead of hurling value props until one sticks.

#2 – Clerking

Problem: There’s a difference between clerking and selling. Clerking is simply exchanging money and asking if they’d ‘like fries with that.’ Don’t be a clerk or a cashier, be a salesperson.

Solution: Sell! Sell! Sell! Don’t let the customer steer the conversation. Establish a sales process that builds value before you get to the register. Doing this will help you become a bona fide salesperson who can improve your customers’ lives.

#1 – Not selling to everyone

Problem: Why, why, why would every customer not be offered products or services? Who knows? But it happens. (Insert excuse here.)

Solution: No more excuses. No more making decisions for the customer.  Present to everyone. Remember, you lose 100 percent of the sales you don’t offer.

Kevin Cundiff is VP of Warranty Retail for Fortegra

How to Ensure Your Supplier is Compliant with Standards

As a retailer, you are dependent on the quality of your suppliers. If you are manufacturing end product items, the piece is only as good as its weakest part. If a consumer product fails, it will cost your company its reputation, but if an industrial product breaks, it can cost you money and, in the case of criminal litigation, your freedom. Consumers expect that certain standards are met when purchasing a product. It is the retailer’s job to ensure that suppliers are compliant with these standards.

Give the Heads Up

According to the United States Department of Commerce, the first element of compliance is to get commitment from management. If there is a supply chain involved, the commitment needs to come from all of the companies in the chain. By gaining executive buy-in, your company guarantees the requisite standards are understood by all of the chain’s significant providers. This places all of the merchants on notice and gives them the opportunity to price items appropriately.

Like most things in the business world, a handshake is not legally binding. A verbal agreement is as good as the paper on which it is written. Standard compliance is a contractual obligation and should be addressed as such. Make certain that there is specific legal language that binds every member of the supply chain to the standards.

Put It to the Test

When dealing with compliance issues, do not take anyone’s word on the matter; compliance needs to be approved. This is where quality assurance comes into play. Quality assurance is a testable set of standards that are implemented at a customer’s request. The definition is in the name. QA assures that the quality required by a set of standards is met using an enhanced paper trail, sample testing, or both.

For products that could put a consumer at risk, sample QA testing is performed. Often this type of testing requires that the manufacturer take a part or product and find its structural limits. This is called destructive QA testing. This form of testing can be used in textile items like plastics and clothing, as well as computer software design and electronic chip systems. As the retailer, you receive the reports verifying QA tests.

Read What Others Say

The internet has given retailers a powerful tool to verify the quality of component parts. Compliance can be seen by the things that manufacturers and consumers put on the web. Seal manufacturer Apple Rubber uses testimonials to ensure that the entire supply chain understands their commitment to compliance to standards. In the age of the Web, much of compliance management can be performed and verified online. Testimonials, social media and consumer feedback are drawn together with cloud-based applications that give a single, robust compliance package.

There are several powerful internet based software packages that will let the retailer stay on top of compliance issues. The review site Capterra offers a list of the best Web-based compliance software.

Compliance is not an option. The cost of ignoring compliance to standards is far greater than the cost of maintaining a solid compliance program.

Increasing the Relevance of the Retail Store Environment

Guest Blog by Jeff Trachsel

Showrooming has plagued brick-and-mortar retailers for many years, with e-commerce quickly chipping away at in-store sales. Recently however, experts report the rising trend is actually the reverse – shoppers are now exploring options online before buying in-store. According to a 2014 report from BI Intelligence, reverse showrooming, or webrooming, is actually more common among U.S. consumers, with 69 percent of consumers researching online before transacting in-store.

Though webrooming indicates in-store purchasing behavior may be on the rise, retailers are not yet out of the woods. The act of showrooming and the rise of e-commerce is still a very present threat to brick-and-mortar retailers. The following strategies can help retailers make the in-store experience relevant again and, in turn, increase retail sales and drive customer loyalty.

Engaging in-store experiences

Ecommerce experts agree that a streamlined and intuitive user experience is incredibly important in online retailing, and the same can be said for in-store experiences. Storefronts are no longer just a utility. Savvy brick-and-mortar retailers are turning them into attractive destinations for trying out products, interacting with knowledgeable salespeople and even congregating with friends. Apple paved the way with its sleek stores and friendly, casual staff. Capital One introduced its 360 Cafes to develop a community among its customer base. And more retailers are following suit.

Leveraging features and services that lend themselves to an in-store experience is another way to drive foot traffic. Programs such as electronics trade-in and in-store tech support benefit from a personalized, one-on-one interaction. They also deliver a better payoff through instant gratification – the customer is immediately rewarded during their store visit. This combination of features and benefits is not easily replicable through the online channel, making it a key selling point to drive in-store shoppers and sales.

Compelling in-store incentives

Promotions are used as a traffic driver for e-tailers, but in some cases they can work even more effectively in retail environments. In-store promotions appeal to today’s shopper, as they can be more flexible and simpler than online promotions, and most importantly, can deliver on instant gratification expectations. Eliminating the need for proof of purchase and the subsequent delayed payment or reward is yet another benefit over online, and another reason for shoppers to conduct their business in-store.

In-store promotions also open the door for store associates to effectively upsell products and services. During their time in store, customers have the opportunity to ask more questions and explore other purchases. For example, in the case of electronics trade-in, accessory coupons can be issued after completing a trade. This encourages the customer to immediately spend their trade-in proceeds on high-margin accessories.

Adopting an omnichannel approach

Brick-and-mortar retailers should also embrace their online presence, ensuring all marketing and product offerings are fully integrated for an omnichannel approach. According to a survey by comScore, 40 percent of purchases are made crossing channels, whether searching in-store and purchasing online or vice versa. So an omnichannel approach to customer service and the shopping experience engenders the most customer satisfaction, which triggers loyalty and brand recognition.

Further solidifying the need for omnichannel selling, the comScore survey found that the five most important things to shoppers making purchases both in store and online are:

  • Price consistency across shopping channels
  • The ability to ship out-of-stock items directly to their home
  • The option to track the status of an order
  • Consistent product assortment across channels
  • The ability to return online purchases to the store

Retailers can effectively drive in-store behavior by offering a differentiated in-store experience, adopting proven e-commerce methods and leveraging an omnichannel marketing approach. Playing to the strengths of the retail environment (assisted sales, instant gratification) while relying on the power of online communication can effectively reverse the showrooming trend, helping to drive retail sales and increase customer loyalty.

Jeff Trachsel is CMO for NextWorth Solutions

Earth Day 2015: It’s Easy Being Green

How the Right Tech Can Green your Business and Win Customer Favor

Guest Blog By Dax Dasilva

The shops and restaurants that line each and every “Main Street” breath life into their communities. On Earth Day, we are thinking about how those businesses can be even better neighbors by going green. With the right tech tools and a little thinking outside the box, retailers can go green while saving a little green along the way.

There are many independent retailers that are making a difference for their customers and in their communities. We’ve put together five easy ways you can “green” your business this Earth Day and be a brand your community is proud to support!

  • Know your community’s recycling rules. Can you combine all of your recyclables in one bin? Do glass and plastic need to be separated? Each community has different rules and regulations for the types of recyclables they accept– make sure you are adhering to them for maximum positive impact of your recycling efforts, and make sure your customers are in the know as well. If not, your bag of recyclables could end up in the landfill.
  • Help your neighbors reduce their carbon footprint – shop local. Team up with your neighbors to offer coupons to each others businesses or a special block-wide discount that encourages shoppers to walk and stay local while running errands. For example, if a customer purchases something at your store, offer a coupon for the hardware across the street and vice versa. Similarly, many group loyalty mobile apps may already include your neighbors. Customers can earn paperless rewards and if the app integrates with your POS, you may be able to give the customer a personalized recommendation of a neighbor in your loyalty network. By partnering up with your neighbors, you’ll not only encourage more foot traffic to your business but also help shoppers to stay local and reduce carbon emissions caused by vehicular travel.
  • Implement e-receipts. Many point of sale systems often provide the option to email your customer a receipt instead of printing it out. Most receipts are not recyclable due to the type of paper on which they are printed, so encourage emailing which helps save paper and reduce waste; killing two environmental faux pas with one stone.
  • Reduce and reuse. Think outside the box when purchasing new items and replacing old ones. Consider purchasing high-quality used furniture on CraigsList or from a local thrift store for a fraction of the cost. Also, don’t be afraid to share with your friends. You likely know another small business owner – their trash might be your treasure and visa versa. Put some feelers out and if you can, trade a shelf for a clothing rack instead of putting them out on the curb.
  • Pack light. While shopping bags can be a great way to brand your store, think about offering reusable branded tote bags that encourage repeat visitors and cut down on plastic bags in landfills. When packing up shipments, be sure to use appropriately sized boxes to fit the items being shipped and pack as many items together as possible. In addition, use post-consumer recycled materials for packing instead of non-biodegradable materials like packing peanuts. Using less material is better for the environment and your bottom line.
  • Haste makes waste: A buyer’s job is never easy, but with the right tech tools, ordering can be more of a science than guesswork. Make sure your inventory system is working for you: an accurate count of what you have across multiple stores and your online channels will ensure you not only have the right items in stock, but will also help you avoid over-ordering items that can potentially go to waste. Arm yourself with an inventory platform that can help you make inventory and buying decisions quickly, but is accurate and up-to-date to ensure haste doesn’t turn to waste.

Going green doesn’t have to be hard or expensive, and there’s a myriad of ways the right tech tools and systems can help you streamline processes and avoid waste. This Earth Day, take a cue from mother nature and think about the ways going green can help you give back to the community, and actually help you save some money in the long run. Don’t be overwhelmed by making big changes to your business — a few small steps this Earth Day toward sustainability will get you on your way to being an environmentally responsible business your customers will enthusiastically support.

Dax Dasilva is CEO and Founder of Lightspeed

3 Important Questions to Ask a Potential Warranty Partner

Guest Blog by Kevin Cundiff

Sure, extended warranties are often misunderstood by consumers and salespeople, but for retailers they can be used as a competitive advantage that can maximize product sales and build customer loyalty. No matter how careful customers are, the fact remains: products still break or malfunction. If not covered properly, that new fridge or dishwasher could end up costing far more than anticipated – and then nobody’s happy.

By effectively offering extended warranties on big-ticket items, sales associates can ease the perceived risk customers feel when making big purchases. Done effectively, this can reinforce the buying decision and improve the customer relationship.

The effective sale of extended warranties starts first with the right warranty partner and plan. But, with hundreds of warranty partners all claiming to be the right one for your company’s needs, the process of selecting a partner can be a big roadblock.

Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Here are three key questions you should ask that will help you select the right warranty partner.

#1 – What is the company structure?

Before engaging, do your own backend research on the warranty company. Take note of the company’s overall financial standing, longevity, and customer claims. Are they the sole coverage provider or are there third-party pieces to their insurance puzzle. After initial research, engage with the warranty provider to learn a bit more. Is the company plugged into regulatory compliance updates? Does the company offer transparent reporting by sharing loss data and analytics? Also, check that the provider’s business objectives align with your own for achieving the performance level desired by both parties.

#2 – What support and training initiatives are provided?

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of providers, it’s time to dig deeper into the variety of support and training initiatives that will be available. As your warranty partner, the provider should offer a suite of marketing materials, as well as product and sales training for your employees. Providers also need to deliver clear compliance guidance and the assistance required for typical and escalated claims. If there are holes in training, claims, or marketing support, it’s time to look at your next candidate.

#3 – Does the product meet customer needs?

The most crucial aspect of the process is to make sure that the partnership you choose will ultimately provide value to your customer base. It’s at this point you need to explore every nook and cranny, making sure to check the following important factors off your list:

  • Does the warranty provider offer competitive pricing?
  • How limiting is the coverage compared to price?
  • Are there extra benefits with the plan?
  • Are there additional costs or fees beyond traditional deductibles or administrative fees? If so, are they clearly outlined?
  • Is it easy for customers to make a claim? If so, what claim processing options are available?
  • And just how many hoops will your customers need to jump through to get what they need? For example, is there a lot of front-end paperwork? How many times will a customer need to contact the company? How quick is a typical claim?

In short, analyze the overall customer experience. Identify any loopholes that you think may cause problems down the road. Go through the process yourself to ensure customers are able to easily purchase a plan, file a claim or request service in an accurate and timely manner. If you’re happy with the process, then have others on your team do the same. From there, you can make the final call and determine if your customer will be happy with the product and recommended provider.

The process of choosing the best warranty partner is extensive and it’s important to keep in mind that not all providers are created equal. Due diligence is the order of the day to find the provider that fits your company best. And remember: the best provider is one that affects both you and your customers in a positive way.

Kevin Cundiff is a vice president with Fortegra

The Explosive Growth of Dynamic Pricing

Guest Blog By Sudhir Holla

If you’ve ever bought an expensive umbrella from a street vendor on a rainy day, you’ve experienced dynamic pricing. The vendor sets his price by evaluating multiple factors – his inventory levels and pace of sales, the weather, the customer profile (tourist or local), competition levels, the day of the week (holiday or not), and traffic at the location. These days, dynamic pricing is becoming increasingly prevalent, as consumers experience it when buying everything from plane tickets and sporting event tickets to taxi services and even ski tickets.

It makes sense – there are many factors that go into pricing for all types of goods and services. Take skiing for example: weather and snow conditions can change consumers’ perceived value of a day on the slopes. Likewise, it matters to sports fans which opponent their team will face in any given game, and as a result, they’re willing to pay more for some games than for others.

Dynamic pricing has always existed. Whether it is changing prices based on store location or markdowns, retailers have always used price as a key lever to increase margins. What’s changing now is the availability of vast volumes of data related to the digital “footprints” that consumers leave behind as they interact with retailers, and the ability to analyze that data. This data can help retailers anticipate consumer behavior and determine what elements have the biggest impact on price elasticity.

The Impact of Product Images, Videos and Reviews on Consumer Price Perception

There is a strong correlation when it comes to the influence of reviews on product turnover and price elasticity. Even one or two reviews can have a dramatic effect on sales. For example, take Amazon’s top-selling bathroom cleaning product, the spray-before-you-go toilet spray Poo-Pourri . Once the first few positive reviews were posted (and perhaps the product became more socially accepted as a result), the product saw dramatic increases in conversion rates. In Ugam’s research, we’ve found that there is a .25 correlation between the number of reviews and price elasticity, indicating a strong logarithmic relationship (the first 10 reviews have the biggest impact and the next 100 have the same impact).

Images can have a strong impact on price elasticity as well. Some retailers find that by providing a richer consumer experience (with more images, higher-quality images, videos and more useful product descriptions), they reduce price elasticity and can charge higher prices. There is a strong correlation between images and conversion rates supporting this, though not quite as strong as the relationship between reviews and conversion rates.

Price Elasticity and Web Traffic Data

Most retailers capture price elasticity by looking at historic values. They draw a graph comparing how many units sold at different prices, and then come up with a relationship. But historical prices don’t take some things into consideration. If, for example, a sudden surge in demand and similar drop in price sensitivity for a particular dress occurs after a certain celebrity is seen in the dress, historic data can’t capture this information quickly enough, but real-time web analytics can. Retailers can look at the traffic pattern for individual products and use that data on any given day or on a given week to determine the best price to put on the product.

The Science and Art of Dynamic Pricing

Collecting this dynamic pricing data is no easy task. Just the raw product information necessary for product mapping can be enormous. Each variation, color, size, bundle, etc. of a particular product represents a single stock-keeping unit, and online vendors can easily have hundreds of thousands of them. Plus, there’s collecting competitor data and mapping it to align with products, which is not always easy, especially with store brands, differing packages and unit sizes, special offers, etc.

The key to smart dynamic pricing, though, is the analysis of the data and implementing optimum prices quickly – not just based on historic data, anecdotal information about demand or even gut-based decisions. Most electronically controlled pricing today is made primarily by rules engines (i.e., if competitor X has a price lower than mine, lower the price by X), and in many cases, they create a pricing war that no one can win. These simple pricing solutions fail to incorporate the Big Data demand signals.

Only by understanding the demand signals that consumers leave behind as digital footprints can retailers get a step up on their competitors. With the right mix of product intelligence and consumer demand data, retailers have an opportunity to compete that goes beyond just having the lowest prices. They can differentiate themselves by providing a richer consumer experience with less price elasticity, while optimizing prices that help them meet their objectives – from increasing sales to boosting margins and clearing inventory.

Sudhir is a senior vice president at Ugam.

Create Loyal Customers: How to Please Buyers at Your Retail Store

If you have been in the retail business for many years, you have discovered the simple key to survival: customer satisfaction. A happy customer will become loyal to a retail business for a lifetime and allow you to weather through slow sales periods. However, finding the right way to please your customers is difficult, as every one of your competitors is trying to draw those same customers to visit their stores. About 55 percent of business owners in the U.S. believe that customer service is the top way to differentiate a business from competitors in an effort to retain customers, according to the Sage’s Business Index.

Utilize the following strategies to make your customers happy when they shop at your retail store.

Create a Safe and Easy Shopping Environment

Customer happiness starts the moment they walk through your door or access your retail website. Institute a friendly and helpful atmosphere geared toward welcoming them to your store and assisting them in their buying needs. At your physical store location, have your staff greet customers with a smile, ask to help locate items, and be available for further assistance without crowding or being pushy. Retail websites should be easy to navigate and provide clear descriptions of offered products. Include several online payment options to appeal to the most customers.

Both your physical store and e-commerce site should offer secure payment options to customers. With the recent data breaches at large retailers, customers are becoming more wary of where they shop and what personal information they provide. Use encryption applications to secure data and build trust as first-time customers turn into loyal ones.

Perform Surveys to Find Out What Makes Them Happy

Customer surveys allow you to learn more about the people who shop at your store and what products they like to buy. You can also learn about their shopping experience as you address problems and fine-tune present operations. There are multiple ways to perform surveys such as through email, phone, regular mail, and online survey sites. Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey are two of the biggest online survey companies providing tools and resources for business.

In addition to using surveys to find out what works and what doesn’t, you can also ask your customers to leave reviews about their experiences. Reviews and testimonials can persuade new customers to purchase and try out your products, and they’re a great way to see a more human side of your business. Check out Lifelock’s reviews, as it does a particularly good job at conducting interviews and displaying testimonials on its website. Send follow-up emails and newsletters after a customer has made a purchase to invite them to leave a review.

Provide Rewards Programs

Customers love to get extras when shopping at their favorite stores. Offer loyalty programs for people who are repeat customers to show your appreciation, and to retain customers for the long haul. The type of rewards program that you offer will be based on the type of retail business you operate. A common program involves giving people points based on the amount of money they spend during each purchase. They can then apply those points towards free items or discounts on future purchases.

Address Customer Complaints Quickly

Just because a customer complains in a survey doesn’t mean that they will no longer shop at your retail business. Give special treatment to every customer complaint. Apologize to the customer for the bad experience and offer immediate action that follows standard store policies. You can impress even the most stubborn people to turn them into happy customers. Also, keep a record of all complaints to see if there are any growing trends that you need to fix.

How Merchants Can Overcome Online Shopping Myths

Guest Blog By Dan Leberman

Many of us prefer online shopping to in-store buying, yet most consumers still do not shop online.  According to a 2015 PWC report, only 27 percent of US consumers are regularly making online purchases. This begs the question: Why – in this age of constant Internet usage – do so many people hesitate to shop online? Below are three common myths about online shopping – but more importantly – ideas on how merchants can overcome these fallacies.

Myth 1: Online Shopping = Identity Theft. Some consumers think online shopping creates an increased risk of losing control of financial information, either because the exchange of information is insecure, or because the merchant will misappropriate their info. In fact, new online security measures and services are making eCommerce transactions even more secure than many offline-shopping experiences. To combat this myth, merchants should consider offering customers checkout options that do not require the direct exchange of financial information (think, digital wallets). Smaller merchants can further address customer concerns of online merchant legitimacy by enabling payment after delivery. This offering has helped overcome trust issues even in markets such as Russia where the perceived risk of merchant illegitimacy is extremely high. In some markets, payment service providers that enable pay-after-delivery will even “float” the transaction for the merchant during the period of delivery. In other words, consumers won’t have to pay for purchases right away, but merchants still get paid immediately. Win win.

Myth 2: Shopping in Stores is Easier. When shoppers want something, they want it right away. If online shopping doesn’t provide convenience or value beyond that of in-store shopping, many customers won’t start shopping online. However, a recent 2014 survey by Ipsos/PayPal found that 43 percent of consumers that shop online do so because it saves them time and money. There are a couple of ways merchants can increase the share of consumers that appreciate the value and convenience of buying online. Buy-online-pickup-in-store (aka BOPIS) is a feature that merchants can offer to make purchasing even easier than in-store, while also serving consumer appetite for immediate pick-up. Beyond BOPIS, free shipping can also fulfill consumer demand for convenience. According to a recent comScore report, free shipping is the most compelling factor for 81 percent of Americans in deciding to finalize online purchases. In addition to driving additional conversion, free shipping is proven to increase average order value, as 58 percent of surveyed consumers reported adding items to their cart in order to qualify for free shipping.  Merchants should look into both BOPIS and free shipping in order to capitalize.

Myth 3: Online Purchase Returns Can Ruin a Business. Some merchants express concern that driving online shopping – especially through free shipping – can lead to return rates which are uneconomical for the merchant, and create bad experiences for their customers. The facts would indicate otherwise. Merchants are actually driving growth by making returns of online purchase even easier. Research from Forrester found that free return-shipping drives increased sales, with 81 percent of consumers surveyed indicating a higher likelihood of shopping and being loyal to online retailers that offer an easy return policy.  In order to take advantage of the upside in customer conversion, some online payment providers and merchants are partnering to offer hassle-free returns at no charge.

Don’t let the myths stop your customers from buying your goods online!

Dan Leberman is Vice President, PayPal’s North American Online Small & Medium Business

Living Up to Customer Expectations at Every Channel

Guest blog by Oren Levy

In years past, traditional shoppers may have been loyal to a certain channel, but today’s consumer easily transitions from one shopping channel to another. Many shoppers choose to check prices online or via their smartphone and then pick up their purchase in a brick-and-mortar store. But the opposite is also true – shoppers may see something they like in a physical store but only complete the purchase online or via their mobile phone.

Furthermore, due to the blurring of boundaries between the online and offline channels, returns have become a key issue for both retailers and customers. Shoppers expect to be able to return goods at all of the retailers’ channels regardless of where the purchase was made.

What Motivates Today’s Omni-Channel Shoppers?

According to a 2014 study titled “BOPIS and BISBO Will Propel Retail into Orbit,” consumers are driven primarily by convenience, price and incentives. The study showed that 63% of shoppers buy online and pick up in-store at least a few times a year. Among the respondents, 82% stated that they would consider shopping this way if they received a $10 rebate on a $50 item or prepaid reward cards. Prepaid reward cards branded with the store’s name alongside a special offer actually drive double-digit spending in-store.

Improved digital experiences, particularly in mobile, have become a significant deciding factor for purchasing online. But many shoppers still enjoy visiting physical stores, which increasingly play the role of showrooms for web-only shoppers. Buyers can browse, check out a color or try something on.

Retailers Roll with the Punches

It wasn’t all that long ago that retailers were able to draw a clear line between online and offline operations; each sector was operated separately. But this type of separation no longer meets the requirements of today’s consumers, who demand immediate gratification. A recent study indicates that an overwhelming 70% of retailers said they have adopted an omni-channel strategy to link shoppers’ in-store experiences with e-commerce, mobile and social media platforms.

This kind of basic rethinking and the subsequent restructuring can be costly. But according to industry analyst firm eMarketer, by stepping up omni-channel efforts, retailers can ultimately reduce costs. Allowing shoppers to return online purchases in-store, and enabling them to use the store as a delivery hub for items purchased online can actually result in savings.

Macy’s recent announcement about the merging of its online and brick-and-mortar merchandising teams is a prime example of this kind of metamorphosis. Macy’s chairman and CEO Terry J. Lundgren stated, “Our business is rapidly evolving in response to changes in the way customers are shopping across stores, desktops, tablets and smartphones. We must continue to invest in our business to focus on where the customer is headed—to prepare for what’s next.”

Macy’s declared that it will create “one unified merchandising and marketing organization—a hybrid of store and online buying.” This new direction includes combining the retailer’s merchandising and marketing teams into single units, instead of having separate teams buying and marketing for the web and stores. As a result of the new visibility into companywide inventory in stores and distribution centers, Macy’s is also testing same-day delivery of online orders.

Other leading retailers whose consolidation centers have been traditionally separated by channel, including Home Depot, are also merging facilities. Target says that it is integrating two different channels to streamline operations, and it has reduced the cost of returns by leveraging return-to-store.

Managing Returns on Multiple Platforms

Returns are an inevitable component of the purchasing cycle. Rapid and seamless returns processing is no less important than a gratifying initial purchase transaction. Today’s market weighs in favor of the customer due to multiple available commerce options and social sharing. Many dissatisfied purchasers will go straight to Facebook or Twitter to express annoyance with a product. The very fact that a consumer chooses to return a purchased article signifies dissatisfaction. Therefore, the return process is often the last chance for a retailer to appease the buyer and recover customer loyalty.

Although returns often occur via a different channel than the original sale, today’s consumers expect retailers to have immediate access to every transaction, no matter where it took place. Due to the fact that many buyers do not bother to keep receipts, the retailer must also have the ability to locate the original transaction by searching for the customer’s name or other identifying data.

The rise of e-commerce has been accompanied by a surge in returns, forcing retailers to change the way they are handled. Returns have grown particularly in the areas of apparel, furniture and other items that people prefer to experience in person. It is not uncommon for customers to purchase several similar items with the intention of keeping only one of them. Many e-commerce retailers have started offering returns via parcel, and they often provide a return shipping label in the box. Return forms included in the supply package feature bar codes enabling rapid transaction call-ups.

Return Data Helps to Keep Customers Happy

Return data enables retailers to track returns by channel in order to identify problems. For example, if a certain item sold via ecommerce is returned more often than the same item when it is purchased in a brick-and-mortar store, the problem may lie with the way the product is being presented on the website.

Return data also helps retailers to flag “serial returners.” Return reports enable the discovery of customers that are abusing return policies so that future returns from them can be denied.

Multi-channel sales and returns are crucial elements in a constantly evolving retail experience. Customer loyalty depends increasingly on the retailer’s ability to seamlessly glide from one channel to another and back again without any hiccups. The bar is set pretty high, so the retail journey promises to be exciting, eventful and maybe even bumpy in the foreseeable future.

Oren Levy is CEO of Zooz

Social Media Strategies for Small Business Owners

Ad revenue from social networks in the U.S. is expected to climb from $7.32 billion 2014 to an astonishing $14.40 billion by 2017, eMarker projects. How is this possible? According to AddShoppers research, social network users spend 8.2 percent more than other online shoppers. So the trick to making more social sales is converting followers into buyers—something Internet Retailer Managing Editor Zak Stambor says is getting harder to do.

Businesses face the challenge of gaining visibility on popular platforms such as Facebook, as they navigate the ever-changing restrictions of social platforms. Stambor recommends buying more ads to solve this problem, but if there’s a cap on your advertising budget, there other creative, cost-efficient methods you can use to attract more followers and turn them into buyers. Here are just a few:

Make the Most of Analytics

Since 2012, New Orleans restaurant start-up Dinner Lab has leveraged analytics data collected from customers about their dining experience, to expand to 19 locations around the country, reports Entrepreneur’s Catherine Clifford. Success stories like this lead Forbes commentator Mark Sunday to identify big data analytics as today’s biggest enterprise accelerator. Retailers can put analytics to good use by collecting data such as how many customers enter the store at a given time, where they go, and what percentage of them make purchases. Stores can use this information to adjust their staffing schedule to meet peak demand times and to make shoppers customized offers on their smartphones, suggests New York Times business writer Eilene Zimmerman.

Use Graphics to Connect with Customers

Last spring, Socialbakers studied which posts get the most likes, comments, and shares on Facebook, and results showed that among the top 10 percent of the most engaging posts, 87 percent were photos. Photos performed even more powerfully on Pinterest, with the average shopper from that platform spending 77 percent more than their Facebook counterparts.

Nordstrom pioneered promotional applications of this phenomenon by featuring their most popular items on Pinterest and highlighting them with a special tag in stores. Nordstrom’s Pinterest success has led retailers such as Target to pursue Pinterest marketing, a strategy any small business can deploy.

Leverage the Power of Video

Last summer YouTube sought to attract more advertisers by acquiring Directr, an app designed to streamline small business marketing video production. Forrester sees video as the next big trend in online marketing, with spending projected to nearly double from $19.8 billion in 2014 to $37.6 billion in 2019 to account for 55 percent of all online display advertising revenue.

Shopify content consultant Dan Wang says one of the best ways small businesses can leverage video is by creating instructional videos that address common questions of your target market. For instance, he cites the example of Performance Bicycle, which offers cyclists practical tips such as how to dress for biking in cold weather. Stretch small budgets by improving the quality of your videos with greenscreen stock footage.

Test Your Results

Whichever social media marketing strategies you use, split-testing your results will help make sure you get the best return on your investment. Social Media Examiner writer Emeric Ernoult recommends testing your audience’s interests, gender, age range, and language, along with the effectiveness of your landing pages.