Guest post: How effective is your multi-channel strategy?

Ian Jindal, editor-in-chief of Internet Retailing Magazine, summarises key areas of focus for those looking to drive online and multichannel sales.

1. Enhance the online customer experience and journey
Focus on the customer’s experience at every stage and touchpoint. Do not rely on your understanding of a ‘perfect buying journey’, but rather the customers’ real, complicated and multidevice contacts. While the reality may be more messy than we’d like, we still have to be at our best at every stage, on their mobile, tablet or laptop.

Successful multichannel brands start by learning from the customer. Marks & Spencer spent two years learning what its customers wanted before launching its new website, while Tesco agrees that customers must be the focus for retailers planning their multichannel strategies. It’s vital to have a consistent customer experience: customers must recognise the brand wherever they meet it, whether that’s in a shop, from a PC or via a mobile device.

Customers also use social media: 2.1bn searches are made through Twitter alone every day. Make sure your brand is being represented through channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and consider how best to use each channel in order to communicate your brand and to talk to customers effectively. Find out more in the recent Internet Retailing special report on the Customer Experience.

2. Internationalise your online activity
An ecommerce website can be a relatively cheap and highly effective way to sell overseas, whether that’s cross border within Europe or further afield in new emerging markets. Easy steps to take towards international ecommerce include adding international delivery and payment options – fashion retailer Joules, for example, recently added payment on invoice and bank to bank transfer options, popular in Germany, to its website in that country. For key markets you might consider translating pages and even employing a local customer care team. Find out which markets are key to your business by keeping n eye on analytics and learning where visitors and sales come from. Find out more in the latest Internet Retailing special report on International.

3. Prepare to go mobile
By 2016, 61% of web traffic will be driven by mobile and with the evolution of smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices, your current customers, and your potential ones, are never far away. The big retailers are already gearing up for this: House of Fraser recently launched its mobile-first website that has been designed first for viewing from mobile and touch devices, and second from desktop and laptop in recognition of the growing importance of mobile devices in the online retail cycle.

Some 80% of tablet users and 78% of mobile users admit to using their devices whilst watching television in so-called second screening. Their potential is enormous. Understand who your mobile customers are and how they use your site in order to ensure their customer journey is as optimised as possible. Whether your customers are looking to order or book online, or make payment with you using their mobile device, ensure you have the best and most reliable innovations available to make the most of the mobile opportunity.

4. Develop your operations and logistics systems
Some 46% of shoppers abandon their order due to delivery concerns. When orders start to take off, it’s important that solid logistics underpin your operations. Returns or cancellation policies should be built efficiently whilst ensuring customer satisfaction and providing ROI. Most customers want progress updates after purchase: are you providing that? With the evolution of delivery options including click and collect and pick up and drop off, the benefits are clear. Recent research showed one in three customers collecting their products in-store go on to make additional purchases. Click and collect is also moving off the premises. Tesco, Waitrose and Asda, for example, have now signed up to offer pick-up points in London Underground stations.

5. Make sure your digital sales and marketing plan is effective
Building a successful multichannel sales and marketing strategy is the key to ecommerce sales growth and success. Ensure your email strategy drives sales and that you measure the ROI on email campaigns. Social media can be key to digital strategy: make sure your messages are consistent across all channels, are tailored to specific audiences and remember to measure, test and learn.

Be aware that having a presence on social channels also leaves you exposed to customer complaints. Twitter in particular is increasingly seen as the fastest path to an immediate response. Examples from #WaitroseReasons and #McDStories to #QantasLuxury highlight the risks of your brand hashtag being derailed by public criticism. Connecting across all touch points is crucial. Studies showing 80% of customers want progress updates after purchase. Are these included in your post-sales communications?

All these topics and more will be discussed by the leading retail names and multichannel experts at the Internet Retailing Expo 2014 (IRX) 26th and 27th March 2014 at the NEC in Birmingham.

IRX is the UK’s largest and fastest growing conference and exhibition for ecommerce and multichannel retailing. It will attract more than 5,000 retail professionals across the two days of the show with over 200 exhibitors, 12 workshops, six conferences, four Web Clinics, the Innovation Theatre, IMRG Knowledge Lounge and Top 500 Lounge.

It’s not too late to register, find out more here.