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Shopping is often still a contact sport but, when it comes to advice seeking, bagging a bargain and ensuring the item you want is in stock, online retailers often have a distinct advantage over traditional ones.

Online shopping has changed people’s perceptions of service, value for money and convenience. Search engines have made the world our shop window, social media has become our source of trusted advice and smart phones have given us superpowers and blurred the lines between the physical and the virtual.

Showrooming is a symptom of customers’ increasing love affair with multiple channels. 1 in 2 of us now continuously leap around channels in order to get what we need, when we need it and at the right price. As more channels emerge, customers’ appetite for using these channels is continuously evolving. 82% of “autonomous customers” in BT’s recent survey of both UK and US customers say that they want organisations to give them access to all the channels that will help them to meet their needs.

However, more channels often means more complexity. It used to be easy to cope when your customers only walked through the front door of your store – now multiple channels mean multiple doors and multiple connecting corridors and it is very easy to get lost!

When things go wrong, it’s often the old, trusted phone channel that customers rely on to get answers or express our disgust. However, we may not stop there – we may then email, webchat and Tweet our way around the same issue.

The challenge for retailers is to ensure that these multiple doors are connected. The store, the website and the contact centre are intimately linked in the customer’s mind, but are often not even next door to each other organisationally.

Staff in physical stores need to regard the web as an asset rather than a competitor. They need to be empowered to cope with some of the more challenging things that customers (particularly the under 34s) are doing in store – like barcode scanning or location based searches. They also need to be networked in, alongside contact centre advisors, supply chain and product specialists, to newer channels for advice seeking, like webchat and social media. In short, they need to become as omni-channel as their customers.

If you want to hear more about this kind of thing, I’ll be presenting a session at the BT for Retail Summit 2013 on 22-23 May at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire. You can get more information and register for the event here.

Posted by Dr Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist, BT

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Every business wants to have loyal customers – but loyalty is always a rather strange concept in business. We often only discover that a customer isn’t loyal when they never speak to us again! We’ve had ‘customer recommendation’ and ‘customer delight’ as benchmarks for loyalty for a while – but happy customers may still go to the competition, so measuring satisfaction might not be the best way to test loyalty.

A survey of 75,000 customers published in 2010 in the Harvard Business Review made a startling statement – you don’t have to delight your customers, you just need to make it easy for them! This seemingly went against all the common wisdom about customer satisfaction that had gone before it.

Some 94 per cent of customers who found it easy to deal with an organisation – who had used low amounts of effort – said they’d buy from that company again. And 88 per cent of them said they’d spend even more money with that company the next time. Whereas 81 per cent of the customers who had a hard time dealing with a company – who used high amounts of effort – said they’d tell people about their bad experience.

Ever since then, customer effort has been a hot topic of conversation.

To be honest, ‘customer effort’ isn’t new – it’s been around since the 1940s. It focuses on how easy a customer finds it to buy things and then set them up – whether it’s a new cooker or broadband service. It measures the customer’s whole experience, from start to finish. It looks at how long customers spend researching a product, talking to a salesperson face to face, waiting in a queue, phoning a helpdesk or complaining to the company. And it asks them how much effort they put in to reach their goal or solve their problems.

Easy does it!

But is customer effort really worth the effort? To find out we’ve just done some research on companies that have used customer effort as a way of analysing their business performance. The research, ‘Customer Effort: help or hype?’, points strongly towards ‘effort’ (or ‘easy’) being a good indicator of customer loyalty. These companies have found that customer effort isn’t just hype and produces tangible benefits – such as increases in customer retention, reduction of complaints and increase in positive word of mouth. Make the effort to make it easy for your customers to do business with you and the likelihood is that they will stay with you – easy does it!

If you want to hear more about this kind of thing, I’ll be presenting a session at the BT for Retail Summit 2013 on 22-23 May at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire. You can get more information and register for the event here.

Posted by Dr Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist, BT

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Accessories retailer Claire’s uses next generation technology to reach next generation consumers

by David Devany, European eCommerce and Digital Director, Claire’s

We’ve just launched an e-commerce site for the UK and Europe that’s going to help bring us closer to our customers. It’s a real step forward for us, in terms of our online presence, but we think the real benefits will be felt in our stores.

We’re obviously well aware of our target market – and three things stick out about a Claire’s girl.

She’s very sociable – and will connect through a number of social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook. She’s mobile – out and about and as comfortable on a smartphone as any Apple geek. And she’s probably too young to have her own credit card, one of the main reasons we’d shied away from establishing a transactional site before.

So an e-commerce site was never primarily about sales for Claire’s. We’re obviously happy if parents get pestered into buying online from us, but the site is more of a social gathering area and trend influencer than it is strictly business.

That’s not to say we’ve not taken advantage of the very latest technology to help make it easy to buy online. Our new platform supports delivery to over 180 countries and includes the option to buy in £ sterling or Euros. There’s also an intuitive gift finder feature and clever merchandising tools that enable customers to shop by themes, looks or moods.

But the really clever stuff come with the social and mobile aspects. We’ve put Facebook and Twitter front and centre of the site as well as integrating a Spotify plug-in to pump out the latest hits (so I’m told…). And a ton of ‘how to’ video content with style ideas featuring real Claire’s consumers creating the latest hair and fashion look.

That’s because our customers are comfortable in their virtual social circles. Almost 73% of teens are active on social media and two-thirds of 14-23 year olds own a smartphone. So our site is very much an extension of our customers’ lifestyles – an engaging destination to explore the latest trends and share ideas.

The mobile optimised site makes using the features on a smartphone an absolute breeze. We’ve thought long and hard about the needs and motivations of people while out and about and so we’ve made that level of interaction very simple – making it easy to find stores and buy from us.

The off-the-shelf e-commerce platform, FrescaCommerce, from BT Expedite & Fresca makes it possible to easily support free returns and exchanges in store, taking some of the hassle out of online shopping and again driving that all-important footfall. It’s helped create a genuine 360 degree shopping experience for customers – connecting online, mobile and store.

We’re already discussing with the BT team how best to implement new features, such as the virtual piggy bank and e-gift cards. But for now we’re celebrating what we’ve got. We’ve an official VIP launch party next week – when I’ll find myself being entertained by the sounds of Conor Maynard, Delilah, DJ Burn and Bip Ling among others.

Posted by David Devany, European eCommerce and Digital Director, Claire’s

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There used to be a time when the board would set out its aims and objectives for a retailer and IT would then try and make sure the technology in place was, at best, an enabler. IT was a challenge to overcome. That’s no longer the case. Technology decisions are driving change; and with the new norm of omni-channel and consumer tech penetration driving the majority of retail growth, companies who can bring IT into the business at a strategic level are pulling away from those with a more traditional outlook.

Technology has become more than an enabler. It is shaping everything from business processes to in-store experiences. In other words, technology is finally driving and delivering the promise of brands. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the technology you choose will dictate how you operate, how your people work and how your customers will view you.

Just before Christmas BT Expedite completed a project with Fat Face which highlights just how important IT is in delivering on brand expectations – and how beneficial it can be to have technology driving change.

The Fat Face initiative was focused on a complete replacement of the EPoS system. As a project, it’s impressive enough in its own right; it was delivered in half the usual time (just nine months), and withstood the rigours of a record-breaking peak trading period in its first few weeks of operation.

The solution – what we call our Connected Hosted Retailer suite – covers a whole range of things including: EPoS (Store 6.3), Sales Audit, and Customer Relationship Management; a managed payment service, specifically designed to meet the PCI DSS standards; and an e-learning solution – BT View – an intuitive online training and messaging platform delivered through the EPoS.

Fat Face crew member tries out the new EPoS

Fat Face crew member tries out the new EPoS

All that is worth shouting about on its own… but the fact that all of this is hosted on a cloud-based platform represents something bigger; a step-change in technology’s place within the business. Fat Face now has a centrally managed IT infrastructure that’s fully in line with its needs as a business and its ambition as a brand.

Fat Face has bags of personality and a sense of adventure that runs right through everything, from its history (set up by two friends supporting their skiing adventures in the Alps) and marketing campaigns to its products and people (or ‘crew’ as they’re known in the business).

It’s the kind of business that wants and needs real flexibility and agility. It has to grasp opportunities as they become available and deliver the experience customers expect. That was impossible within the limitations of the legacy EPoS system. Change was a slow, costly exercise – and the company’s ambitions were being stunted by its technology. Multichannel retailing was a patchwork of different systems that ended up forcing store staff to jot down orders details on bits of paper before phoning the call centre to check for stock, or even using their own smartphones to place online orders for customers!

That’s definitely not the case now – and the benefits are being felt throughout the organisation.

So why exactly is this so aligned with delivering on the brand promise?

Firstly, people. Fat Face crew tend to be young and tech-savvy. So when it comes to using systems, they naturally expect the same level of user experience they get from consumer technology, in terms of accessibility and usability. The new EPoS is intuitive by design, with context sensitive onscreen help buttons to bring up instant step-by-step ‘how to’ guides. This helps get new crew members up to speed quickly, while simpler processes free them to spend more time with customers. The business has saved hugely in annual training costs as till training has been cut from 1 week to just a matter hours for each sales assistant. This also drives staff satisfaction as new people very quickly become effective members of the team.

Secondly, for a brand like Fat Face, moving quickly and grabbing opportunities is in its DNA. The new system means opening new stores is a much easier, quicker and more cost-effective process. IT resources and processing power can grow and shrink as needed. With less CAPEX required, there’s less risk and with no servers to support, lower planning overheads for new stores. As a result Fat Face is much more responsive – for each new store, everything can be deployed, or decommissioned, remotely. Having no need for on-site hardware also means that stores can be located in smaller sites such as stores in seaside resorts (there’s even one on Aviemore) or in temporary locations as pop-ups.

This ease of expansion breaks down borders as well. Crabtree & Evelyn, the first UK retailer to make the move to BT’s cloud-based system, has recently expanded operations in Germany and the timescales and processes involved were not that much more complicated than opening a new UK store.

These on-demand POS pioneers, like Fat Face and Crabtree & Evelyn, are likely to be followed by something of a landslide in the next few years as attitudes towards technology within retail organisations change and businesses seek ways to invest less while remaining at the forefront in terms of business capabilities. As a result, we’ll see IT being brought right into the heart of the organisation, with technology initiatives that push the business – and the brand – forward.

Useful links

Video: Watch Crabtree & Evelyn cloud-based EPoS case study

Posted by Josh Pert, CEO, BT Expedite & Fresca

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A new research paper on the future of mobile commerce, published by Strategy Analytics, reveals that 67% of smartphone owners use their phones to find deals and compare prices. But the actual point of purchase is the least popular activity on all mobile devices. Mobile clearly can’t be ignored as a channel to attract and interact with customers, but what should retailers be doing about mobile payments?

Many retailers are wrestling with the challenges set by increasingly mobile customers. But “mobile” itself may be a bit of a red herring. “Mobile” shoppers will most likely fall into one of three camps:

1. at home
2. in store
3. out and about

And that’s the key: creating a mobile strategy that meets the needs of customers at a particular time and place – putting things into context.

On location

There’s a general trend among people browsing at home, away from desktop computers and towards tablets. It’s easy to understand why, as tablets are both more convenient and more engaging than PCs, while having bigger screens than smartphones.

But once these “Downton Abbey shoppers” leave the house, they’re more likely to resort to a mobile phone. It’ll be this device that your customers carry into your store – and that changes the dynamic.

It’s all about identifying opportunities to add value and improve the experience at each stage.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Why are they using a smartphone? While they’re out and about they’ll expect quick and easy access to information about your nearest store and available stock. In the store they might benefit from store layout help, easy access to further product information or current offers – through things such as QR codes, which make jumping off to sites easier and quicker on a mobile.

Special effects

Of course, retail is all about securing the sale. But one thing that came through loud and clear at NRF this year was the fact that new payments technologies have to make the consumer’s life simpler and easier. So, while there’s a lot of noise about mobile payments, technologies such as NFC – one of the main contenders for linking mobile phones and payments – aren’t necessarily putting the interests of the customer first.

However they choose to pay, customers want a frictionless process wherever they are – and that’s one of the stumbling blocks with mobile at the moment.

The fact is, retailers can take money quite easily in-store just now. NFC for payments in store is not a problem that needs to be solved. That doesn’t mean NFC has no role to play in store, but its strength may lie elsewhere, for example, as a way to provide easy access to information and offers through in-store contact points.

Big budget production

So how do you solve the problem of mobile payments? There were three main approaches put forward at NRF:

1. The ‘wallet in the cloud’ – led by PayPal and Google
2. The mobile device – championed by NFC technology suppliers
3. Direct transfer exchanges – run by retailers fed up paying the middle men

Strategy Analytics’ research into NFC reveals: “The ramp up is extremely slow and even years from now we are expecting only a minority of consumers will use mobile payments; 158M users, or 2.9% of total cellular users in 2017.”

If we once again put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and ask what’s best for them, the wallet in the cloud seems to be the most convenient. It promises a frictionless payment experience regardless of channel, and customers can bundle loyalty cards and e-vouchers. But this still doesn’t help with the here and now.

Out now!

There’s no future proof answer to mobile payments as the dance between the different technologies and approaches plays out. But what is clear from these latest findings is that it’s vital that you take mobile seriously and build a solid foundation for your mobile channel.

Just now, that means ensuring your mobile channels provide a brand experience consistent with your other channels. And creating a mobile friendly site that’s designed to meet the needs of mobile users – so that it works on a smaller screen, with the most appropriate information brought to the fore and easy to access (through bigger buttons and simpler buying steps).

Like most other aspects of retail, it’s all about having the right things in the right place, at the right time.

Video: Watch a BBC report on NFC, mobiles and e-wallets

Posted by Jason Shorrock, Product Director, BT Expedite

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