Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the Compete Blog. Compete Inc. is a web analytics company that focuses on understanding how consumers use the internet.
Aside from survey results, few hard facts have been published about cross-channel retail. Possibly this is because it's hard to gather data and measure it to make an apples to apples comparison. Even the definition is not immediately obvious.
Some often think of cross-channel as being synonymous with the term "multi-channel" but it is far more involved than simply having multiple channels. The idea behind cross-channel retail is that a consumer should have a consistent experience with a retailer across all channels made available by the retailer. That means having the same marketing message, pricing, and customer service everywhere - in store, print, mobile, email, online, catalog or call center.
Sounds complicated? Expensive? Hard to quantify? Yes, yes and yes. But is anyone succeeding?
I started my quest by looking at a few of the top brick and mortar retailers to understand what this group was doing from an online commerce perspective:
After marveling at J.C. Penney's industry leading conversion rate, I then looked at the sites and their functionality specifically related to anything that would drive cross channel behavior. After a few passes through the shopping funnel I found some significant differences. Best Buy and Sears lead the pack with buy online, pick-up in store options with an order typically available in store within an hour. Walmart has been pushing "Site-to-Store," which provides free shipping to a store or a fee based membership program with faster shipping than the standard option. J.C. Penney is fourth with a ship to store option that saves you a whopping $3-$4 on average compared to shipping to your home (does that even cover the gas?) as well as a limited store inventory look up. And then there's Target; no functionality that drives customers to the store but at least they have some free shipping options. Nice for conversion, but nothing that impacts cross-channel behavior.
So then the big question remaining is how are the significant cross-channel retail initiatives performing at Best Buy, Sears and Walmart? Do customers care? Do they use it? I then looked at all online orders in June to see what's going on from a consumer perspective.
For these three leading retailers, this translates to a lot more foot traffic in-store and likely a lower cart abandoned rate. While I'm not quantifying ROI here, it seems to me that from what customers are actually doing with cross-channel retail (from the buy online, pick-up in store perspective), it is very much in demand and gives customers a service they obviously want and use today.
Discussion Questions: Are retailers achieving a significant boost from buy online, pick-up in stores options? How important is true cross-channel shopping for retailers? How can merchants best optimize cross-channel integration on websites?
Are retailers underestimating or overestimating the potential gains from offering a buy online, pick-up in-store option?