Wednesday, October 17, 2007

RetailWire asks: is the "seamless" store experience important?

There's another interesting conversation going on over at RetailWire, this time about how important it is (or will be) for retailers to provide a seamless transition between their brick-and-mortar and online properties. As RetailWire's editor George Anderson notes, "consumers can order a product online and pick it up in a store. They can order an item online at a kiosk located in a store. Today, retailers are looking for ways to integrate the virtual and brick and mortar shopping worlds to better serve consumers' needs and drive sales in the process." Of course, such integration comes at a price, and many have wondered what (if any) benefit there is to making it work.

Well, specifically they wonder about the benefit to the retailer, since the benefits to customers are obvious (better service, more options, etc.). And while some might argue that anything that benefits the customer is sure to benefit the retailer in the long run, the cost of making services like pick-up-at-the-store and product line extension kiosk networks can be large, and the logistical challenges associated with such projects are ongoing.

Even with that argument in play, though, it seems like retailers will eventually have to do whatever they can to make sure that their real and virtual presences are compatible, and ideally, completely integrated. To whit, here's the comment I left at RetailWire using Barnes & Noble (one of the companies actually doing something -- finally -- about linking their website and retail stores together):

I really like going to bookstores and trying out the merchandise before purchasing. However, if I can't find a book on the shelf, or an associate helps me to determine that it's out of stock, my choices are to either go to another store or have the book shipped (to the store or directly to me). I'm lazy, so in most cases the former isn't a viable option. As for the latter though, if the store *doesn't* have an easy way to order and ship it to me, I'll just go home and buy the item from Amazon, since either way I have to wait for it. Worse, I might just pull out my web-enabled phone and make the purchase from another vendor while I'm still in the store. Only by making access to inventory and alternative purchase processes as simple as possible does the brick-and-mortar retailer have any hope of securing that sale from me.

While I might be atypical in this regard right now (though I doubt it), I certainly won't be in the not-too-distant future.

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