Savvy retailers use one channel's resources to improve results from others

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The secret to multichannel retail success is creating a model that evolves with our changing marketplace. The best strategy provides a seamless customer experience, optimizes cross-channel benefits by leveraging strengths, and capitalizes on emerging markets.

Consumers are continuously redefining how they want to shop. They want to cross channels with ease, shopping here, buying there, and returning somewhere else. And, they want to do it at their convenience, in their community, whether it is at a bricks-and-mortar store or online.

The combination of user-friendly technology, a nomadic culture, and the need to connect with others is contributing to an upsurge of online communities. This creates an intra-channel environment filled with growth opportunities for enterprising retailers. They integrate a stand-alone Web site as their flagship online store with satellite branches in communities like Amazon, eBay and Yahoo.

Simply creating the infrastructure to integrate channels and fulfill customer expectations provides functionality, but it doesn't capitalize on the inherent strengths of each channel. An optimal multichannel strategy utilizes the resources of one channel to improve the results from others and maximize the overall return.

For example, in-store kiosks provide access to expanded product selection without increasing the store's inventory overhead. Customers receive personal assistance from a sales associate and increased product availability. Everyone wins.

Transitioning from a traditional retail model to a cross-channel one is an evolutionary process. To get started:

1. Assess your current position by identifying strengths, weaknesses and key metrics for each channel. This information establishes your baseline and will be a reference point throughout the process.

2. Identify and use opportunities to leverage resources across channels to drive sales and reduce costs. For example, a "Your catalog is on the way!" e-mail can boost sales with relatively little cost.

3. Compare your customers' shopping patterns with multichannel shopping trends. Do your procedures, policies and systems support multichannel shopping? Or, are you limiting your potential with antiquated processes?

4. Define your optimal multichannel model including processes, systems and compensation structure. Remember that nothing derails an initiative faster than the wrong motivators.

5. Continuously monitor changes in the marketplace and adapt your plan to match. Seek new channel and intra-channel opportunities. Expand your market as your proficiency improves.

6. Utilize metrics from every channel to monitor your progress. Avoid focusing solely on costs or sales. The objective is to create an integrated multichannel operation agile enough to meet customer demands in a rapidly evolving marketplace. n

Debra Ellis is president of Wilson & Ellis Consulting, Barnardsville, NC. Reach her at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

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