The transparency (and scrutiny) omni-channel shopping is putting on retailers

The vice-president of IT for Tommy Bahama appears at a Cisco event to discuss how his firm has evolved from relying on contact centres to engage with customers to a wide variety of touchpoints

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Retailers and shoppers are learning a lot about each other through social media and other avenues of what’s being called the omni-channel. And the new relationships they’re creating are paying off for everyone.

With a worldwide audience, companies aren’t just trying to offer better customer service: they want to be seen doing it. A hyper-connected web of social media platforms, review sites and live Q&As are prime opportunities to prove what their brand is worth.

Special Report: Multichannel Retailing Key Initiative Overview

At a livestreamed media event that Cisco Systems held recently to discuss the rapidly advancing communications technology that makes this chatter possible, Stewart Hubbard, vice-president of information technology for the Tommy Bahama clothing chain, spoke about some of the new channels opening up that allow his company to communicate with customers. In the past, he said, “if you were a retailer you might have a call centre, you’d certainly have a retail store presence, and interact with customers that way.”

Now the interaction reaches much further and goes deeper. Shoppers want to make themselves heard, and retailers are listening carefully, he says. “With Facebook and other social media, ratings and reviews, our Internet site—we’re getting constant feedback from our customers. We have to be really good about following up on concerns, addressing concerns, through those channels.”

Social media creates a big incentive for a company to maintain a good reputation as feedback, whether good or bad, is a matter of public record for millions of people. If there are any hints of dissatisfaction, he says, “we take it very seriously.” These concerns are addressed through the same channels, giving many others a glimpse of how Tommy Bahama treats its clients before they buy their first island shirt.

“If you look at today’s shopper, they’re more educated than ever before,” says Hubbard. “Not just about the marketplace in general, but about your own products. They have access to ratings and reviews, they have access to pricing information [on] the entire line of what you carry. So, it’s important that our store associates have that same information, are even better informed in some cases as the customers who are shopping with us.”

Carlos Dominguez, senior vice-president at Cisco, emphasized how important it is for companies to adapt in a changing business climate in which the distance between buyers and sellers is growing shorter by the day.

“This connection of everything is really going to lead to a totally different world,” he said, “and really create significant opportunities for those that do leverage what’s available.”

Retailers may be under increased scrutiny today, but more transparency through social media definitely has its merits. Good service can now be advertised—in fact, demonstrated—alongside good products. And while shoppers have “complained to the manager” ever since the first store opened up, compliments now flow freely in the open forum that social media provides. For retailers who realize its potential and care about their brands, a more connected world is proving to be a big benefit.

For more strategic advice, visit Allstream’s new resource centre: Enabling Omni-Channel Effectiveness in Retail and Financial Services, featuring research from Gartner, case studies and more.

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