Three ways to describe retail’s best online customers

An analyst firm has created a formula for measuring how ready merchants are to serve the needs of empowered consumers. A look at the impact of mobile, social and the cloud

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Omni-channel retailing could be defined in one sense as a growing cadre of demanding customers that want to interact with businesses on their own terms, on their schedule, and on their own devices. Another way is to think of it as part of the mobile mind-shift.

Studies by tech analyst firm Forrester Research have stressed the importance of embracing the mobile channel, a fast-growing conduit for business with the potential for large profits if deployed properly. Forrester calls customer-driven mobile engagement “the mobile mind-shift,” and has ranked users of smartphones, tablets and other devices based on their usage patterns.

The top three, in order, are “Perpetuals,” “Immersers,” and “Adapters,” which the firm says constitute 22 per cent of all consumers. These people tend to be young, well-educated, relatively wealthy and spend the most money online, says Josh Bernoff, senior vice-president of idea development at Forrester.

“We can actually measure their mobile mind shift,” he says. “Using our customer surveys, we score people based on the number of devices they use, the frequency of use and the number of locations in which they connect.” The firm noticed that major U.S. retailers like Target and J.C. Penny, for instance, need to spend more time influencing online reviewers or offering more mobile utilities. It would be interesting to see how Canadian retailers would score.

The social side of omni-channel retailing

If there’s another big transition in omni-channel retailing, it’s in social media and the interaction between consumers, vendors and service providers. All of them are communicating in real-time on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other public social platforms, and customer service is becoming ever-more important due to the transparency of these interactions.

Related: The transparency and scrutiny omni-channel shopping is putting on retailers   

Internal business social platforms, some of them cloud-based, are also proving useful in meeting the increased demand from consumers for more ways to connect. Comments, complaints and suggestions can easily be pulled off of the wider Internet and quickly brought in-house for discussion and analysis by business executives, developers and network professionals.

And with the consumer  calling the shots, IT will play a more prominent role in defining how an omni-channel retailing plan can work out in reality. For instance, if there is demand for improved voice or video communication, the bandwidth load will have to be carefully managed across IP networks.

There’s a perception that the role of IT departments has been marginalized and that the gap is increasing between the business and technology parts of organizations. But for an omni-channel strategy to work, executives will not only need to develop a closer relationship with their consumers, they will also have to break down barriers that separate them from their IT counterparts.

Overall, what’s needed now is for companies to pay attention to consumer surveys, but treat them as a first step in informing themselves. Helpful as they are as a source of information on how your business can serve a new demographic of clients, it’s real-world experiments in the new omni-channel retailing environment that will help determine the best and most targeted approach.

If you’re not up to speed on omni-channel retailing overall, the Brainshark clip below might help: 

Mastering the Omni-Channel

Omni-channel retailing in Canada


Image courtesy of Feelart at

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