It’s the most wonderful time of the year according to the Andy Williams’ song, and it’s certainly the busiest for the retail sector. Christmas is just around the corner, when months of hard work behind-the-scenes, come to fruition.

The holiday season has always been frenetic for retailers, but the industry’s recent evolution has made it even more so. Now, organizations are dealing with multiple channels and touch points, which are pushed to their maximum capabilities by new flash promotions such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

I addressed the customer disloyalty that Christmas brings in a recent blog post, so today I want to talk about the new challenges of creating and fulfilling experience for loyal customers.

Omnichannel has changed – and is continuing to change – the definition of a good customer experience. Shoppers not only expect consistency across all interactions, whether online or offline, they require these channels to connect with and serve each other.

They also want their encounters tailored to the channel they are in, to deliver the greatest level of convenience and personalization possible. No mean feat!

So how can retailers get closer to consumers’ expectations this Christmas?

It all starts with the store – the biggest sticking point in omnichannel retail.

iVend recently published a report – The Omni-Illusion: why are customer connections disappearing when shoppers reach the store? which surveyed 1,000 consumers across five European markets.

Using their feedback, we pieced together ‘the omnichannel store’ – an optimized bricks-and-mortar environment for modern retail standards. We found areas for improvement across the board, from a fifth of respondents calling for quicker click-and-collect, to 30% craving special offers based on their previous buying behavior.

1 in 4 shoppers would like sales associates to take payments via in-store tablets, to reduce queue lengths, while 1 in 10 would like to use digital self-service kiosks to look up product information, we also found.

To meet these desires, our omnichannel store relies on two key elements: data and technology.

Data is perhaps the single most critical element within a connected Christmas retail experience. Customers can forgive discrepancies in brand appearance and product availability, if their value is recognized and rewarded in all channels.

Even without the bells and whistles of customer-facing technology, retailers can still use data to enhance the bricks-and-mortar experience. Implementing a mobile POS solution operated by sales associates brings rich functionalities of inventory look-up, cross-selling and up-selling, detailed product information, loyalty points, on the spot ordering and payments to the customer, wherever they are located.

More importantly, it fills the ‘black hole’ that exists in retailers’ customer portraits, as only their online activity is currently visible to them.

For those that are successfully using data to power store experiences, the next step is to find technology that makes the offline journey easier. This is something I will discuss in a few weeks’ time, when I talk about festive click-and-collect strategies.

For now I’ll leave you with this thought: get the store offer right, and you might just crack omnichannel this Christmas.

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