This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
The retail industry has undergone significant change within the last decade, requiring small storefronts and large chains alike to alter their traditional business strategies. Integrating unified communications to optimize business processes helps retailers improve quality and efficiencies that increase sales and create differentiated products and services within the market. While the retail industry spans an array of sectors, most businesses are affected in some way by the same trends. Volume discounters and low-cost retail chains currently dominate the market. Brick-and-mortar establishments now compete with each other as well as online retailers. And, the Internet expands customer options, creating a competitive landscape that spans the globe.
In such a competitive market, customers are likely to remember and return to retail establishments that have exceeded their expectations. Retailers can leverage UC to enhance communication at every level of the purchase cycle, to enhance the customers’ shopping experience and drive loyalty.
UC integrates voice and data, allowing retailers to combine an array of wired and wireless technologies and devices to enhance service and create a unique customer experience. A large sporting goods chain, for example, can leverage portable handsets to allow employees to access inventory, compare competitor prices and access product information at other store locations, in real time, without ever leaving the sales floor. Grocery stores can tie RFID technology into their rewards program databases to track customers’ purchasing habits to personalize future marketing efforts and enhance the shopping experience. Clothing stores can implement in-store kiosks to help customers self-assist with returns, allowing store associates to focus more attention on customers making new purchases. By leveraging UC to streamline tasks at various points of customer contact, retailers can improve employee productivity and customer satisfaction.
UC strengthens chain store management. Store managers work with warehouse managers, mobile district managers and multiple staff at the corporate headquarters to ensure inventory. With so many different groups involved, UC helps to alleviate many of the communication bottlenecks that can delay problem resolution. Presence allows them to locate key parties to solve issues. Desktop clients allow them to set up quick, impromptu conference calls about unexpected challenges related to supply chain, marketing and promotional matters. UC reduces communication delays, giving store managers and personnel more time on the floor, more time with customers and time to concentrate on other responsibilities.
Through UC, retailers might communications-enable key business applications to share important data about store performance or operations. For example, integrating point-of-sale and inventory control systems has long been a means to ease inventory management for specific locations as well as across an entire retail chain. Communications-enabling inventory control software also can help retailers identify and share opportunities for location-specific circumstances (like unusual weather conditions, population influx, etc.), enabling them to deliver more quickly the appropriate types and amounts of products and services to meet demand.
UC can deliver high value to the retail industry. The best business strategies are those that create value at every direct and indirect customer touch point, providing more strategic options and greater opportunities for differentiation.
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Edited by Jaclyn Allard