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Cloud-Based Platforms Are Changing The Game In Multichannel Retail

Online shopping has opened up new choices for consumers, not just in terms of what they buy, but how they buy it.

According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Internet has empowered the consumer in three ways: during the decision-making process leading to the purchase; at the actual moment of purchase; and throughout the product ownership period, including product delivery, maintenance and return.

Many retailers provide customers with a multichannel experience: brick-and-mortar stores, a website and a call center. Some are also embracing mobile commerce platforms. Few, however, have cracked the code on delivering a true “omnichannel” experience — one in which all channels are integrated and work seamlessly. Retailers tend to operate their channels as separate business units, with different processes, enabling technologies and funding. This channel disparity often means customers have very different buying experiences, depending on which channel they use.

The ability for a retailer to “get it right” across all channels is the Holy Grail of retailing. Those that do it are rewarded with high conversion rates and customer loyalty. This is especially true for sellers of connected devices.

But retail for connected devices has always been challenging. The products are complex, with multiple configurations of plans, features, services and accessories, all amid a sea of competitive offers. A retailer must be able to intelligently guide the consumer to the right product, help with choosing a service provider, and potentially obtain information for a multi-year contract, all in a cost-effective manner without losing the sale. This complexity has led most retailers to develop point solutions for selling connected devices. Some even outsource sales to specialized wireless retail companies.

There is another way. Today, multichannel integration solutions, based on a Software- as-a-Service (SaaS) model, offer retailers scalable, modular approaches to delivering an omnichannel experience. These SaaS platforms cover in-store, online and mobile touchpoints with the consumer, and easily plug into a retailer’s roadmap without complex integration. Indeed, the best SaaS retail platforms feature a simple, clean web-based front-end interface that guides the retail associate through the sales process, ensuring that the customer gets the right device and the right configuration of plan, features, value-added services and accessories.

The retail front-end is supported by a compliant, auditable device database for maintaining detailed inventory, down to the unique serial number of each device. A carrier activation system supports the customer and sales-facing solutions, simplifying the complex rules and data required to activate a connected device with a wireless carrier.

The solution should also support self-service features like upgrade eligibility checks and online purchases with in-store pickups. Another must-have feature is a pre-qualification of credit with a cellular carrier in the privacy of the consumer’s home, and the option of completing the purchase online or in a nearby store. It’s also a big benefit to have access to a broad portfolio of products, via a virtual inventory program.

Retailers should also be able to take advantage of professional services, such as a dedicated customer care center with staff that is well-versed in connected devices and interactions with wireless carriers; professional point-of-sale integration, and financial expertise to reconcile carrier commissions.

As consumers continue to favor shopping and buying via multiple touchpoints, an omnichannel strategy is key to customer engagement and retention. Retailers should avail themselves of the new Cloud-based channel integration solutions that offer a highly-optimized channel mix without having to invest in expensive systems integration or re-engineer their channel strategies.

Dave Stritzinger is president of Consensus, a subsidiary of global wireless distributor Brightstar. Consensus provides Cloud-based e-commerce and pointof- sale solutions for wireless retailers, manufacturers and operators worldwide.