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Forget online and offline. When it comes to shopping and payment, think omnichannel

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By Ralf Gladis, Co-Founder and CEO of the international Payment Service Provider Computop

Today retail is part business administration, part psychology. Forget distribution channels, they belong in the dusty past. Customers now demand a more flexible approach to retail allowing them to buy what they want, when they want, where they want, and pay for it in a way that suits them. It’s called omnichannel and retailers who are succeeding are those that long ago forgot about separate, unconnected spheres of shopping with different ranges, different prices and different ways to pay.

The spotlight no longer falls on the product, but on a disparate range being available to the customer through an omnipresent approach, both offline and online. It’s a challenge because the integration of independent routes to market, behind which there are channel-specific optimised IT systems and logistics processes, has to be integrated into one consistent unit. Regardless of the difficulties, however, any hesitation in achieving an omnichannel strategy, will open the door to competitors, even in these straitened Covid-19 times.

The fact is that customers have never had a greater choice in shopping sources, and if they don’t feel they are getting what they want, they are very quick to express their displeasure across Internet forums for all to see. One day they go into a physical store, the next they order from their sofa, three days later they purchase something through their mobile on the move. If there’s a problem, or they want to return an item, they expect the retailer to make this straightforward and manage it in one simple transaction.

As omnichannel has been adopted by more retailers, they have built IT systems that resemble a virtual warehouse in which goods are stocked for distribution to any channel, anywhere, ordered by anyone. Store employees have the same access to product data as a customer using an eCommerce outlet. An integrated omnichannel merchandise management system offers clothing retailers in particular, with their seasonal product ranges that are still planned in advance, great opportunities to improve service, increase customer loyalty and at the same time optimise warehousing, sales and increase margins. These systems work because the underlying technology ranges from enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management to the multifaceted interaction of accounting and payment.

Ralf Gladis

Ralf Gladis

Despite retail not being in the vanguard of digital change, the remarkable technology developments made in recent years have provided customers with multiple choices in how they shop and how they pay. These include: click and collect, click and reserve, click and deliver, instore order, instore return, card payment and of course, cash payment.

Omnichannel is categorically not about the demise of the physical store. Many customers visit shops having already read all the Amazon reviews and with an understanding of price, but they want to touch the goods, and they want to talk to an assistant. If all physical shops were to close, online retailers would suddenly experience a sharp rise in returns, and the ‘showrooming’ element of physical shopping would be detrimental to brands, and disappointing for customers who still look for the kind of retail experience that only visiting a store can provide.

Consolidating payment mechanisms also has an important role to play in the adoption of omnichannel. Payment methods traditionally offered at the POS are different, and wider, than those online and if retailers continue to use different payment service providers (PSPs) for in-store transactions than for goods purchased online they are storing up problems for themselves.

This can be managed by locating payment and data with a service provider who supports e-commerce, m-commerce and POS from a single source anywhere in the world using common technology. This guarantees true omnichannel reporting with consolidated evaluation of all sales and transactions, wherever they occur.

The other important element is that at the point of payment customer and card data must be protected. In store retailers should use terminals at the POS that support the P2PE security standard of Visa and Mastercard, ensuring that data is encrypted. Online, retailers will be aware that they need to implement Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), the standard developed under the new Payment Services Directive (PSD2) to enhance the security of credit and debit card payments.

The task of retailers today is to think about omnichannel as a way to reach customers where they are, to ensure goods are available across all channels and to deliver an experience that is equally valuable whether it’s on the high street, on a mobile phone, in a mall or sitting at a desk.


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