Online Retailers Strive to Overcome Integration Challenges

For businesses in the midst of a transition to the digital frontier, managing brick-and-mortar storefronts and ecommerce platforms with the same level of care can be a major difficulty, especially for retailers who want to maintain customer satisfaction and a good reputation across these channels.

Consumer expectations are at an all-time high, as the Web has standardized the constant availability of online storefronts and consistent service across a variety of platforms.

This demand for integrated ecommerce is one of the greatest challenges that retailers face today, and according to a recent study from analyst firm Accenture, businesses in a range of industries are struggling to lock down an approach that is both cost-effective and provides the uninterrupted customer experience that today’s shoppers desire most.

This article originally appeared on the LiveLOOK blog, and is reprinted with permission.

The seamless dream is tough to achieve

Accenture explained that companies acknowledge the importance of having an integrated platform conducive to optimal customer interactions, but 94 percent of surveyed retailers claimed they experienced roadblocks on the way to bridging gaps across channels.

Because so many merchants have their hands in both online and offline vending, coordinating the two has been especially problematic. Seventy-one percent of customers want to see in-store inventory on the Web and 50 percent expect the convenience of picking up purchases made online at brick-and-mortar locations. Creating a seamless experience has retailers stumped, and the report showed that these setbacks are taking a toll on business performance.

“Thirty-nine percent of customers surveyed say they are unlikely or very unlikely to visit a retailer’s store if its website does not provide physical store inventory information,” Chris Donnelly, global managing director of Accenture’s Retail Practice, said in the report. “Additionally, the research also shows that retailers who struggle to implement robust seamless capabilities online also experience challenges meeting customer expectations in offline channels. So this is a particularly big challenge that requires immediate attention.”

Not the customer support of yesteryear

While online shopping presents its own challenges for seamless integration, businesses face another beast in the form of ecommerce service after purchases are made.

The concept of “waiting your turn” has been virtually eliminated from the collective conscious of retail culture, and consumers have difficulty delaying gratification when it comes to researching, purchasing and receiving support for their product and service needs.

With respect to user support, many customers are bypassing the traditional call center and going straight to the Web to scour forums and social media communities for answers, as entire networks have been devoted to unlocking the solutions to commonly occurring problems.

In a recent article from Forbes, companies were advised to centralize their knowledge base and encourage user collaboration on their own terms.

In many cases, tech-savvy consumers are beating companies to the punch and delivering more effective support than the manufacturer could through its online support platforms, which does not look good for any brand.

And while a handful of users are content in their collaboration with other online devotees to work through issues, this does not mean that decision-makers can sit back and let consumers fend for themselves with regard to answering questions and concerns – ecommerce support is still a primary discussion point for online retailers and companies are constantly seeking ways to streamline and improve their efforts. Forbes recommended that brands promote a ‘smart’ approach to service that actively addresses specific support needs rather than funneling customers into outdated FAQs and forums.

As retailers continue to blur the line between the physical and online shopping worlds, customers await the day when they can tap into a truly integrated ecommerce experience at any time.