We explore how eCommerce brands are using user generated content to market to consumers and grow a loyal fanbase in the process.
Omnichannel, multichannel, cross-channel. Whatever buzzword you want to use, there is no denying the “always on” shopping culture that’s emerged from the technical revolution that is the World Wide Web. The ubiquity of the Internet, smartphones, and social media has given rise to eCommerce, mobile commerce, and now social commerce — all of which are increasingly reshaping the retail landscape.
In this new world of multi-screens, on-demand services, and same-day delivery, customers command retailers to provide seamless pathways to purchase through every avenue they now have in the palms of their hands.
Addressing The Demands of Connected Customers
We’ve entered the age of the connected customer and there’s no turning back. eCommerce has broken free from the perception of being just a “passing fad” and has proven instead to be a booming industry. Having effectively democratized commerce, eCommerce simultaneously lowered the barrier to entry for retail startups, enabling them to more cost-effectively compete with big-box retailers, while providing established brands another channel through which to acquire new customers. This is how the world’s most famous eCommerce company, Amazon, was able to get its start in 1994 as one of the first online-only stores.
With the advent of the iPhone in 2007, consumers were granted instant, 24/7 access to the Internet. There are now an estimated 207.2 million smartphone users in the U.S. alone, and they’re spending an average of 15 hours per week researching products. But research isn’t all these consumers are doing on their smartphones. Mobile sales account for 30% of U.S. eCommerce sales and have growth rates that now outpace the growth of eCommerce.
Mobile sales account for 30% of U.S eCommerce sales in 2015
Then there is social commerce, the impact of which is just beginning to be felt by retailers. Social networks have evolved from platforms where consumers engage with, discuss, and/or share opinions about brands into a direct path to online purchases. In fact, top 500 retailers earned $3.3 billion from social shopping in 2014.
Not only do consumers take advantage of the diverse set of commerce channels today’s technology has afforded them, but — thanks to great strides made by a few industry leaders like Amazon — they also expect seamless experiences, easy payment processing, responsive communications, speedy delivery, and effortless returns. These are lofty expectations that most customers don’t believe brands are meeting.
Zendesk research shows that 87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into providing a seamless experience, with only 7% extremely satisfied that brands provide a seamless, integrated, and consistent customer service experience across channels.
If retailers understand the evolving demands of connected customers, how can so many still be struggling to meet omnichannel expectations?
As many retailers have quickly discovered, providing an omnichannel shopping experience is easier said than done. The sheer technological and logistical complexity of omnichannel retail operations is something even top retailers with endless resources are struggling to master.
Consider the obstacles: most retailers’ back-end operations are either entrenched with massive siloed and inefficient legacy systems or are manually managed by error-prone, time-consuming spreadsheets. Either way, outdated systems typically lead to manual workarounds, with employees invariably exporting data from existing systems to create spreadsheets and datasets that end up living in isolation. When this work consistently happens outside of the systems that are meant to be a source of truth for the entire organization, human errors and inaccuracies are exacerbated. Out-of-stocks, overstocks, and overselling all stem from these broken methods which cost U.S. retailers $1.1 trillion per year.
Not only are these antiquated systems costly, redundant, and inefficient, but they also service to silo critical business functions and important data needed to make intelligent decisions. How can you properly forecast demand across multiple sales channels and make smart purchasing decisions if you don’t have access to all the necessary information? Most companies only analyze 12% of their data because the data needed to inform these important purchasing and merchandising decisions all live in disparate systems.
This is the reality retailers face while trying to support an omnichannel strategy that requires them to:
- Accurately track inventory across all sales channels, suppliers, and fulfillment centers
- Reliably forecast cross-channel demand
- Provide fast and efficient fulfillment and delivery
- Proficiently process returns while managing the cost of free shipping
- Constantly communicate with the customer across all retail touchpoints
- Secure customer data and payment information
Even those brands who believe they’ve achieved omni-presence must be able to quickly adapt as the retail landscape continues to rapidly progress.
Bridging the Gap Between Front-End Experiences and Back-End Performance
While it’s easier than ever for emerging and established brands to develop sleek online storefront experiences for customers, the back-end operational processes needed to support them have failed to keep pace. This is the underlying truth at the core of the omnichannel challenges facing today’s retailers.
Retailers are being held back by old, bulky, and costly ERP solutions and they need more flexibility than standard out-of-the-box solutions can offer. They already have access to best of breed front-end technologies like Shopify, Magento, Bigcommerce and WooCommerce. But if retailers’ omnichannel inventory, operations, and fulfillment processes can’t function as seamlessly as their front-end customer interactions, then they are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage from an efficiency and customer experience perspective.
It’s time for back-end retail technologies to evolve from inflexible systems to agile solutions, from isolated functionalities to interoperable platforms, and from unspecialized ERPs to cloud-based applications that can provide the rapid innovation and customization today’s commerce landscape requires. Recognizing that inventory management, workflow automation, and unified data intelligence are the bedrock of omnichannel success, we created Stitch Labs to help retailers streamline and scale their operations by providing a new level of integration, intelligence, and visibility into their businesses. We’re on a mission to unshackle retailers from legacy systems that perpetuate inefficiencies and are striving to bridge technology gaps to bring omnichannel operations into the 21st century.
By automatically synchronizing inventory and consolidating data across multiple sales channels, suppliers, accounting softwares, POS systems, shipping and fulfillment technologies, Stitch gives retailers a single, holistic view of their business to help increase efficiencies and scale their operations more intelligently.
Stitch is connecting commerce operations and driving significant business improvements and bottom line growth for thousands of omnichannel brands. In fact, Stitch customers – like Chubbies Shorts, Flash Tattoos, and Nomad Goods – see average inventory and operational efficiency gains of 39%.
Take growing consumer electronics retailer, Nomad Goods, for example. Nomad has automated 90% of their operational tasks thanks to Stitch and the integrated technology stack it’s enabled. Centralizing their retail ecosystem through Stitch has improved operational efficiencies and notably reduced out-of-stocks across all their sales channels. Nomad co-founder, Brian Hahn, said their people are now “empowered to work smarter and help strategically scale the business.”
We believe this is future of commerce. This is how modern retailers will be able to profitably achieve omnichannel success.
About the Author
Brandon Levey is the CEO of Stitch Labs. He holds a BSE and MSE in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. While working on domestic nuclear security systems analyses at Sandia National Securities, he started two retail businesses on the side. Through his experiences in the design and manufacturing world, he identified many problems faced by small businesses, leading to the eventual launch of Stitch Labs. Follow him on Twitter.