Commentary

Looking for the Profitability in Out-of-Store Sales

With study after study showing mobile having a blowout impact on holiday sales, it would appear many retailers are reaping some of the revenue windfall.

But there’s revenue and then there’s profit, where the picture is not quite as clear.

It’s no secret that consumers shop with smartphones, tablets and PCs and then head to physical stores for the final purchase.

For many years, retailers saw significantly more profit from shoppers who used all those different channels, but that situation has changed, based on a new study.

In 2013, almost half (49%) of retailers saw significantly more profitability from multi-channel customers. Now, just two years later, only about a quarter (26%) see those customers as more profitable, according to the study by Retail Systems Research (RSR)

The study, Omni-Channel 2015: Taking Time, Money, Commitment and Technology, comprised a survey of 101 retailers, 49% with revenue in excess of $1 billion.

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Perhaps worse for the retail environment is that 27% of retailers either don’t know or can’t tell about the profitability of multi-channel customers. Two years back, that number was just 19%.

Winning retailers, defined as those with sales growth above the average, face numerous challenges in executing a multi-channel strategy, chief of which is figuring how consumers use the different channels. Here are the challenges:

  • 57% -- The way consumers use different channels to make purchase decisions is unpredictable, but important to understand
  • 51% -- A good customer experience in one channel is not enough to maintain customer loyalty
  • 37% -- Digital channels are exposing our company to new sources of competition
  • 31% -- We need to control labor costs
  • 29% -- Consumer expectations outpace our ability to deliver cross-channel experiences
  • 26% -- Not doing enough to leverage our assets
  • 26% -- Consumers know more about product and prices than our employees do
  • 23% -- Consumer concerns over privacy have forced us to re-evaluate our strategy

Interestingly, the more successful retailers have a different view of the role of mobile and online sales in overall company strategy.

For example, 41% of retailers with just average sales see the purpose of mobile and online for transactions to sell products. Conversely, only 23% of the most successful retailers look to digital sales to sell products, the same as the number who look to digital to create brand awareness.

Here’s how high-performing retailers view the role of digital channels in overall company strategy:

  • 23% -- To transact, sell products
  • 23% -- Create brand awareness
  • 20% -- As a shopping aid while shopping in the store
  • 14% -- To drive traffic to stores
  • 9% -- To manage post-transaction service
  • 9% -- To educate consumers about brand

Average and laggard retailers have a much stronger propensity to see digital channels as a pure selling engine, which is an outdated view of how mobile devices are actually used throughout the shopping process.

Successful retailers see much more opportunity than average retailers in cross-channel experiences almost across the board.

For example, most (60%) want to allow customers to purchase, take delivery and return products through the channels of their choice. Fewer than half (45%) of average retailers feel the same.

While 57% of winning retailers want to leverage customer knowledge and information assets across channels, only 29% of average and below-average retailers do.

There also is a gap in the state of mobile at retail.

While about half (49%) of retailers see a mobile commerce platform as very valuable, only 22% of them say they have either implemented or are satisfied with theirs.

Many retailers may feel comforted that some 90% of consumers still go to their physical stores to buy. But some clearly are missing the impact of mobile all along the way.

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