It’s been a truism in recent years that a customer who shops with a retailer across many channels, such as both in stores and online, is more profitable than a single-channel customer. But a new survey suggests many retail executives are no longer convinced that’s the case.
The number of retailers reporting multichannel customers as “significantly more profitable” has plunged by 50% over the past three years, to 26% in 2015 from 49% in 2013, according to an online survey from June to August of 101 retailer executives by Retail Systems Research, a consulting firm. The drop-off is more acute for hard-goods retailers such as electronics stores than for apparel retailers, the report says. That’s because hard-goods retailers no longer sell as many high-margin add-ons like cables for a TV set, because shoppers can go to online retailers like Amazon.com to buy them for less, the report says.
Apparel retailers, however, can sell unique accessories and other add-ons at checkout, so their percentage of profitable customers remains essentially unchanged, the survey says. Among apparel retailers, 36% say their multichannel customers are significantly more profitable than single-channel shoppers; 21% say they are slightly more profitable and 25% say they are equally profitable, the report says. For hard-goods and fast-moving consumer goods companies, 23% say their multichannel customers are significantly more profitable; 21% say slightly more profitable, and 25% equally profitable.
Many retailers are finding cross-channel shoppers unpredictable, the survey finds. Among retailers RSR defines as “winners”—those whose annual sales growth exceeds 4.5%—57% cite the unpredictability of consumers as they shop across channels as their No. 1 challenge, with 33% of other retailers doing so, the survey says. RSR did not name the retailers surveyed.
Winning and losing retailers in the survey cited the realization that a good customer experience in one channel isn’t enough to maintain customer loyalty as their No. 2 challenge. Coming in third was the idea that digital channels expose their company to new sources of competition. Among the winners, 51% identify customer loyalty requiring more than a good customer experience in just one channel among the top three challenges, with 47% of the other retailers doing so, while 37% of winners and 35% of the others cite greater competition from digital channels, the survey says.
More winners—23%—describe digital channels’ primary role as creating brand awareness, compared with 17% of the others, the survey shows.
RSR recommends that retailers take a more complete look at shoppers’ path-to-purchase preferences by using technology to gain insights into how shoppers make their buying decisions Winning retailers cited better integration tools, consolidated customer data and a more modern e-commerce platform that can be more easily integrated into other selling systems as their top three ways to overcome the challenges of selling across multiple channels, the report says.
The findings show retailers should update technologies more often to meet customer expectations of being able to shop anywhere, anytime, RSR says.
Smaller retailers usually rely on vendors to provide their e-commerce platforms, while retailers with more than $5 billion in yearly revenue favor their own IT departments, the survey shows. “It’s time to consider earlier obsolescence,” the report says. “This will impact everything from lease vs. buy decisions to depreciation and amortization schedules. Cycles have irrevocably compressed. ‘Retail-hardened’ used to guarantee a longer life. Not its meaning has shifted to ‘easy to use, easy to change.’”Favorite