The long road to omnichannel success

Evolving technologies and changing consumer shopping behaviors are consistently top of mind for retailers. While most agree that a seamless and consistent shopping experience across all channels is ideal, the approach to omnichannel retail varies. Online and other non-store sales are expected to grow 8 to 12 percent this year, and digital’s influence on in-store sales continues to grow. Retail’s focus on delivering omnichannel experiences isn’t going to waver anytime soon.

NRF and FitForCommerce released the first Omnichannel Retail Index in 2015 to see how retailers across multiple verticals were implementing key omnichannel features like mobile-optimized emails and websites, live online chat, in-store pickup of online orders, online/offline compatible loyalty programs and the ability to see store inventory online. The report found that while retailers understood that omnichannel investments were key to growing their businesses, work remained to be done. Two years later, the third Omnichannel Retail Index reveals that retailers continue to optimize in-store and online omnichannel capabilities, yet there is still much room for improvement. The average indexed retailer has adopted just over half (55 percent) of best-practice omnichannel features.

NRF-FitForCommerce Omnichannel Retail Index

Comparing data from all three Indexes — which examine 120 retailers’ use of omnichannel and digital strategies via online and in-store mystery shopping — a few trends emerge: 

Broad adoption of digital features outpaces slow adoption of complex cross-channel capabilities
Omnichannel capabilities such as buy online, pick up in store have been adopted at a slow pace, while the majority of retailers allow shoppers to buy online and return in-store. 

Best-practice features such as product recommendations and mobile-optimized emails are deployed by the majority of indexed retailers. Digital functionality presents its own challenges, but is often viewed as faster, easier and less expensive to implement than changes to in-store and cross-channel capabilities.

Capabilities such as allowing shoppers to look up and search by in-store availability online is implemented by less than 20 percent of indexed retailers and has seen very limited growth year over year. However, 70 percent of store associates consistently offer to look up items at other store locations or online.

Department stores lead the pack when it comes to cross-channel capabilities, with the top three department stores gaining a score of 89 percent, compared with a score of 67 percent for the top three apparel retailers.

NRF-FitForCommerce Omnichannel Retail Index

Retailers are scaling back on customer favorites
While studies have shown a greater consumer willingness to purchase online when free return shipping is offered, the Omnichannel Retail Index found that retailers are scaling back this service. Some retailers say that offering free return shipping results in more returns and not necessarily an increase in sales. But companies should carefully weigh the cost-benefits of offering free return shipping to keep customers happy.

NRF-FitForCommerce Omnichannel Retail Index

Customer-centric features gain traction — some faster than others
Among the fastest-growing features are those designed to provide better service. Nearly all indexed retailers (98 percent) offer multiple ways to contact customer service and 54 percent offer live chat options. After making an in-store purchase, only 20 percent of retailers offer to email the receipt to shoppers — up 8 percent from 2015. The majority of retailers are still missing out on capturing valuable customer data at point of purchase. Approximately eight in 10 retailers have embraced basic social media practices such as “like” and “share” functionality, but only one-third of retailers allow shoppers to upload and share their own photos with other shoppers on the product detail page.

NRF-FitForCommerce Omnichannel Retail Index

Putting theory into practice is easier said than done
Better use and integration of existing technologies as well as investments in new solutions have significantly improved efforts to deliver on the omnichannel promise, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The top-ranking retailer in the latest Index received a rating of 76 percent, demonstrating that even the best-performing companies have room to grow. 

Bernardine Wu is the founder and CEO of FitForCommerce and a member of NRF’s Digital Council. The NRF-FitForCommerce Omnichannel Retail Index is a benchmarking study that examines how 120 retailers across multiple categories perform in aggregate on approximately 200 criteria across web, mobile and in-store. The third Index is now completed and customized benchmark studies are available from FitForCommerce.