WASHINGTON — Several retailers were cited as leaders in areas of the omnichannel battle for more customers, including Neiman Marcus, Kohl’s and Ralph Lauren, in a new report released by the National Retail Federation and e-commerce consultancy, FitForCommerce.
The competition for customers is strong in the digital age and the rise of e-commerce as a platform to boost sales is forcing retailers to differentiate themselves, according to the “Omnichannel Retail Index,” a study assessing how 120 well-known U.S. retailers — ranging from apparel and fashion to electronics, beauty and food — performed online, in stores and on mobile devices during the peak holiday shopping season in November and December.
Overall the number of retailers offering online, mobile and cross-channel options rose 2.1 percent from the inaugural October 2015 index. The mobile category led the improvements, with 51 percent of all retailers in the index offering those options versus 42.5 percent in the last report. The number of retailers offering improvements in mobile options rose 1.8 percent, while the number of merchants offering improvements in cross-channel options fell 1.3 percent.
Neiman Marcus was highlighted as an example of a good retail experience. The retailer has a point system that earns customers points for each purchase. “InCircle” members are able to earn double points on certain days during the year, free shipping and sweepstakes entries. The more points members earn, the more they move up the membership levels and are offered more rewards.
In the area of in-store experiences, Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff were cited as good examples as merchants providing or testing “over-the-top” in-store experiences to shoppers, according to the index. They have differentiated themselves from other retailers through the use of “smart” shelves and fitting rooms. Smart shelves can interact with customers though physical touch or via mobile devices and smart fitting rooms interact via a display screen that gives shoppers the opportunity to request another size from an associate and can provide options to complete the outfit.
Ralph Lauren is currently testing interactive fitting rooms at its Polo flagship store in New York City, the report said. The smart mirrors in the fitting rooms are capable of identifying the apparel items a customer is trying on through RFID tags and displaying the items on a large touchscreen. Customers can then request different sizes and colors of the items in the store’s inventory. The technology also provides for the use of a wide range of languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Italian.
Uri Minkoff, chief executive officer and cofounder of Rebecca Minkoff, said the technology in the fitting rooms has increased customers’ time spent in stores and increased apparel sales since the store opened, according to the report.
Among the retailers offering the best online experience were Kohl’s and Staples, providing such options as “autosuggest/autocomplete,” in-store product availability on category or product pages, live chats on product pages and filtering search results by store availability on landing pages.
“Shoppers are feeling frustrated by the lack of information available to them in stores,” the report noted. “Two in three shoppers who try to find information within a store say they didn’t find all the information they needed: 43 perecnt were left frustrated, 41 percent were more likely to shop elsewhere and 22 percent were less likely to buy from that retailer in the future.”
The top retailers addressing customer expectations online with such features as allowing items to be added to a wish list or recommending products on a product page, included J.C. Penney, HSN, Amazon, QVC and Cabela’s.
In the area of cross-channel shopping, another area measured by the report, several retailers were listed as among the best, including Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Timberland, Barnes & Noble, Ikea and Lowe’s.
These retailers offered the best options, such as having associates knowledgeable of the return process for online orders, offering Wi-Fi or giving customers the ability to buy in store and ship to their home.
Bloomingdale’s, Coach, Apple, Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus and Staples were listed as the top retailers offering mobile experience options, such as a mobile optimized site, a navigation bar in the header and a saved bag between platforms.
FitForCommerce used a mystery shopping method in their analysis in November and December to evaluate specific omnichannel offerings.
Among the key findings, 86 percent of retailers in the index provided a shared shopping cart from mobile to desktop, up from 84 percent in the first report. In addition, 77 percent of retailers offered mobile-optimized e-mail, up from 55 percent.
“As technology evolves and consumers adapt to new ways of shopping, retailers continue to optimize their in-store offerings and online presence to engage consumers at every corner of their retail experience,” said Vicki Cantrell, senior vice president of the NRF and executive director of Shop.org. “This report shows that retailers are taking major steps to integrate their in-store and digital operations and narrow the difference between the two. The growing omnichannel approach to retail gives consumers familiar consistency whether they are shopping on their phone, on a tablet or laptop, or in the actual store.”
The report found that adoption levels “remain low,” as retailers focused on basics such as store pickup—28 percent offered buy-online-pick-up-in-store services, up 8 percent from the last index.
“Online inventory visibility is also moving in the right direction,” the report said, noting 19 percent of retailers allowed shoppers to refine their search results on a category landing page, compared with 13 percent in the last report.
On the downside, challenges with high customer volume during the holiday season led to decreases in omnichannel offerings in a few key areas, the report found.
First, the number of retailers in the index who offered live chat on product detail pages fell to 27 percent from 35 percent in the last report. In addition, retailers asking customers for email addresses at in-store checkouts fell “dramatically” to 31 percent from 71 percent. And offers of free return shipping declined by 5 percent to 44 percent.
In the area of cross-channel offerings, the report found “mixed results.”
Thirty-nine percent of the retailers provided shopping tools like interactive displays and kiosks, compared with 51 percent in the summer index.
Another decrease came in the area of associates offering shipping services to customers buying in store, which slid 14 percent.