Communicating Product Availability by Channel, Part One
Welcome to the first of three blog posts examining how multi-channel retailers can use their websites to support customers trying to complete common tasks such as researching and purchasing products across multiple channels. Specifically, we’re going to take a look at some of the best emerging practices for communicating product availability by channel.
In today’s retail environment, customers both understand and expect that retailers will provide products and services across a variety of channels including brick-and-mortar stores, traditional websites, mobile websites and applications, social media, call centers, and catalogs.
To illustrate how important multi-channeling already is in the retail space, we should start by looking at some research published in the ForeSee Holiday E-Retail Satisfaction Index.
That study showed that highly satisfied visitors to retail websites report being 65% more committed to the brand overall, 68% more likely to purchase from the retailer online, 48% more likely to purchase from the retailer offline, and 67% more likely to recommend the retailer than those who are dissatisfied. These findings support the idea that customers’ satisfaction with the web channel does impact their behavior in other channels.
As customers grow more comfortable researching and purchasing products across all of these channels, it is critical that retailers take every opportunity to set expectations about what products and services are available within each channel. And, as we will see, websites have proven to be a great touchpoint for communicating these details. Setting expectations about product availability by individual channel makes it easier for customers to determine which channel — if any — they will use to make their purchase or do their research.
There are many effective and emerging practices that retailers can look to for guidance in communicating product availability per channel. For example, Walmart.com customers can see which products are available online as well as in their local store. The tabbed presentation of products on listing pages makes it easy to switch between channels while achieving a high-level understanding of all products available within the visitor’s listing of interest.
Similarly, Walgreens.com includes links at the top of listings that allow customers to toggle between viewing products that are available “Online” or just those available “In Stores.” The site also provides links to find an item at a customer’s local store directly on listing pages in both the Online and In Stores views. This ensures customers are always aware of which channels carry which products so they can factor it into their purchasing decision.
Talbots.com takes a slightly different — but still effective — approach, using static messaging on listings to indicate which products are only available online or via the catalog, as opposed to also being available in Talbots stores.
All three of these implementations effectively assist customers who wish to research products online before visiting physical stores, buying online, or via another channel such as a catalog.
Product-detail pages are also an opportunity to let customers know which products are available across different channels as well as help them find items in stores. Target.com and Nordstrom.com encourage this through “Find In Store/Pick Up In Store” buttons on these pages. We will cover this emerging practice in more detail in the second post in this series, as there are a variety of ways to execute this service effectively.
Inevitably, there are constraints that multi-channel retailers face by providing a variety of products across many channels. One common limitation is the inability to stock all products in all channels at all times. Rather than shy away from this, it is best for retailers to let customers know why there is a discrepancy in what they see in different channels. Then it’s up to the retailer to do as much as possible to get the desired product in the customer’s hands in order to maintain high customer satisfaction.
For example, on the customer service page at Macys.com, the company provides insights into how to find an item online that you saw in the store, and how to find items in the store that you viewed online.
Home Depot, in similar fashion, informs customers why all products from their local store are not shown online and vice versa in their FAQ page at HomeDepot.com. The site also informs customers when special orders are available if items found online are not in stock in their local store. Arming customers with an understanding of why they are not seeing what they expect across different channels ensures they will have some degree of closure, reducing their frustration.
Ultimately, the challenge of communicating product availability by channel is an opportunity for multi-channel retailers to use their websites more strategically, and creatively, as a tool to facilitate cross-channel behavior. There are multiple “right ways” to resolve this issue so let’s see if 2012 reveals even more solutions to this problem than those examined here.
We welcome any questions and comments on this topic in the comments below. For retailers, how are you planning to address setting expectations about product availability by channel on your website? For website visitors, what’s the best implementation that you’ve seen?