How Omni-channel Serves Customers During Sales Events

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It seems there are now more sales events than ever. Black Friday back in November was just the latest in a series of retail developments leading to many more big sales throughout the year, especially when compared to the old days, when I remember summer and January sales being just about all there was.

Around 90% of all payments on Black Friday were made on credit cards. This shows that card companies were really the big winners. The more cash spent by shoppers, the more merchant fees and interest for the credit card providers; so they will all be pleased that Black Friday was another record and the January sales are now here. There are three immediate issues that retailers need to think about during these big spikes in business:

  • Online security: it’s the best time for villains to strike your company with an online attack. This could be as simple as a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service), where criminals flood your website with so many enquiries that it collapses under the strain. Think hard about how you can keep your systems secure.
  • In-store security: card security is getting better, with most locations now using chip and pin systems (not always in the USA, yet) and some banks extending the required PIN to six digits; but with a big spike in business there is a greater need to watch out for in-store fraud.
  • Traffic spikes: even without a criminal attack, your servers will take a beating during busy periods. Use cloud-based storage and processing to ensure that you can quickly ramp up to meet the demand and then scale back again after the sale period.

But there are several other lessons we can take away from what happens to the modern omni-channel retail environment during these busy sale periods.

  • UK customers see sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday very much as a chance to find a bargain. Not many British people have that time free to shop in person, as the days are not holidays. This means that slow sites, lack of stock, and site crashes can all ruin your reputation on these days when online traffic grows substantially.
  • Customer service needs to be boosted for the sale periods. You know there will be a spike on these dates, so make sure that calls can be answered and social media channels are all being monitored.
  • Parcel paranoia can cause customer panic; even after orders are placed, be prepared to help customers track their orders. Consider automated systems that can help customers with common parcel questions.

So there are considerations regarding in-store infrastructure, supporting online stores and apps, and boosting the entire customer service operation to ensure that major sales events can offer a great customer experience - rather than a brand-damaging disaster.

What do you think are the key points retailers need to focus on to prepare for big sales events? Let me know in the comments, or get in touch on LinkedIn.

 


How are Fintech Apps Challenging the Retail Banking Industry?

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Fintech apps like Apple Pay and Android Pay have started redefining our wallets. Who needs cash when you can use a card to pay for your morning bus ride, and your phone to pay for anything else? Over 11 million locations now accept Apple Pay and growth is expected to exceed more than 400% this year.

The way we purchase everything online and offline is changing quickly. PayPal used to be most closely associated with purchases from the auction site eBay, but they have been extending their service into a more general trusted payment system. Recently announced upgrades to the PayPal system include voice activated cash transfers using Siri voice recognition on iPhone.

Saying “Siri, could you send John £25,” is now all you need to do to transfer cash. Who would have imagined that lending a friend the money they need to buy you a drink could be so easy?

But these examples are just one part of the fintech (financial technologies) revolution sweeping the banking industry. Technology companies are exploring the entire retail banking world and rebuilding each component service to be more customer-centric. Then these services are being offered back using fintech apps, at better prices than those provided by banks.

Payments, bank loans and foreign exchange transfers are all areas where specific fintech apps are creating an advantage for customers. Zopa is a great example. They have been around since 2005, and function by offering investors an interest rate for savings that beats high street banks. They use these funds to offer loans to customers at lower interest rates than the banks will lend. They effectively match up savers with borrowers with some parcelling of loans in the middle, so a borrower might actually be borrowing a small amount from 100 investors, protecting the investors from loans that are not repaid.

Zopa can offer better rates because they only exist online. They don’t have any of the overheads of a full retail bank with thousands of branches all over the country, all filled with employees following procedures that vary little from those created decades ago. Compare the process of asking your local bank for a loan with the online fintech equivalent where you can ask for the money in minutes and get a decision in seconds.

But some fintechs are going further than just offering a single service. Atom Bank is a full service retail bank for UK customers, but they only operate using an app, so they also have the advantage of avoiding an expensive branch network. Atom has deployed a very clever artificial intelligence system on their customer service centre that captures and learns from every single customer enquiry. They believe it will eventually be intelligent enough to answer most customer questions without involving a human advisor.

The retail banking industry is understandably worried. Fintech apps are offering banking services cheaper than banks can; but more importantly, they are designing services to be customer-centric. If you design a new foreign exchange service today then you can ignore decades of procedure and process and just focus on making it simple for customers to use.

But banks are not finished yet. Brand and reputation counts for a lot when it comes to finance. Customers still value and trust many of the traditional bank brands and the banks already have a customer base in the millions - most fintechs need to ramp up their customer base from nothing.

But banks cannot fight this kind of progress on reputation alone. They need to start either buying up some innovative fintechs or learning from the customer-centricity of their new rivals. Customers will not stay loyal forever if the same services are cheaper and easier to use elsewhere. Companies like Nokia and Kodak were dominant in their fields and had millions of customers, but their industries changed; the same could happen to retail banking one day.

What do you think will happen next in the fintech banking revolution? Leave a comment below or get in touch on LinkedIn and let me know where you think banking is going.


Is There a Danger for Retail Brands of Getting Over-Personal?

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I was pleased to see that Deloitte listed personalisation as one of their top six trends for retail brands in 2016. Their report states:

“People-centric retail models are emerging, specifically online-based services that are designed carefully around a particular individual. This idea of building an experience around a shopper’s tastes is moving into the store environment.”

This is an interesting point, because they are indicating that personalisation with online retail is far ahead of the in-store experience. Some shoppers have expressed their preference for online shopping specifically because it feels like the retailer knows the customer better. But this is changing with efforts to boost the in-store experience, especially where retailers use apps that can improve the in-store journey - such as avoiding queues of people waiting to pay.

But some marketing experts are warning about the possibility that some brands might over-personalise their offering and go too far in efforts to create deals that are just relevant to each individual shopper. This feature in MarTech Today magazine warns that there are several areas where brands might go too far:

  • Psychological profiling: Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that polled the USA for Donald Trump, claims to have psychologically profiled every single adult in the USA. They claim to be able to group people better than ever before, based on behaviour.
  • Internet of Things: the IoT will allow our devices to contact their manufacturers or retailers without needing to ask permission of the owner, sharing vast amounts of diagnostic data. Ostensibly this is about fixing problems before they occur, but it can also ensure that customer movement and activity is tracked.
  • Voice activated devices: Google Home and Amazon Echo are bringing voice control to our homes. That’s great if you want to change the music or get a weather report just by asking the computer, but some customers are wary of having listening devices at home recording every word and sound from inside the house.

Creating a highly personalised retail offering requires that customers give up information about their likes, dislikes, and shopping preferences. Data analytics can then spot trends and suggest ideas for products the customer might like; but when things go wrong, customers can ask difficult questions about how much data they are offering.

A famous story repeated in the MarTech Today article features a father shopping with his teenage daughter in Target in the USA. Target offers them several discounts for baby and infant-related products. The father asks why, only to find out that Target knew his daughter was pregnant before he did.

When mistakes like this happen, a brand can cross the line. That tale presents Target as logically offering discounts that might have been appreciated, but it also demonstrates that the analytic system can see more of our behaviour than our own family sometimes. Will some customers want to stop sharing their shopping habits? And would this even be possible in the shopping environment we have created?

What do you think about the need for customers to be comfortable about sharing their data? Leave a comment below or get in touch on LinkedIn and let me know.


Westminster MP Congratulates Webhelp for Commitment to Rothesay

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Westminster MP for Argyll & Bute, Brendan O’Hara, has congratulated Webhelp and easyJet for their commitment to the community, following the news that Webhelp has secured a contract with the leading European airline, which safeguards 23 jobs and creates a further 14 at the Rothesay site.

Mr O’Hara, was speaking on a visit to Webhelp’s site in Rothesay, where he met the new recruits and toured the facilities.

“I was hugely impressed by my visit to Webhelp’s site in Rothesay,” he said. “There is a very friendly atmosphere among the team there and they are clearly carrying out excellent work for a number of clients at the site. To have been chosen by easyJet to carry out such prestigious work as the executive complaints they focus on is an indication of just how good the team there is. They are clearly working very much in partnership with easyJet to deliver the best possible results for the customer, which is great to see.

 

“The creation of quality jobs, which have real long term career prospects and conditions that suit a wide range of people and skills, is crucial to the survival of remote communities like Rothesay. The importance of these jobs to the community in Rothesay cannot be overstated and I look forward to supporting Webhelp to deliver more good news to the site in the future.”

 

Richard Lawrence, resolution and service excellence manager, easyJet, said: “We tasked the team in Rothesay to handle our high level executive complaints work initially on a temporary contract and have been really impressed with the quality of the work and commitment this team shows every day when dealing with our customers. When the time came to make a decision to make the contract with Webhelp UK a permanent one in Rothesay we had no hesitation in doing so, creating more jobs and further cementing this important relationship.”

 

Andy Doig, chief operating officer at Webhelp, said: “The quality of the people we have in Rothesay is first class. Initially clients can be concerned that Rothesay is too far away from their mainstream operations, but once they come and visit the site they are convinced that we can deliver an excellent quality service for their customers. And once they have experienced just how good our people in Rothesay are, they tend to want to stay with us. We are absolutely committed to retaining our work in Rothesay and to doing everything we can to bring more of the right kind of work into this community.

 

“I would like to thank Mr O’Hara for taking the time to visit our site and for his support for our continued operations here.”