June 25, 2014, 10:17 AM

Tackling all channels

E-commerce platform providers and retailers at IRCE this year focused on enabling retailers to easily connect online, in-store and via mobile devices.

It wasn’t very long ago that most retailers and technology suppliers referred to the underlying software of retail web sites as an “e-commerce platform.” But a stroll around the exhibit hall at IRCE 2014 revealed that vendors increasingly just use the term “commerce” in their product names. And to anyone who has been following e-commerce technology over the last couple of years, it’s clear why that is—consumers increasingly interact with retailers from multiple devices and locations, whether via smartphones while walking through stores, tablets on the couch, and desktop and laptop computers at work, home or even in an airplane.

Roe McFarlane, senior vice president of e-commerce product development and strategic marketing at Follett Higher Education Group, drove the point home in his IRCE presentation about how college-age students’ shopping habits have forced retailers like Follett, which operates bookstores on college campuses, to change their methods. “Customers expect in-store and online experiences to be seamless,” he said. That’s especially true for Follett, as 75% of its e-commerce orders are for in-store pickup at the start of school semesters, which helps drive traffic to stores. Retailers also have to be sharp at the store level too, where the 76% of students who own smartphones use them to check textbook prices available at other sellers.

E-commerce platform providers were more than amply prepared to describe this new age of commerce—and how they’re helping merchants to conquer it digitally—from their booths in the IRCE exhibit hall. Several e-commerce platform providers, for example, offered varying approaches aimed at delivering a so-called “omnichannel experience” focused around a brand’s customers  rather than channels.

It may pay to invest in omnichannel commerce technologies that enable a merchant to recognize and serve a consumer however she chooses to shop, said Mike Hogan, executive vice president for strategic business and brand development for retail chain GameStop Corp. He told attendees the retailer generated 48% more revenue from customers who were members of its loyalty program, PowerUp Rewards, in 2013 from 2012, by better combining data coming through web, store and mobile channels. PowerUp members are five times more profitable than non-members, he said, partly because GameStop leverages data to personalize interactions with these shoppers. For example, members get e-mails letting them know the current trade value of video game titles GameStop knows the customer has in his personal library; store associates get the same information to make “concierge calls” to inform frequent customers of the same offers.

Some retailers, however, have adapted to the evolving e-commerce landscape on their own. For example, Rett Clevenger, CEO of gift, apparel and home furnishings retailer Steals.com, said during a session that using an in-house-built platform has helped his company meet his customers’ needs without paying a hefty sum to a vendor for a suite of software and services, much of which he wouldn’t use. “There are few affordable solutions that do it all,” he said. And even if a merchant pulls out the checkbook to buy one of those platforms, he said, it often still has to handle customization on its own.

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