Posted by Branden Jenkins, General Manager of Retail, NetSuite

According to a new study from Aberdeen Group, it pays to consistently communicate with customers across retail or B2B channels. The study, “Omnichannel Customer Care,” revealed that companies with the strongest omnichannel strategies managed to retain an average of 89 percent of their customers, compared to the 33 percent that companies with weak omnichannel strategies managed to retain.

It’s no secret that “omnichannel” was the dominant theme for 2013, with retailers scrambling to do whatever they could to make sure they were delivering a seamless shopping experience. The reality is that for most retailers, being able to achieve omnichannel success wasn’t a possibility at all because they couldn’t effectively manage data across all their channels. This was due in part to the fact that many were still running their businesses with disjointed, siloed systems that made achieving omnichannel all but impossible to achieve.

This will be the year that omnichannel becomes a reality – do or die. At least it will be for the forward-thinking retailers who realize the benefit of an integrated platform to deliver the same quality of service, functionality, and company culture throughout. As retailers move ahead with their efforts to create a better, more unified, customer experience, the world of retail is poised to undergo some major changes. Below are just a few we are likely to see in the year ahead.

The Digital Experience Moves Into the Store. The point-of-sale (POS) register will evolve significantly, transforming from a transaction point into an all-purpose commerce kiosk capable not only for checking out customers and processing transactions but querying inventory, shipping products from the retail’s supply-chain directly to a customer, providing in-depth product information and giving both sales associates and customers access to social elements such as customer ratings and reviews. It will also provide customer services, such as live help service via applications like FaceTime or directions to the location of a specific product in the store.

Retail Systems Merge into a Single Platform. As the POS provides more customer- and product-centric capabilities, retail systems will merge into a single commerce platform with seamless omnichannel order management capabilities. Working off a single platform, store associates and customers alike will be able to access a consistent set of customer, inventory, and order data from any device–store kiosk, tablet, or smartphone.

Rise of the Mobile Web. While downloadable mobile apps are still popular, they will probably give way in favor of web interfaces as customers begin to balk at downloading separate store apps, many of which lack the capabilities of the store's own ecommerce site. At the same time, mobile commerce, supported by cloud-based retail systems, will become common and more brands will experiment with pop-up shops such as at street fairs, malls and other transient locations. Retailers will be able to digitally display full inventories, process purchases, check shipping options and provide product reviews regardless of the physical location.

Changing Commission Structures. Sales associates’ bonuses and commissions will likely undergo changes as sales increasingly depend upon multiple people and channels. No one person can be credited with a sale that may have started with a customer review on a social media site, developed with the help of a knowledgeable sales associate in a store or customer service rep at a call center, and finalized in a purchase via an ecommerce website or in-store kiosk. While retailers will keep incentivizing employees for sales, the formula for allocating credit must become more sophisticated to keep up with the times.

Focus on the Customer. Competition will motivate retailers to concentrate harder on understanding what their most loyal and high-value customers want in a shopping experience. Retailers must put the customer at the center of the retail experience and leverage analytics for all touch points to gain a 360-degree view of their customers. By doing so, retailers can better understand what motivates a loyal customer or encourages higher-value purchases. Customer motivations and preferences will take on greater importance in driving brand loyalty and fostering this new, single channel paradigm.

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree? What changes do you predict we will see in the coming year? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.