Posted by Branden Jenkins, GM for Global Retail, NetSuite

The holiday season is typically a make or break time for retailers. It’s also a time of year that brings the greatest amount of traffic to their stores and websites.

Savvy retailers, seeking to capitalize on these factors, have been hard at work for a while planning to address the needs of the 2015 holiday shopper and preparing their own holiday wish lists. Along with the usual items – a booming economy, stable supply chain, and reliable seasonal help – many retailers are seeking new ways to improve the customer experience, both online and in-store. For example, retailers we spoke to at several recent retail conferences such as and eTail East and at NetSuite’s Retail Customer Advisory Board meeting almost uniformly agreed that personalization is their top priority for enhancing the customer experience this holiday season.

A 360-degree view of the customer

For most retailers, that demands a unified view of the customer.

“The holiday season is less of a big push for us. Our big sales spikes correspond with our sale events, but what we're trying to really focus on and create is giving our account executives a 360-degree view of the customer,” said Bethany Kemp, VP Technology & Information Systems at Design Within Reach, a multichannel retailer of authentic modern furniture. “If you walk into a DWR Studio, our goal is to help you with any question you have ­– from past purchases to general inquiries ­­– and to have every account executive, whether it's through our call center, our website or an in-person consultation, have that information ready.”

Other retailers we spoke with said they were addressing the demand for personalization by serving up more tailored content; targeting customers with relevant offers based off of previous purchase history; evaluating beacons for retail stores and personalization of offers; offering more targeted customer education; and using past buying history to direct communication/sales efforts to specific customers.

Cross-channel consistency

Other retailers are wishing for more consistency across their channels.

“We've gotten too fancy and tried to do too many things,” said Ryan Johnson, COO of Lovesac, a retailer of high end furniture and accessories. “We've got 60 stores and showrooms across the United States. We've got a great website. We need to have one simple message across all those channels and focus by telling new customers about our product. We are trying to do less, to do it more simply and to do it consistently across all of our channels.”

Improving the mobile experience

Retailers are increasingly realizing the importance of a strong mobile experience. MYSTERY RANCH, is a great example of a business that already has a leg up in this regard. The provider of specialty packs and load carriage systems for military, hunting, wildland fire, urban and mountaineering customers saw a 30 percent increase in mobile commerce conversions after moving to a redesigned, responsive website.

This is part of a trend that will continue to accelerate. Mobile commerce transactions are expected to top $115 billion in 2015 and climb to $142 billion next year, according to a new report from Forrester Research. To answer this demand, retailers are investing in better mobile experiences, including making checkout easier, optimizing emails for smartphones and providing more product reviews. Indeed, while mobile currently accounts for 35 percent of overall ecommerce, its forecasted growth means it will account for 49 percent of ecommerce, or $252 billion in sales, by 2020.

Improved online/in-store integration

Improving the customer experience isn’t an either online or in-store decision. Many retailers confront significant challenges integrating the systems they use in their brick-and-mortar stores with their ecommerce sites, at a time when the modern consumer simply can’t fathom how that could be. In fact, a study conducted by Retail Systems Research, a retail industry research firm, and sponsored by NetSuite, found that a strong majority of the retailers surveyed feel their existing technology infrastructure is preventing them from upgrading to new omnichannel solutions. They also face significant challenges getting new technologies rolled out to stores and in helping employees respond to informed, mobile-enabled shoppers. For example, 77 percent of retailers surveyed believe their legacy point-of-sale (POS) is preventing them from providing a consistent customer experience across channels and 78 percent report getting new technologies rolled out to stores is a top challenge.

Many retailers remain trapped trying to stitch together disparate systems. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the underlying problem and leaves them with a fake omnichannel system (what we refer to as Fomni).

For more on this topic, see:
Video: Bronto Strategists Answer the Top Holiday Marketing Questions
Online Retailers: Don’t Get Tripped Up During Your Busiest Seasons 2015 Recap: Retailers Agree, Consumer Loyalty Requires a Unified Commerce Experience
And also watch a video on the new SuiteCommerce InStore POS.