Retailers: Dial up your telecoms ahead of the festive rush

It’s the most wonderful – and stressful – time of the year, yet again. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the ever-hectic lead up to Christmas just around the corner, it’s crunch time for all retailers to step up their game and ensure they’re ready to cope with the extra surge in demand.

Throughout this period, all customer interactions will prove critical, with busy shopping centres, depleting bank accounts and a general air of frenzy affecting everyone. In order to achieve success, delivering a seamless customer experience will be vital.

Moving from bricks to clicks

More shoppers are heading online to do their Christmas shopping than ever before. According to figures from IMRG Capgemini, UK online retailers took over £24billion over the 2015 Christmas period (up 12% from the 2014), and £114billion over the course of the whole year. They estimate that 27% of retail sales now take place online, and expect this figure to grow in the coming years.

Technology has no doubt led this transformation. It has created a new definition of customer convenience – one that is continuous, immediate and multichannel. Customers are embracing all things digital, happily interacting with retailers though web, email, social and mobile. And they expect their online experiences to mirror the standards of instore customer service. As such, live chat, social media communication, dedicated email support staff and live telephone operators have been critical in making this possible.

Many businesses will be tempted to stay with their existing telecoms provider for convenience, but may not realise that they are missing out on improved cost­efficiency and productivity gains by switching to a new provider.

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Behind the scenes, businesses are restructuring how they operate in order to respond to the new channels of retailing. Cloud computing has become the go-to solution in reducing costs and remaining flexible, especially in the face of online stores and becoming more profitable than their physical counterparts.

In order to survive the Christmas rush, as well as be prepared for the future, all retailers should be looking at how they can build a resilient IT infrastructure. For, without this foundation, the possibilities for improving the customer experience will be more limited.

Ensure flexibility to see you through your forecasts

Exact demand for the season will always be difficult to gauge. Variable factors such as the weather, competitor offers and the general retail environment will always be at play in the Christmas sales period.

This means flexibility is key. Just as you are used to deploying temporary staff to meet increases in customer demand, your approach to organising your telecoms should be the same. SIP trunking allows you to have a truly scalable system. With little dependency on hardware, lines can be added and removed as and when required. This means scaling up to meet any level of demand is easily achieved, as is quickly scaling back once the sales rush is over.

Create resiliency to withstand the crowds

It’s the busiest time of the year, meaning retailers must ensure their telecoms are resilient enough to withstand any downtime. After all, should callers be faced with lengthy call queues, never-ending call transfers, or worst still, a line drop out – customer trust and patience will understandably wear thin.

This can be avoided with a robust telecoms solution. With traditional ISDN, should lines go down, recovery can take days to fix. For retailers, this represents a huge number of missed calls, lost sales opportunities and disappointed customers, not to mention a big dent in staff morale. With a resilient SIP solution, availability can be guaranteed. Smart call routing means calls can be transferred to alternative sites if necessary, and multisite SIP trunks mean there is never a single point of failure.

The future of retail

Retail is heading towards a multifaceted future. The Internet of Things is set to change the way people shop, how goods and services are delivered, and how people see and use technology. Virtual reality will continue to transform marketing, and robots will continue to transform fulfilment warehouses. And more retailers will continue to move their data centres onto the cloud, making the most of its flexibility, cost efficiencies and multichannel processing capabilities.

It’s not all about digital though. Pop-up stores will continue to gain further popularity. These short-term shops, restaurants and bars are the ideal environments to create something tangible amongst the often-isolating online experiences.

For now, the pressure is on for retailers to provide a seamless customer journey. Further development in mobile is the next natural step. Customers are already using their mobiles instore to research products, promotions and reviews. And, with today’s consumer spoilt for choice, retailers cannot compete just on product or price. Instead, transforming the entire customer journey should be key.

In the lead up to Christmas, planning and forecasting can only get you so far. Having an infrastructure that is flexible, agile and robust will be fundamental to securing success, both for Q4 and beyond.

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9 November 2016 | Cem Ahmet

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