Retailers who outperform their competitors rely on new technologies, customer insights and clear omnichannel strategies to improve shopping experiences, says a new report from RSR, Retail ecommerce in context: The next iteration.
A key ingredient of that performance cocktail is a powerful unified checkout experience. In the retail industry report, more than 80 percent of respondents say improving online checkout is a priority for them.
As Anatolii Iakimets, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Bold Commerce, explains, “the checkout is one of the most important parts of making omnichannel seamless, because completing the transaction is the whole point.”
Challenges to implementing a unified checkout across every channel are often due to technical limitations. But they can be addressed by investing in flexible commerce structures and tools that allow for — as well as encourage — customized transaction experiences, says Iakimets.
For seamless checkout across channels, go headless
COVID-19 has transformed the way retailers operate, says Iakimets, referencing a 2020 McKinsey study that found companies accelerated the digitization of their customer, supply-chain, and internal operations by three to four years over a few months.
This includes significant investment in omnichannel features that increase customer convenience during a checkout process, such as the ability to choose buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup, Iakimets says.
Shoppers expect these options to remain or even improve in the post-pandemic era. The RSR survey found that the top business challenges retailers currently face are:
- Consumer demand for “more convenience in their shopping experience than before”.
- “A more seamless experience across digital and physical touchpoints” than is currently provided.
Retailers with legacy commerce platforms often struggle to implement omnichannel upgrades like unified checkouts, because of one major issue, says Iakimets. Each different channel exists in its own separate silo.
“You have a separate inventory system, and then you have a separate commerce stack for online as well as separate stacks for brick-and-mortar stores, and it’s incredibly hard to integrate a new feature across all channels,” he says.
In a legacy tech stack, front and backend capabilities are fused and inflexible, so retailers end up in one of two scenarios, Iakimets says. “Either shoppers have a disjointed customer experience — because checkout elements like pricing, inventory, promotions, payment methods and delivery options are inconsistent across channels — or a retailer offers multi-channel uniformity, but spends a lot of extra time and money to implement changes one at a time, on each platform.”
As retail transformation continues to accelerate, deploying a headless solution — where a retailer’s backend commerce engine is disconnected from frontend user interfaces — is almost mandatory for achieving seamless omnichannel experiences, says Iakimets. Headless allows a brand to implement different channel applications by leveraging Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).
Customization is key to improved checkout experiences
Enhanced checkout experiences are vital to the success or failure of an omnichannel strategy. For example, a Baymard Institute study reveals that nearly one out of five shoppers will abandon their online cart if the checkout process is too long or complicated.
Though consumers’ shopping behaviours vary depending on the touchpoint they engage, be it a kiosk in a shopping mall, a retail store, a connected device or a website, “the transaction moment exists everywhere,” Iakimets says.
To truly capitalize on these moments, retailers need to customize the checkout process so different convenience demands are addressed — while the overarching transaction experience that takes place across multiple channels, remains unified, he says.
Iakimets cites two key aspects of customized checkouts:
- Consistency: No matter what platform they are interacting with, customers expect consistent shipping and delivery options, consistent payment methods, the same promotions online and in store, the option to sign up for a subscription in person or via a mobile shopping experience, and more.
- Transition: When shoppers engage with more than one channel to complete or fulfill a transaction, it needs to feel seamless. Examples include, transitioning from an online platform to a brick-and-mortar scenario, with BOPIS or curbside pickup. Or the fairly new “scan and ship” option, where customers choose a product in store, then have it shipped to them later (ideal for large purchases or if a retailer doesn’t keep a lot of inventory on site).
With a modern, API-powered checkout solution, features can be personalized as needed for specific devices and channels while critical customer convenience elements can be implemented across the omnichannel ecosystem.
Iakimets says with this type of solution a retailer can ensure they provide shoppers with customized checkout choices such as:
- Same-day pickup, like BOPIS or curbside pickup.
- Delivery, including options such as guaranteed delivery dates or shorter delivery timelines for paid shipping versus longer delivery timelines for free shipping.
- Payment methods, including the option to pay cash in store for part of a purchase, while using a credit card to sign up for an ongoing subscription.
- Seamless pricing adjustments for sales or promotions both online and in store.
- Simple returns at a physical store of items purchased online.
Many of these options are only possible because a headless approach “allows a brand to have the same access to inventory, the same payment methods, the same shipping options, the same promotion engines, while creating completely different front end experiences,” explains Iakimets.
With such options in place, brands can refine the checkout experience in each channel to drive conversions. For example, adding a loyalty widget for desktop and tablet checkouts, but not on mobile devices where there is less screen space, he says. Or A/B testing to determine whether one-page checkout works better for a medium than a multi-page transaction.
Drive conversions with a unified, customized checkout
Beyond creating enhanced transaction experiences for consumers, Iakimets identifies direct sales opportunities powered by a customized checkout, such as:
- Provision of subscriptions both offline and online, which if successful, boosts a brand’s lifetime customer value metric.
- A mixed cart offering that allows shoppers to both sign up for a subscription and purchase other product(s) in the same transaction.
- Upselling customers post-checkout with discounts and promotions that encourage them to immediately buy again.
In the RSR study, retailers say the top opportunities for improving shopping experiences include: “the ability to apply the same business rules (e.g., pricing, promotions) across all touchpoints” and “having a unified view of the customer across physical and digital channels to create a seamless offline-to-online experience.”
Customized checkouts play a tremendous role in achieving both opportunities, because “checkout is the moment of truth” in an omnichannel transaction journey, says Iakimets. Not only do many of the convenience features demanded by shoppers come into play at checkout, but offline-to-online touchpoints often occur there as well — and their seamless execution can be integral to turning a filled cart into a conversion.
Download “Retail ecommerce in context: the next iteration,” sponsored by Bold Commerce, here.