Interactions between an organization and its customers are no longer restricted to one channel. Instead, today's customers are omni-channel and are using different touchpoints to communicate with the brands they do business with.

While some organizations might find it challenging to merge the different touchpoints to ensure a seamless customer experience, integration provides a great opportunity to get more in-depth customer data that can help deliver a relevant and improved experience across the various channels.

This is a very familiar challenge for tactical and military gear retailer Patriot Outfitters. When the company started selling online in 1999, it was leveraging a custom-developed Web portal and an internally developed CRM solution, notes Pete Iserman, one of Patriot Outfitters' owners. But years later when it opened its first retail store outside Kansas' Fort Riley in 2006 and started using a POS system, the company realized that it needed to integrate its in-store and online data. "We had a hodgepodge, including a Web system, an entry-level POS system, and a finance system," Iserman says.

As Patriot Outfitters continued to grow and open more retail locations, the company's business leaders recognized the need to bring all its data into one system to gain a more unified view of its customers. "In many cases we have customers who buy both from our stores and also online, especially while they are deployed," Iserman explains. Even veterans tend to keep doing business with the company after they leave the military, making it more important to have a robust system that incorporates all customer data from different touchpoints.

To complicate matters, retail and ecommerce were totally disparate with no communication between them. They even had distinct coupons that were only redeemable through the channel that generated them, Iserman notes. Therefore, if a marine received a coupon by email while he was on leave, he wasn't able to use the coupon at a retail location on or near his base. Iserman says there was also no integration between the different retail locations, which today amount to 19, making it difficult to manage returns of items bought from a different store.

In order to address this challenge, last year Patriot Outfitters implemented a solution by Retail Anywhere, which has since been acquired by NetSuite, to give the company the flexibility to meet its growing demands and bring together customer data from multiple channels.

Results

Having better access to customer information from both the Web and retail locations is helping Patriot Outfitters better serve its clients. For example, the company will know that a shopper who walked into a store for the first time has been a loyal online customer by having the ability to see his shopping history. Further, Iserman explains that there is real-time visibility into sales for each store, allowing the company to be agile in stocking up on items that are running low at a particular location.

Another key benefit of having access to customer information across retail and ecommerce is Patriot Outfitters' ability to tailor promotions based on a shopper's purchase history. Iserman says the company can send an email to a customer who made a particular purchase with recommendations of products that are popular with customers who made similar purchases, allowing for a more personalized relationship.

Lessons Learned

Connect different touchpoints: Customers are interacting with brands across different channels, but expect the same experience across the board.

Leverage customer data: Companies have access to large amounts of customer data and should be using this to improve the customer experience.

Personalize communications: Generic messages are likely to get lost in customers' overcrowded inboxes.