Omni-Channel Retail: A Roadmap to Execution


Rachel Ginsberg | July 01, 2013

Rachel Ginsberg of Brand + Commercial believes that the age of omni-channel retail is fast approaching but most companies simply aren’t ready yet

Ready, set, buzzword: omni-channel. Let’s say it again. Omni. Channel. Perhaps if we repeat the words enough times, we can dilute their power.

There is no article about the future of retail, nor discussion about the industry’s direction and, I have it on good authority, nary a retailer’s internal strategy meeting in which the phrase doesn’t receive lip service appropriate to the holy grail itself. I’ve got some unfortunate news. According to the Wall Street Journal, the truly omni-channel retailer is still the stuff of legend.

But guess what, it doesn’t have to be that way. The reality about omni-channel retail is this: it’s coming. Most companies just simply aren’t ready yet. There’s a whole lot of background strategy work to be done first. For those who want to pave the way to this bold utopian future, the time is now. To develop a seamless experience across channels, you need to master each.

“ Mobile now accounts for 48% of all US based e-commerce traffic, but only 11% of total spend ”

Obvious right? One would think. How many non-mobile-optimized e-commerce sites and disinterested salespeople does it take to drive the point home? Apparently we haven’t yet reached the breaking point.

Successful omni-channel strategy is contingent upon providing a consistent on-brand experience across all channels, which requires that a retailer possess an intimate understanding of the potential and peculiarities of each.

Here’s some hard data. According to a recent comScore study, mobile now accounts for 48% of all US based e-commerce traffic. Here’s the kicker: mobile purchasing only makes up 11% of total spend.

Though research and showrooming undoubtedly account for part of the gap, a substantial percentage is definitely caused by bugs, shopping cart failures and poorly designed (or not-designed at all) UI. Data doesn’t lie.

“ Web analytics provide so much rich parsable data that it’s hard to know what to do with it all ”

Visibility Into All Parts Of The Business Is Essential

Five years ago we wouldn’t have been having this part of the conversation at all. Before big data began to infiltrate retail in earnest, visibility in retail implied the following: “I know what I bought. I know what I received. I know what I sold. I know what was damaged. I know what I returned to vendors. But just to make sure, I’ll count twice a year and then spend months reconciling physical inventory with that of my systems.”

Though the majority of retailers still operate this way, it won’t be the case for very much longer. As we’ve known for some time, web analytics provide a maelstrom of rich parsable data – so much so in fact, that it’s hard to know what to do with it all.

Now, from innovations in item-level RFID to footfall patterns generated by cell phone signatures, in-store analytics opportunities are rising hard and fast. Understanding of real time inventory position, merchandising, conversion and insight into consumer behavior are becoming clearer with every passing day and will only increase with time and technological advance.

“ Even assuming a company is willing to fund it, try finding a vendor that has the ideal out-of-the box solution ”

Put Your Tech Where Your Mouth Is

And your money. It’s one thing to talk a big game about amazing, integrated strategy, but it’s quite another to finance the kind of systems that are required to effectively execute those plans. Just think of how many separate but intimately related processes are happening in a busy store at any given moment.

Software that supports point of sale, CRM, inventory management, merchandise planning, forecasting, receiving, and e-commerce (to name a small few) needs to share data, server space and integrate seamlessly with operational procedure to ensure that everything runs.

Even assuming a company is willing to fund it, try finding a vendor that has the ideal out-of-the box solution. The best systems are built in-house to address the specific character and needs of each organisation. As you might imagine, that kind of undertaking is no small feat and requires complete buy-in and a stiff upper lip to get the job done.

“ Stodgy, siloed, hierarchical organisations will simply not be able to function in an interdependent environment ”

New Age Organisations Require New Age Cultures

A number of years ago I worked for a retailer who shall remain nameless. Though the headquarters was only about thirty minutes away, I know for a fact that the head merchant in my division hadn’t set foot in the store for over two years, literally two years!

Newsflash: if the staff isn’t actively collaborating to develop coherent strategy, the company is not now, nor will it ever be omni-channel. Stodgy, siloed, hierarchical organizations will simply not be able to function in an interdependent environment. Growing pains are inevitable and in some cases will likely be insurmountable.

Thus far, the companies blazing the omni-channel trail are all young, digital natives – not by accident. The kind of strategic, operational, financial and cultural adjustment required to completely integrate across all channels is certainly not for the faint of heart.

The challenge for the newcomers now will be to transfer their online expertise into an offline experience worthy of all the hype. It definitely seems possible, and substantially more feasible than the opposite. As for the excessive buzzwording? It’s 2013. Let’s dispense with the omni-channel blah blah and just call it what it is: good business.

To further investigate retail technology on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- Luxury Retail: Big Data is Watching
- Experiencing Luxury: From Digital to Dynamic
- The Future of Showrooming & New Consumer Behaviours