Omnichannel Retailing for Digital Marketers

Explaining the What, Where, When, Who and Why of Omnichannel

Ecommerce. M-commerce. F-commerce. Social-commerce. Every letter imaginable has been dropped in front of commerce to define a new digital channel that customers can interact and transact with.

Demonstrating the way in which digital marketing is maturing there’s a new buzz word on the consultants’ lips – Omnichannel. Retailers who used to obsess over sales per square foot need to wake up to the fact that their entire operation needs to be available 24×7 via any means the customer has. Troubles at Blacks, Barratts, Woolworths and HMV are a strong warning to retailers that unless they radically rethink the way that customers interact with them; they’re dead.

In this feature I’m going to discuss what Omnichannel means for Digital Marketers and how we can drive forward the idea and strategy in our organisations.

Defining Omnichannel

Omni comes from the latin for all or every. Channel refers to the method in which customers interact with an organisation. Literally it is “every-channel”.

Omnichannel is the mix of all physical and digital channels to create an innovative and unified customer experience. Transacting through these channels is a hygiene factor. If all store staff do is scan products and collect payment then they are adding no value at all. As we’re seeing at the major supermarkets they can be replaced with touchscreen terminals connected to chip and pin devices. The experience is what creates brand equity with customers.

Whilst major UK retailers do have a physical and digital presence, they struggle to be unified and innovative in the way they serve the customer on these channels. They also fail to create brand experiences.

Diagram explaining what Omnichannel retain is

My children provide an excellent example of this. My daughter loves to go to the Disney Store and Early Learning Centre. Why? Well its certainly not to transact with them (that’s my job). It’s for the experience. She can run around, try out toys, do some colouring.

It’s the same reason I will always pop my head into the Apple store to try out their latest products or get some support. The store leaves me feeling that I’ve had an experience. Most other electrical stores leave me feeling frustrated.

Digital marketer’s have a part to play in this. Could you create an iPad version of your website for staff to use in store. It doesn’t need to look sexy but would provide shop floor workers with the information they need to serve customers. Imagine staff in store being able to research customer reviews on a product, check stock levels, price match and if it’s not in the store, order it with free next day delivery. Supporting store staff is a further opportunity for digital marketers.

Furthermore capturing data on in-store activity can drive targeted and personalised email communications and “next best offers”.

Engaging customers across all digital channels will become a necessity throughout 2012. Organisations need to be active across web, mobile and social digital channels.

Experience to Transaction: Task focused channels

As its name implies Omnichannel requires the retailer to have a presence in all channels. New and old.

From mobile apps through to bricks and mortar outlets, each channel needs to build the overall experience. Market positioning and brand message combine across each channel to create a unified customer experience. Technology provides the backbone for the experience with Client Relationship Management, payment systems, marketing campaign management tools and IVRs working in unison.

Diagram showing the best use of different channels

Digital marketers need to understand how their channel responsibilities fit into the complete journey. Adidas and Nike have achieved this with their mobile apps. Rather than creating a store in app form, they’ve created running and training programs to support what their brand stands for. The other issue for mobile apps is that their purpose may differ from location to location. When the customer is in-store the app should support that experience (such as a shopping list, Mobile Wallet and e-receipts).

All of this rich data is a digital marketer’s biggest asset. Tying the in-store, mobile, social and web customer data into a single business intelligent system that drives next best offers and can orchestrate one-to-one experiences is a utopia that isn’t far away from being achieved.

Omnichannel challenges

Transforming a tired multi-channel retailer into an omnichannel organisation requires the business to face up to the following challenges:

Challenge 1 – Having the right vision, goals and ideas

Innovation is at the heart of Omnichannel. In the current market condition a retailer cannot wait to see what their competitors do before and then copy it. The high street is becoming a life and death battle for survival where only the fittest and most agile organisations can survive.

Those in the organisation who design the customer experience need to start with a blank sheet of paper and simply ask the question, what do our customers want and need from us? This then feeds in to the Omnichannel question of how do we deliver this across all channels? During this round of questions, be very aware of the need to be unique. Consider your market position and what your brand believes in. Think broader than pure commerce.

Challenge 2 – Leveraging technology to deliver your vision

Central, federated technology applications will be needed across the enterprise to create a unified customer experience. For example I called my bank on Friday to question a direct debit. I had to go through security questioning three times and explain my issue four times and still didn’t get the answer I needed. This is far from Omnichannel and shows a real lack of joined up experience services.

Diagram showing how systems work together to create a unified experience

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) II systems need to be capable of integrating with the web, mobile, social and store channels. I’d also suggest that third parties need to be tightly integrated with you at a technology and business level. One of the major complaints high street electrical retailers face is regarding delivery of goods to the home. Store staff offer promises of delivery times which inevitably require you to spend 5 hours sat in your home waiting. Wouldn’t it be better if the customer could be sent an email the day before confirming that the delivery will arrive and then be provided with a direct number to the driver to follow up.

I strongly feel that some organisations have been failed by technology and over engineered processes. IT vendors are selected by technology teams and processes are reengineered in the pursuit of efficiency not excellence. A larger question remains over whether an organisation can truly get all of the benefits they want from a single technology implementation hence my opening suggestion of multiple solutions integrated and federated to deliver the customer experience.

Challenge 3 – Redesigning the customer journey across all channels

Charles Tyrwhitt is a retailer that I engage with across channels. I wouldn’t yet describe them as being Omnichannel but they are certainly a good multi-channel brand.

I was originally made aware of them through a friend who recommended an offer they were promoting. He forwarded me the email with a voucher code and I purchased some goods. Now I receive their print catalogues and email which entices me back onto the website and into store. For example I feel comfortable buying a shirt online, I know my size and have a high level of confidence that it will be right. The store is perfect for when I need to try something on such as the overcoat I bought last year.

Sure there’s more they can do to engage with me but it’s a good example of how multiple touch points come together to build a loyal customer:

  • Word of mouth/social recommendation
  • Print catalogues
  • Easy to use website
  • Access to stores for larger purchases

Mapping these touch points to the most appropriate channels enables us digital marketers to create the right functionality. Once we know the primary purposes of a channel we can then optimise for that purpose.

Challenge 4 – Recruiting the right people

Disney World don’t have park attendants. They employ “cast members”. Their role is to serve the customer and create a memorable experience that will outlast the holiday. Apple have their instore Geniuses. Cute job titles are a reminder of the real purpose of customer facing staff.However as Peter R Scholtes put it in his seminal book The Leader’s Handbook – you can change the job title but it won’t change the outcome. The right systems, training and people are required to create the desired experience.

Digital marketing teams need to be filled with t-shaped individuals who have specialist digital marketing knowledge and a base of core business knowledge. This allows them to work with the rest of the business as they understand the wider opportunities and planning process.

Challenge 5 – Transforming your business at the right pace and time

Omnichannel isn’t something that a business can trifle with. It requires a commitment from the boardroom to the shop floor. Vision and purpose will be set at board level that ripples through the organisation as systems are changed, people retrained and stores redesigned.

Each change will take time and inevitably resistance will come from different quarters. As the old adage goes you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Similarly achieving Omnichannel requires steady progress. Rush into it and you may accelerate into error. Too slow and you may never achieve the ambition.

Challenge 6 – Redesigning physical operations

It was recently put to me that Omnichannel is just Multi-Channel done right. I don’t have an issue with that but I do think that in reality there is a distinction between the two. Omnichannel is making all channels work together. They are integrated. Multi-Channel is having a presence on most channels.

Of all channels it is the high street that is broken. The businesses that are failing live there and have done very well during good times. Stock the shelves, open the doors and the hoardes will come regardless of the experience. Now the customer wants more, they can complete a transaction online with more ease than in your store. Online competitors have much lower overheads and if the race is to the bottom, they will win.

To reassert its dominance, the high street needs to reinvent its purpose. Rather than providing a transactional space, it needs to be an experiential space. Allow customers to research through your digital channels and to experience in your physical channel. The transaction can happen wherever, the very definition of Omnichannel thinking.

Digital’s place is across the whole experience. From the first interaction with the brand on a Facebook page, through to the instore interaction where the customer’s online preferences are loaded onto a store assistant’s tablet to help the customer test the goods.

Conclusion: Digital marketers have an important omnichannel role to play

We have been the innovators and entrepreneurs. With stretched budgets and limited experience we’ve had to prove ourselves over and over again. As digital marketing reaches maturity it is time for us to step up and help shape our organisation’s future.

A gloomy picture has been painted for retailers. Some classic high street names have already fallen and some are on the brink. I firmly believe that those who get Omnichannel right in the coming year will survive and grow to new heights.

David Sealey is a trusted adviser to senior executives on getting the most from their investment in digital and data. David created Storm81 as a place to share his passion for business, digital technologies, multichannel marketing and everything else around these topics.

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  • Loving the site Mr Sealey – consider me subscribed!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Scott! Hope HK is treating you well?

A guide to Omnichannel retailing for Digital marketers

A guide to Omnichannel retailing for Digital marketers

David Sealey is a trusted adviser to senior executives on getting the most from their investment in digital and data. David created Storm81 as a place to share his passion for business, digital technologies, multichannel marketing and everything else around these topics.

More about David Sealey

Follow me on Twitter
Connect with me on LinkedIn


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