Like shuffling deck chairs on the titanic, the rise of the empowered consumer and the dizzying proliferation of technology has spawned various names to solve the modern retail challenge and compete against Amazon. What started with multichannel, has evolved to omnichannel and more recently unified commerce, seamless shopping, and cross-channel integration
But what all these names fail to include is the most important word: customer.
While it’s a tempting proposition to work quickly towards building a suite of omnichannel capabilities, too many omnichannel initiatives are stunted before they start. Retailers try to force fit capabilities into an organizational mandate that they care about but their customers don’t.
Here’s a sampling:
Customers don’t care about channels
They don’t make the channel distinctions of browsing online, shopping in-store, responding to an email offer, flipping through a circular, sharing on social or completing a purchase on mobile. It’s all simply a continuous shopping experience.
Customers don’t care about your organizational silos
They don’t care that the marketing silo didn’t connect with the inventory silo and as a result, you sent an email that said the running shoe they’d been eyeing was back in stock when in fact it had been discontinued.
Customers don’t care about your KPIs
They don’t care about your conversion rates, your AOV or the read out on your latest scorecard. These metrics will always go up and down based on variables, many of which are out of your control. They only care about their total experience with your brand.
Call it selfish but customers care about themselves. And when it comes to omnichannel, here’s what they do care about.
Customers care about their context
Customers leave clues. And linking these repeated clues together is what provides context and helps retailers to recommend a course of action. It’s what happens when the disappointment they felt at the now discontinued running shoe is tempered with empathy and a gesture of goodwill by the customer service rep who seems to understand what they are thinking and feeling at that moment. The customer’s context is focused on “what matters to me now.”
Customers care about convenience and saving time
Your customers have real, busy lives and they want convenience on their terms--not yours. And not just convenience in terms of marginal improvements to what already exists but new ways of interacting with your company. Because convenience saves time and time is money, retailers that can give back time to the customer or make the time spent with you worthwhile is something they will care about.
Customers care about consistency
Customers want a consistent, connected experience across their shopping journey and across channels. It means they can begin an interaction in one channel and finish in another without ever having to start over because remember, they don’t care about channels–they want one fluid experience.
What would context, convenience and consistency look like in real life?
Let’s pick up where we left off with that new running shoe and imagine you are the customer. Yes, you were annoyed that the one you had been eyeing was discontinued but the customer service rep recommended an equally impressive shoe and offered free rushed shipping. He said to take your time and that the rush shipping credit would be stored in your online cart. The next day you receive an email reminder on your way in to work, so you add the shoe to your cart on the mobile app and once you get to the office, you complete the purchase on desktop and surprise bonus – they’ve thrown in a free pair of running socks!
Your new running shoes arrive on schedule (because you’ve been tracking it on the app) but darn, they are about half a size too small. No problem because inside the package are two options to get your right size including a pre-paid label to ship it back and instructions to access a new feature on the app which allows you to search the entire inventory and check which nearby stores have stock. Going in to the app, you select the new feature and sure enough, a store just a few miles away has the right size. The next day during your lunch break, you head to the store and are greeted by the friendly sales associate, with tablet and barcode scanner in hand. You hand her your paper receipt, she scans it, and in a few seconds, without having to explain the return/exchange situation, she picks up where you left off. She goes to the counter, grabs your new shoes and the whole transaction is done in seconds. She also invites you to sign up for a running clinic and signs you up on the spot.
Doesn’t this read like a remarkably smooth omnichannel customer experience? Guidance delivered just that experience for Footlocker.
You’ll notice that this scenario didn’t involve facial recognition driven AI or drone delivered packages. Sometimes simple options are overlooked because we often equate more complicated, tech-savvy options with bigger wins. In reality, the simple smaller wins can ladder up to something bigger. But getting these simple wins in place will require some operational readiness and investment. Here are three places to start:
Single view of customer: data investments
The key to understanding what customers want and then delivering it is data. A single view of your customer happens when you collect and connect their identity data, their behavioral data and their attribute data into a consolidated, always-on universal record. This single view of the customer can be used for targeting, personalization and to recommend the next best action that keeps the customer engaged on their path to purchase.
Integrate sales channels
Delivering a fluid, consistent experience to customers means looking at your channels and stock requirements like your customers do–as one single entity. This will require that all warehouses, stores, online/offline sales and POS systems be able to talk to each other so that orders, fulfillment and returns are handled through a single back office and stock levels are updated in real-time across all sales channels.
Integrate data across all touchpoints
As customers engage with your store across touchpoints (smartphones, desktop, call center, loyalty programs and brick and mortar), fragmented data sets are generated which often leads to a partial and incomplete view of the customer journey. By integrating these data sets, retailers can see the whole customer journey and generate meaningful insights to inform future interactions.
When you get right down to it, most customer’s wants and needs are realistic. They want to shop where they want, when they want. They expect you to know them and recognize them whenever they come in contact with you and if something doesn’t work out, they want you to make it right.
So rather than approaching omnichannel retail as a mad rush to build a suite of tech-heavy capabilities, successful retailers should focus on their customer experience first and then on the prioritized capabilities that will move that experience forward – not backwards.