Is omnichannel the holy grail that will save retail?
Quite some time there has been a lot of talk about omnichannel. There are many definitions, but it can be described as a coherent, synchronized, seamless and symbiotic customer experience in every aspect of the customer interaction. All channels should communicate the same values to engage the customer. Many concepts and ideas within e-commerce originate either in the U.S. or the U.K. This also applies to omnichannel where most retailers are more advanced than us in the Nordic region. The good news for us is that we can cherry-pick those functions that turns out to give the best results.
Omnichannel traditionally mostly is about connecting the bricks-and-mortar stores with the web shop, but could also be about digital units as the mobile or tablets, in a store or in kiosks. Meetingplaces on the web also is a part of the omnichannel landscape, like Amazon, Ebay or our Nordic equivalent Cdon Marketplace. To create a seamless and coherent experience across all channels and devices is a major challenge on many different levels.
The major challenges can be belongs to one of these groups:
1. Technology and platforms.
2. Organisation and staff.
3. Partners and suppliers.
There is no IT-system that will cover all aspects of omnichannel, that would include everything from mobile solutions to point-of-sale to customer club and warehouse management etc. This means several systems need to be integrated and depending on which and how many systems that are involved the cost might skyrocket. Just to in real-time have access to correct stock quantity is an enormous challenge for most companies, but is one ot the foundations of providing a superior customer experience.
When it comes to organisation the retailers are in the middle of major shift. Everybody knows that you have to be more digitilaized and staff has to be trained to embrace the change. Goals has to be set and communicated.
A chain is never stronger that it's weakest link, meaning that suppliers and partners has to be in on the concept of omnichannel and think about what it means for them. The customers' experience of a brand is also important when it comes to marketplaces as well as it is important that your suppliers keep their shipping promises.
Where to start in all this?
A logical first step is to start with enabling the customers to pickup parcels from the e-commerce in the store nearest to them, and also to be able to return items there. It means that the customers will have more contact with the brand even though it's only for collecting a parcel. Surprinsingly many customers choose this given that they can save the shipping fee. If many customers return goods to a store there will be problems since two omnichannel functions will be put against each other. To allow the customer to return to store is according the "rule book", but it means you can be overstocked in a store. You will try to avoid sending goods back to the central wearhouse, so the logical conclusion would be to reduce the price on these items. This however is not according to the book since you should have same price across channels. The recommendation here is not to be fundamentalistic. Of course you should stirive to have the same price across channels, but sometimes you need to be practical.
Functions that the Viskan ETM system supports and that is implemented for some of our customers:
- Find nearest store with item in stock.
- Place order via devices in physical store and checkout in POS.
- Integrations with customer club and bonus system for all purchases.
- Responsive mobile site for easy access to information.
Some future functions:
- Save shopping bag across devices.
- Beacon-offers (an Apple-devices can be "awoken" in store, but not an Android-device (yet)).
- Endless aisles – item not in stock in store but delivery home tomorrow.
Important is not exactly what you do but that you start thinking and building a strategy to implement features to satisfy your customers.