The omni-channel moment has arrived in retail.
Just as cable providers are now pursuing a “TV everywhere” strategy, letting you watch your shows online or on mobile, “retail everywhere” is changing how you shop.
Anywhere, anytime, with any device, you can browse, compare, learn, experience and buy your favourite brands and products. As with cable and its legacy core distribution channel (TV), the catch for retailers will be how to integrate brick and mortar retail into a seamless “retail everywhere” consumer experience.
Many analysts agree that retailers who get omni-channel right will win big, those who don’t will fall dramatically behind. So what will separate the winners from the losers?
First, the winners will need to fight the all-too-natural “store first” mentality. If not, they will fail to deliver the best possible customer experience across all channels. Worse yet, many systems and processes are designed to protect the in-store channel from online cannibalization, unwittingly creating in-house competition between the stores and the digital channels. Traditional retail strengths can become crippling rigidities in an omni-channel world.
Second, be a revolutionary—across operations and culture. Done right, this means challenging every current assumption about inventory management, staffing, store design, merchandise planning, and marketing. Take sales associates. They need to be agents of true customer service, and they and the stores need to be rewarded for it.
This also means providing sales associates with access to a company’s entire inventory to get the customer what “she” wants—no matter where it sits in the supply chain – but you have to give them the tools to do it. This includes point-of-sale devices with the necessary functionality so sales people can do more than merely find, sell and deploy local inventory. They can drive turn across a retailer’s entire inventory.
Third is the central nervous system for the true, omni-channel retailer: its CRM database, a database that knows a customer’s profile—their transaction history, their sizes, their gift addresses, even their attitudes and preferences. In the “old” model of four-wall retailing, this data sat in corporate and drove centralized marketing campaigns. Stores were just places to recruit new customers and feed the database.
In the true omni-channel model, store associates can leverage POS and marketing to activate local customers. For our business, this means digital look books assembled by an associate specifically for their clientele. It can also mean targeted emails with highly personalised selling ideas, and a much closer link between the sales professional and their clients. In other words, the store itself becomes an off-site, local marketing office for the corporate marketing team—activating the centrally managed database and employing store associates to use digital communications with their own clients in highly engaging, customised ways.
Another profound opportunity is rethinking the stores themselves—physically. Stock rooms could be larger, taking on the added role of fulfilling local ecommerce deliveries. Or technology could turn a wall space into a full-blown digital pop-up store. Imagine an 80-inch screen on a store wall, offering merchandise that does not easily fit physically in that particular store, say furniture and home goods for a lifestyle brand like kate spade, or kids for Lucky Brand.
Even more dramatically, what we call a “store” could even lack four walls altogether. We are currently piloting “the wall as a mall”—a 24 hour Window Shop for Kate Spade Saturday. This summer, for one month, four state-of-the-art interactive storefronts will enable shoppers in NYC to learn about and select Kate Spade Saturday merchandise in the touch-glass “window,” add her selections to her mobile shopping cart, and securely complete the transaction using a mobile website she can access right from her smartphone.
Through a special Valet service, shoppers can receive their products within an hour or so – delivered directly to a location they’ve specified. The transaction is completed with an easy swipe of a credit card or a geo-fenced “check-in” via PayPal.
As these kinds of changes take hold, all of our processes and habits will be flipped on their heads. Consumers will more directly drive product development and logistics. Direct marketing will start from the sales floor, laddering up to digital brand campaigns. The consumer will truly come first, and the high value, engaged multi-channel customer will rise above all others.
Put another way, true omni-channel retailing is really about building a business system that puts the consumer at the centre of everything we do. So, if we go back to square one and reimagine our industry, what would it look like?
We would no longer be hemmed in by the four walls of a store. Instead, we would partner with our consumers—through a seamless and responsive experience with digital at the core.
Just as the cable companies have their organizational challenges to overcome in making “TV everywhere” available, retailers must start the omni-channel process by bringing down the fortress walls of our current channels, and paradoxically turning those walls into an even greater asset for brands and consumers.
Ultimately, retailers who truly embrace the radical implications of omni-channel will succeed. Those who don’t will simply become just another retailer watching their best potential customers pass them by as they recite “omni-channel pieties,” but live steadfastly in the past.
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