Today’s buzzword may be omnichannel but, in reality, retail has nothing to do with channels at all.
Retailers like to think and organise themselves in terms of channels, but the irony is that for customers there are none. They expect the same retail experience from every point of contact with a retailer. And for retailers there are really no channels – only customers.
As John Lewis describes it, omnichannel is all about the customer: what they want, when they want it, where they want it.
While retailers may have kept online and offline separate, often managed by separate teams, customers have not. Shoppers now seamlessly switch between different forms of product information, purchasing, collection and returns. We now see the following three types of customer:
- BOPOs (browsing offline and purchasing online)
- ROPOs (researching online and purchasing offline)
- BIMBOs (browsing in-store on mobiles and buying offline)
It is a complex interconnected web of behaviour that renders any decisions made by channel dangerous. Customers are becoming less forgiving about any disjointed purchasing experience. If one element of the process lets them down, they are likely to abandon transactions across the brand. The difficult start to this year for many retailers shows the potentially catastrophic effect on profits if you get this wrong.
There are many drivers of this customer transformation as smart mobile devices proliferate, mobile speeds improve and stores increasingly become “mobile ready”. Location, location, location has quickly become customer, customer, customer.
Practical omnichannel, making this new approach a reality for both customers and retailers, requires a significant organisational shift. Technology, processes and systems have to align to deliver a seamless customer experience. Decisions cannot be made in silos, and profitability depends on understanding the unit economics of the business at a customer and product level. Successful retailers are embracing data science across every aspect of their business.
But omnichannel is simply a point on the journey to transform retail. The end destination is a single view of both inventory and customers and those connecting the dots will be better positioned to win the retail battle.