BOPIS, click and collect, kerbside pickup, scheduled deliveries. Retailers continue to deploy new fulfilment options as they strive to offer convenient, safe and contactless shopping.

Meanwhile, the restrictions of the past year have forced customers to explore new ways of shopping, growing e-commerce share and building momentum around social shopping. In turn, more businesses are adopting new technology and mobilising across the many different platforms that exist today.

So, we find ourselves living in a world where more and more businesses declare themselves part of the omnichannel party. And as this particular party gets more crowded, it becomes harder for you and your brand to stand out.

But there is a way to go beyond omnichannel and excel in the moments that matter.

What Is Omnichannel Anyway?

It was the early 2010s when I was at Tesco and first heard the term: omnichannel.

“What is omnichannel anyway?” I asked curiously.

“I think it’s like multi-channel. But more. I think.”

At this time, omnichannel was still a new phrase and the general understanding was sketchy at best. In many ways, not much has changed. The question “what is omnichannel” still gets varied answers and people start to roll their eyes at this term. And omnichannel often goes hand-in-hand with partner in crime, “seamless,” which suffers the same challenges. Both have become overused and often underdelivered.

However, in the interest of making positive change, the omnichannel definition I hear most commonly and that we should use here is:

Buy from anywhere, fulfil to anywhere.

Omnichannel, like it or loathe it, remains a big opportunity and a big focus for many retailers. Especially in the socially distanced world that we live in at present.

Sounds great… But. It. Is. Hard

Stepping from the world of multi-channel (for argument’s sake and clarity, that is operating with multiple, disconnected channels) into omnichannel is complicated.

Merging channels involves detailed integration across the business. Your systems must connect with each other. Data must be aligned. And your teams must also talk and selflessly support each other.

These are easy things to say (or type) but much harder to do once you lay on the real-world complexities of legacy systems and different data sources, not to mention the competing and sometimes conflicting personalities of those involved.

Your approach to omnichannel innovation will define that either you’re looking to lead the pack or that you don’t fall too far behind competitors. It’s important to avoid shiny object syndrome, where you’re pulled from one exciting, cool idea to the next. Else, you’ll end up greedy with 100s of part finished feasibility studies and nothing done. Consequently, limited resources and precious tech-savvy people must be assigned wisely and not spread too thinly.

Fortunately, one of the retail industry’s strengths is focusing on delivery when it’s needed most. “Done is better than perfect” describes this excellently. And 2020 proved what we can do when we collectively choose to.

However, when we become laser-focused on delivering at speed, it’s easy for certain aspects to be left disjointed, with plenty of loose ends. Best bang for the buck delivered – great. But untold opportunities and avenues for future growth still left on the table. So, it is critically important to revisit and iterate these initiatives as you drive towards a fully integrated omnichannel operating model.

Let’s Step Back, How Do Customers Want to Shop?

Competitor benchmarking and analysis is rife across many retailers. But if everyone is looking over the fence for their next strategy, who actually defines the future?

The companies that are genuine customers focused and are willing to take a risk.

In fact, I’m sure you can probably name a few companies like that without even thinking.

But what if you were to take the initiative rather than waiting for your competitors to do so. Imagine how you could become more customer-focused than you already are. Perhaps you’ll think of customer insight is an important factor to help you in this journey – and that would be a positive move.

But right now, we’re not talking about sales conversions, footfall, page views, dwell times or bounce rates. Whilst valuable to show us how customers are shopping, this is not the data that will help us understand how customers want to be shopping.

Instead, we’re looking to understand who your customer is, what’s important to them, their goals, aspirations, worries and fears. Understand your customers as people. In turn, you can understand how they want to shop and how you could fit into their lives. Not how they’ll fit into yours.

The best way to do this is simply by asking questions and listening. But not the sort of “on a scale of 1-10” question. Conversational questions where the intricate details will yield far richer rewards. Out of the comfort zone, perhaps. the personal effort, yes. Value, oh yes!

Don’t assume that this is only the remit of an insight department or marketing team. From these conversations, you will hear a raft of huge insights about how your customers are looking to interact with businesses and brands. Ask questions, assume nothing and be genuinely interested.

So, let me ask you this: when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a customer?

And when will you commit to having a meaningful conversation next?

A United Front for Shopping

Without second-guessing too much how these conversations will go, perhaps you’ll hear how your customers want to be able to shop easily across your channels. Except of course that they’ll never use the term channels. They’ll describe the importance of shopping in their life and how that fits their lifestyle. You’ll learn about the relationship they have with their phone or other devices. Ask and listen to why they go shopping in physical stores. Even ask what they’ve missed most over the past year.

These conversations will show that experiences, likely served from your stores, are critically important. In addition, the convenience gained when also shopping digitally is increasingly assumed – but more would always be appreciated.

These are the elements which single channels retailers are likely to struggle to replicate.

A huge opportunity is how the different elements of your ecosystem and your different channels can show a united front. This united front will need your channels and business to be clear, consistent and closely aligned. And this must be wherever and whenever customers choose to engage with your brand. It’s not just about the point of purchase or fulfilment. It’s about the entire lifecycle before, during and after the sale.

Introducing unified experiences

The united front that your business needs to show is best represented through unified experiences.

A unified experience is a moment that matters. One that freely spans across channels. That can be triggered intentionally or unintentionally through behaviours and activities. And one that aligns closely with how your customers want to shop.

A unified experience is how you can go beyond omnichannel and once again, stand out from the crowd.

Want to know more about how you can focus on unifying experiences? Check out this webinar and let’s dive into together:

2021: The Year To Unify Experiences. How technology will power retail’s comeback.

Join Sunil Bajaj, VP of Retail Solutions at Aspire Systems and Oliver Banks, Consultant and host of the Retail Transformation Show podcast.

Register now for your free spot and discover how you can start to unify experiences for your customers.

 

 

Oliver Banks

Retail Transformation Consultant at OB&Co
Oliver Banks is a Retail Transformation Consultant and founder of OB&Co, based in the UK. Previously, he was an internal consultant at Tesco and originates from a problem solving engineering background. Oliver helps retailers to effectively manage important transformation programmes and build better operating models for the future. Also, he hosts the Retail Transformation Show podcast.

Latest posts by Oliver Banks (see all)