Oct 02

Omni-Channel: Unattainable Buzzword or Guidepost to Success?

So you've got a client who has a strong multi-channel presence; they have brick-and-mortar stores, a strong ecommerce site that's optimized for mobile, beautifully designed print campaigns, and a great social media strategy. Now, they've come to you to help them connect all the pieces, bring them to that next level integration,  get all the channels speaking to one another in a way that allows them to innovate and create a consistent and connected customer experience across all touchpoints.  You're going to make them OMNI-CHANNEL!  First of all, pinch yourself, because you're probably dreaming. Unless your client is up on the latest trends and buzzwords, they probably don't even know what "omni-channel" is —let's be honest, we're all trying to wrap our heads around it. Additionally, unless you're dealing with a huge international brand, your client is likely a retailer with some strengths and weaknesses in terms of channels and consumer touchpoints. Some channels may be strong, some may need work, and some are likely non-existent.  These clients are probably more interested in strengthening their weaknesses than in taking on the daunting, seemingly unreachable goal of having all channels seamlessly connected. In a recent, otherwise well-informed, blog post from bazaarvoice, it was stated boldly —literally in bold font — “Create a consistent consumer experience across every channel, now.” Right now? That's easy enough. Done! The truth is, for most brands that just sounds impossible. If we keep talking about omni-channel in such grandiose terms, we're going to miss the chance to start taking the appropriate steps needed to help our clients give their customers what they need and want. Let's take a step back. What is omni-channel retailing? And most importantly, how do you start helping your clients get there? Omni-channel is basically an evolution of multi-channel. While good multi-channel retailers create consistent experiences for each of their consumer touchpoints, good omni-channel retailers are able to create single consumer experiences that include several touchpoints, even in a single purchase. For instance, Starbucks has connected their in-store loyalty program with their mobile application. Walmart is also heading the charge, now testing a new feature in an Arizona store which would allow customers to self-checkout with their iPhone. This adds to the many uses of the Walmpart app, which already allowed users to see what's in stock in various stores, create shopping lists, check prices, etc. The only way to create these experiences is for the (often completely siloed) channels to share information, and this can present some huge logistical hurdles.  It is important to remember though, that omni-channel didn't start with the imperative for shared information.  It started with an imperative to create better consumer experiences, and it should continue to be about just that. It may seem simplistic and reductive of me to suggest that you "start small" or "put one foot in front of the other," blah blah blah. But in reality, even the largest, most innovative brands started that way. Think of one interaction that your client wants their customers to have. Maybe it's just allowing in-store pick-up for online orders.  Work with your client to connect the dots needed to allow this interaction. This alone will probably present several challenges, but at least it represents a clear benefit to both the retailer and the consumer. The retailer benefits from getting online customers in the door to possibly purchase additional items, while the consumer benefits from often free and/or expedited shipping. Now, repeat with another desired interaction with a clear benefit for the consumer and the client. Once the proper information is shared and the basis is set, ideas that once seemed totally out of reach can actually start to happen. "Omni-channel" might just be the buzzword of the past year, but the consumer expectation for this type of retailing is growing. As long as you keep it about the consumer and don't get bogged down in trying to make it all happen RIGHT NOW, it is a lot more achievable that it may have seemed. If you have any questions about beginning the transformation towards omni-channel retailing, feel free to contact us.