Omnichannel Transformation 

A recent RIS article suggests that retailers should stop structuring their organizations around “channels” and instead structure them around “customers.” This certainly underpins the notion of becoming customer-centric, as opposed to product focused. We would highlight further, to truly deliver on the customer experience means a fundamental transformation of the retail organization at the store level. For the foreseeable future, brick and mortar will still generate the largest percent of retail sales, so the role of store staff in omnichannel customer engagement is critical to success.

Many retail organizations are developing and implementing digital customer applications, focusing on social, local and mobile (“SoLoMo”) capabilities, but these same retailers are not always properly integrating these changes into the brick and mortar environment. For retailers to offer exceptional customer experiences – regardless of the customer’s path to purchase – requires not only process changes in the store, but also changes in the roles and responsibilities of store associates who personally interact with these customers every day. It also means aligning skills, training and compensation programs to accommodate these organizational changes.

We witnessed a home office specialty retailer, who recently begun offering digital receipts to their loyalty program customers. This creates value to the customer by eliminating paper receipts and possibly easing the burden of expense management. It creates value to the retailer by encouraging loyalty program participation and facilitating the capture of customer information. However, unless the customer sees the promotional sign and asks specifically for the digital receipt, this value add is lost. This scenario represents a training oversight, since the sales associate should have automatically offered the digital receipt. Store staff must also understand how new technology and the use of enhanced product and customer information helps achieve the retailer’s objectives. As such, they must understand how their role fits into the overall omnichannel model.

To illustrate, in today’s connected world, customer data is highly coveted by retailers, but it must be protected and used carefully or risk losing customer trust. It is a much different experience for a digital customer who willingly provides information and has a sense of control over seeing their online purchase history, than it is for that same customer to walk into a brick and mortar store and be approached by a store associate who begins suggesting items based on this history. The manner in which this information is used must be carefully planned and clearly communicated.

Such practices will be different depending on the retail segment. For example, a grocer’s organizational needs may change to incorporate express lane pick-up, home delivery or nutritional advising, while an apparel retailer’s staff may now need to understand how to use a customer’s past purchase history without raising privacy concerns.

Omnichannel models will continue to evolve as new technologies and capabilities are introduced and become mainstream – on both consumer and enterprise sides. Retailers must understand that their organizations must be agile and flexible to continuously adapt to this changing environment and ensure they are meeting and exceeding customer expectations.