Brick and mortar, ecommerce, f-commerce, social commerce, m-commerce, multi-channel, cross-channel, omnichannel, super-duper channel…ok, we’re kidding about that last one – but with all these buzz words around, what exactly do they all mean? More importantly, as retailers – where are you?
Obviously, most traditional retailers (let’s try to forget about Amazon, Zappo’s and eBay for a minute) began with a physical storefront that morphed and grew and expanded. As technology extended beyond the laboratory and science fiction movies into business applications, the advent of the POS changed retailing into the modern physical shopping environment in which most of us grew up.
Then came the internet and ecommerce, which represented retail’s first real glimpse into the digital customer engagement era, and it changed shopping behavior forever. The first digital pure plays (ok, Amazon and friends, you can come back into the room) had the advantage of being able to capture customer behavior by tracking and understanding web interactions, which enabled acute marketing and selling tactics to be employed. Customers felt empowered by the ability to shop when and where they desired, loved that they were getting very competitive pricing, and enjoyed having items suggested based on their prior and other similar customers’ purchases.
As brick and mortar retailers gained ecommerce experience and digital retail channels became more mainstream and expected, they strove to incorporate these same capabilities. And then their customers started to wonder why they were seeing differences in assortments, pricing and policies between the retailer’s digital and physical storefronts. After all, it’s the same retailer, right? Well, in many cases, that answer was and still is no. Many traditional retailers have separate organizations devoted to each channel – with their own merchandising, marketing, distribution centers and even support functions; thus, the term multi-channel. Same logo, same messaging (for the most part), similar assortments, but completely separate organizations.
It’s almost like the Y2K dilemma: Who would have ever thought that customers might someday want to decide for themselves how, when and where they want to shop? And expect the experience to be the same under one retail logo? Because of this silo’d approach, most retailers are still struggling with integrating their channels to provide a seamless and holistic customer experience – i.e., omnichannel.
Most retailers are still simply multi-channel – although many think they’re omnichannel. To be omnichannel means much more than being able to buy online and return or pick up in store. That’s simply a convenience for the customer that many multi-channel retailers offer (i.e., cross-channel) – and one that often creates store operational nightmares. To truly be omnichannel means that all merchandising, marketing, selling, customer service – every aspect of a customer’s path to purchase are intertwined, transparent and easy for that customer. It means updated pricing and inventory visibility from any channel. It means the ability to easily choose the most desirable order fulfillment, and it means being able to access prior transactions from any device or platform the customer desires.
So that all means organizationally and systemically, retailers need to be omnichannel, rather than simply marketing or selling products through several different channels and providing cross-channel conveniences to the customer.
Where are you?