Recently, I’ve been on the go: I’ve just returned from a two-week sprint that took me to five different cities by plane, train, and car. Any frequent traveler is familiar with the logistical challenges that make multimode transport inconvenient – whether it's dashing between connecting flights or strategizing a taxi pickup to catch the train, switching between methods of transportation can make for a trying, disjointed journey overall.
As I settled into one flight by turning off my mobile phone and opening my laptop, it dawned on me that our path through the fragmented digital world is similar to my multiphase journey. As our physical location changes and as we realize the limitations of certain device experiences, we reach for various devices to carry out the task at hand – often, we complete one activity sequentially across screens and expect a seamless experience.
In fact, Forrester's Consumer Technographics® data shows that more than half of US online adults who begin tasks on their mobile phone continue them on their laptop. These consumers are most frequently purchasing products, checking emails, and researching items:
We’ve seen significant investment from US retailers in this space. Lowes, Home Depot, Nordstrom, and others have all been spending heavily on developing the underlying infrastructures that they can then leverage to create in-store digital experiences. Store Wi-Fi, associate devices like tablets or smartphones, kiosk technology, and even more emerging technologies like ePaper signage and electronic shelf-edge labels are on some agendas. Even Amtrak is getting in on the act with its eTicketing initiative.
So either you are back, or you were with me all along. But now you are wondering “Ok, so what is the difference?” Let’s look at what the two terms really mean. Omnichannel doesn’t have a formal definition, though here’s what the oracle that is Wikipedia says…
“Omni-Channel Retailing is very similar to, and an evolution of, multi-channel retailing, but is concentrated more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, catalog, and so on.”
On the other hand, Forrester defines agile commerce as…
“An approach to commerce that enables businesses to optimize their people, processes, and technology to serve customers across all touchpoints.”
Consumers are now in control, especially when it comes time to buy. Ubiquitous connectivity allows consumers to easily check prices and buy on the go, which should worry (not terrify) traditional retailers in competitive categories. This “showrooming effect,” which has been encouraged by Amazon, would enable web retailers to snatch some sales from the hands of their brick-and-mortar competition. A majority of sales are still happening offline, so the fear of showrooming — that most people are finding screaming deals online — is largely exaggerated. In fact, the majority of transactions still happen in stores, even when shoppers research online (yes, even when they’ve got their mobile devices in hand in a store). Forrester’s US Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2011 To 2016, which launches today makes it clear just how influential and critical the web channel will be to eBusiness professionals in retail. By 2016 Forrester predicts that more than half of the dollars spent in US retail will be influenced by the Web. Already in 2011, $1.3 billion dollars in the US fall into this category.
It is imperative for eBusiness professionals in retail to adopt cross-channel best practices, including:
Pricing more consistently to reduce vulnerability to showrooming. The ability of shoppers to comparison-price shop and demand price matches requires retailers (and manufacturers) to reduce price discrepancies across all channels. With comparable pricing in place, this forecast suggests that many consumers may in fact nonetheless choose to purchase products in stores because of the immediate availability, service levels, or simply because products online do not have significant benefit over those in stores.
Oh, look what came in the mail yesterday: The order I tried desperately to cancel last week. But, no, UPS dropped it off, and the packing slip said nicely, “Thank you for your order! We are committed to ensure [sic] your experience exceeds your expectations.” Well, you failed.
Let me start from the beginning.
You see, I’m working on reviews for the latest “Best And Worst Of Website User Experience” report (check out last year’s report if you’re curious), and this year we’re evaluating the user experience at the top four tablet manufacturers’ sites. Instead of actually ordering brand new tablets, we are substituting an inexpensive accessory, completing the checkout process, and then immediately canceling the order so that nothing ships and no cards get charged. All went fine in canceling three of the orders, but the fourth, from a company that shall remain nameless, proved more difficult.
Here are all the steps I took to try to cancel the order:
I tried chat. I went to the “Help” page on the site and found listed in the contact info section a link to chat and a phone number. I initiated the chat and reached an agent, but the conversation was very slow (about 20 lines of communication in 15 minutes), the rep was hard to understand, and she couldn’t help me. She told me to call 1-800-[company].
I tried the website itself. I could check order status very easily on the site, but the info just told me the status (“In process”) and provided no contact information in context for order questions.