Last week I was thrilled to attend and present at the annual Shop.org event in the great city of Chicago. I attended many great presentations, talked at length with the vendor community, and broke bread with some of my old eComm friends. One observation that was more apparent to me this year is the massive transformation happening in retail. It feels more dynamic than it did at the peak of the dot com boom of the late 90’s. For me there were clear trends emerging:
There is a palpable divide between forward looking retailers and those stuck in second gear. Going after incremental improvements such as checkout funnel analysis and improving page load speeds are still important functions, but these are now table stakes that most digital businesses employ. Forward looking retailers go beyond site optimization and look at advanced analytics, leverage social graph data to better understand their customers, and employ mobile strategies that add contextual relevance rather than simply emulate the website.
Omnichannel is the hottest topic, but it means different things to different people. The reality is most retailers fail to understand the complexity around creating a seamless experience for customers, and often fall back on defining their omnichannel initiatives as simply creating a singular presentation across all touch points. For organizations to truly support the needs of the customer, they need to focus on aligning supply chain, fulfillment, customer service, and operations around the specific needs of the customer. For instance, enabling the store associate to engage digitally-savvy customers requires new training, new technologies that facilitate assisted selling, and new compensation paradigms that reward the associate for driving sales in any touch point.
A few weeks ago I visited a new prototype store from a major U.S. retailer in order to learn more about their omnichannel strategy. Expecting a customer-centric experience that seamlessly connects the digital and physical stores, I was disappointed to see what appeared to be a misguided omnichannel deployment, with an experience that was actually inferior to one without enhanced technology. Here’s why:
New layout but broken technology. Upon entering the store, I noticed a different layout with a lounge area on the right and an inoperable digital kiosk staring right at me. While the layout did appear to be more welcoming, the dark interactive display indicated a lack of commitment to execution
No in-store inventory or location-based awareness. I found a smaller kiosk near the front of the store and searched for an item online. I chose the 'pick up in store' feature, expecting the kiosk to recognize I'm already in the store and show what's in stock. Instead, this retailer decided to fulfill the order from their distribution center rather than direct me a few feet away to their colorful display showcasing the item. There was no in-store inventory information or any type of store mapping application within the kiosk.
Kiosks do not provide utility. Another department also had a kiosk, but only provided the ability to find and buy the product online. Again I was expecting the retailer to recommend the appropriate product based upon my specific needs, and show me that the product I need is just a few aisles away.
With growth comes investment, so given that eBusinesses across the globe continue to experience double-digit compound annual online sales growth, it should come as little surprise that 66% of these same firms are planning to increase their investment in commerce technology in 2014. In my latest research report “Commerce Technology Investment And Platform Trends — 2013”, Forrester polled 49 eBusiness leaders to understand their investment and technology implementation plans for the next 12 months. Here’s what the top of the investment priority list looks like:
Omnichannel Execution. Omnichannel initiatives have become a major focus for every retailer and brand with a physical brick-and-mortar presence. eBusiness teams (and their counterparts in store operations) are rushing to implement the following programs among others: pickup-in/ship-to store, store inventory visibility, ship from store, and associate enablement.
eCommerce Replatforming. eCommerce platforms are the backbone of any digital channel, and replacing legacy home-grown systems or outdated (and often unsupported) platforms remains a top priority. With these platforms now supporting omnichannel programs such as “buy-online, pick-up in-store”, having a scalable and flexible platform that can support future growth is an imperative.
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.”