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The Proliferation of Technology is Expanding Omnichannel Further

Consumers do not walk into a store and say “I want a seamless omnichannel experience.” While they know that is what they want, they surely do not use the word “omnichannel” to describe it. Today’s consumers inherently know they want an experience across all different vehicles related to price, color, availability, and most importantly, the brand.

During day two of NRF’s Big Show, Bob Carpenter, President and CEO of GS1 US, started the breakout session he was moderating entitled Achieving Omnichannel Success with Standards-based Supply Chain Practices by stating that the single biggest capability retailers want to provide is a consistent view of the customer – sadly more than half cannot. Turning his attention to his panelists – Mike Molitar, SVP eCommerce at Kohl’s, Peter Longo, President, Macy’s Logistics and Standards, and Dan Smith, CIO, Hudson Bay Trading Company – they began to backtrack through the evolution of omnichannel in order to help define its future.

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Peter Longo spointed out that in the very beginning, retail existed primarily as a single channel – the brick and mortar store. Helped along by newspapers advertisements, the consumer had no other choice but to enter the retail store to see new collections and make their transactions. Along came the Internet and all of the sudden retailers were faced with a second major, yet separate, channel to market their products – multichannel.

According to Longo, “[retailers] developed a shadow or parallel organization within the enterprise that managed this new channel but it was not unified with the physical store.”

It was the consumer that forced the transition from a multichannel world to an omnichannel one. They began to reject these two separate disjointed retail experiences and demanded a consistent brand across all platforms. The advent of mobile was really the development that forced retailers’ hands as all of the sudden there were new forms of engagement they had to account for.

“We have to look at rethinking all of the parts to make them as alike as possible,” said Dan Smith. “They are not going to be happy if they are getting a bad experience in the store and a good one online.”

Successful retailers, according to Smith, are the ones that anticipate the consumer’s needs and react to them accurately. You need to think of the path to purchase system as one entire process that exists in-store, online, and mobile, but also the varying technologies such as point-of-sale that exist within them.

Coming more from a demand management perspective, Mike Molitar said it best: “I think about it more from a demand perspective and the term customer-centric retailing … the proliferation of devices makes it complicated.” According to Molitar, mobile devices are just the beginning, we now see wearables on the horizon and countless others to follow that we haven’t even thought of yet.

“Omnichannel is just the beginning,” said Molitar, “it might be device-specific elements that lead to the overall experience.”

Indeed it does appear that not only do retailers have to begin thinking across store, online, and mobile, but take into consideration the unique attributes of each device they are using the engage with your brand.

“There is a relentless focus on accuracy,” said Longo, “there is not a lot of room for error and loyalty can be cracked at any moment.”

Stores alone were never held to this type of rigor. The tech-savvy consumer expects to be able to purchase a product wherever and whenever they want it and the have an expectation that it will be available. Not only is availability a make or break factor, but speed will soon be as well. It might be that in the very near future next day delivery is too slow.

Retailers that take the time to listen to their customers and understand their needs will be well-positioned to create a consistent brand experience for them across every channel. Technology is forcing an evolution in the way retailers foster the brand experience leaving very little room for error in the process.