Why Omnichannel Should Be Everywhere, But Isn’t

Omnichannel might be widely discussed in the retail world and has certainly reached peak buzzword levels, but at the same time it’s also created a level of confusion and led to some debate as to whether or not the term is still relevant to the industry.

According to a recent whitepaper, 70 percent of Australian consumers are now using multiple channels to shop, and 36 percent have shopped both online and in-store with the same retailer in the past 12 months.

Today’s connected and informed consumers demand choice and will respond to those brands offering a seamless service no matter the channel. They want to buy online and return in-store and if the item they’re looking for isn’t in the store in their size or colour choice, they want shop assistants to check inventory at nearby locations at the click of a button. And they have little patience for those who can’t.

While the majority of Australia’s retailers are now omnichannel businesses — almost 90 percent have a website, over 80 percent now have a social media presence, 61 percent offer transactional capability on their website, and 43 percent have a mobile website or app — a key concern for the industry is the fact that just 42 percent of  Australian retailers do not have a customer experience management strategy in place. Even more concerning is the lack of a holistic strategy enabling a positive customer experience.

Many industry experts use omnichannel to describe customer-facing personalisation in both the online and in-store environments. Yet, most retailers admit that it doesn’t matter how finely tuned your personalised customer service offering is, it will always fall down if your customer can’t get up-to-date information on whether the product or service they’re interested in is available, plus whether they will receive it when they need it or request it.

This trend has led to some retailers implementing shiny quick-fix processes to keep up with the Joneses and give the customer the impression they offer a consistent and seamless omnichannel service. While this might appear to be an appropriate first step to respond to the customer-driven economy, it seldom delivers a successful outcome for both the retailer and the consumer. However, this is rarely the right approach, as “intelligent” data is at the very core of a successful retail omnichannel strategy, i.e. having a single view of inventory in order to enable a seamless shopping experience.

The efficiency of the back office drives the success of the front office no matter what or how many channels you’re using, not the other way around.

Customer-facing retail issues stem from back-office issues

Australian retailers need to avoid and abandon the quick-fix solutions that don’t tackle the real issue: the lack of a single view of enterprise-wide inventory. Instead they need to look at bringing together disparate systems in order to offer a seamless customer experience. If the back-end is fragmented, there’s little hope that they can act on reliable and customer-valued data at the coalface.

Stacking best-of-breed solutions over existing disparate systems only creates more complexity, and doesn’t solve the underlying issue: systems that can’t “talk” to one another and continued manual processes that impact the entire chain, from head office to storefronts. To truly foster a seamless experience, retailers need to blend customer, order and inventory data onto a single platform, making it accessible to both customers and employees.

From there, retailers can focus on connecting their front-end commerce systems and empower sales associates with this single record of truth — an endpoint we call the customer experience nirvana. Even the savviest shop assistant armed with a sleek mobile device can’t overcome the challenge of having to use poor data.

A unified system that allows customers to purchase anywhere and return anywhere is in the retailer’s best interest. Not only are customers increasingly demanding this option, it’s a better method for retailers to present, cross-sell and upsell offers.

Improvements to the back office function also deliver additional benefits to both the retailer and the customer via advanced order management technology to improve order fulfillment. Retailers can ship from the location closest to the customer providing huge cost savings for the retailer, shortening delivery times and driving better customer service and brand loyalty.

While omnichannel isn’t yet omnipresent across the Australian retail industry, the shift towards taking a back-end first approach, instead of a stopgap measure, is one of the key trends the industry will witness as the year rolls out.

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