We know that today consumers follow a dynamic, multi-faceted shopping journey, where they interact with various touch-points – stores, desktop & mobile websites, social media, Mobile Apps, etc.; this is what we define as an omni-channel environment, a new paradigm that has strong impacts on the shopping behavior and, consequently, on the selling process.
The point is, can retailers born to meet the consumers’ needs of the 20th century remain relevant in 21st?
…I’m afraid this is a subject that keeps a lot of people awake at night…
Too often omni-channel is described at a very abstract level; I prefer to be more practical and focus on what omni-channel integration truly means in our every day retail activities – I’ll look at things from a functional perspective and make some tangible cases/examples.
Product availability info
Before visiting a store and make a purchase, a consumer wants to be sure that the product she had previously researched online will be available; so omni-channel integration here means that a retailer needs to reveal its full, detailed, real-time inventory via web/mobile technologies – the key word is: “real-time”.
The customer buys a product online and later collects it at a local store.
Because she is in a hurry (she doesn’t want to wait for shipping) or maybe she prefer not to receive deliveries at her office or at home.
Alternatively the customer could pick up her goods:
- curbside (at the store)
- at specific collection points (e.g. Post-offices, etc.)
- at temporary collection points (e.g. the collection point is a truck parked from 6pm to 8pm in front of the central railway station – or university, or some other convenient location downtown, or…)
- from lockers (in-store or at some specific, convenient collection point)
Some shoppers prefer returning online purchases to a brick-and-mortar store to avoid the time and effort of getting hold of a box for the item, packing it and shipping it.
If a product is not available in-store (…an out-of-stock!), an omni-channel integrated retailer can arrange delivery to the shopper’s door – this concept, often described as “endless aisle”, allows to significantly reduce the number of lost transactions.
Alternatively, the store-associate could direct the shopper to another store nearby that stocks the product.
Omni-channel Prices & Promotions
Retailers need to conduct sales transactions across channels in a way that guarantee prices and promotions are coherent, regardless of how shopping occurs.
An example of a cross-channel promo: if you purchase item X online and collect it at your local store (…remember? it’s Click-and-Collect…), you get a 20% discount on item Y if purchased in-store.
Of course these cases/examples are not exhaustive, many new omni-channel services are invented every day; as a matter of fact, omni-channel services are starting to become a commodity; what I mean is that, since a lot of consumers increasingly expect them, often they are not significant competitive differentiators any more.
All that said, omni-channel integration is anything but effortless (…it has considerable impacts on processes, organization and technologies), so the big challenge for retailers is implementing omni-channel AND, at the same time, be profitable.
We’ll discuss about complexity and costs related to omni-channel integration in my next Preview – stay tuned…