Managing the Modern Retail Omnichannel

Omnichannel is one of those business buzzwords that is often used and seldom understood. Many use it interchangeably with multichannel, but I would argue that these are quite different concepts.

First, what is the multichannel? This is really just the explosion in the number of ways that customers can engage with retailers. Think back a decade and the channels for interactions were limited – voice calls on an 0800 number and a customer service email address were about the extent of what most companies offered.

Now the multichannel environment allows customers to use Facebook, Twitter, chat, voice calls, emails, and various review and rating sites, such as Tripadvisor. And this multichannel environment is changing all the time, so it’s an important part of what anyone in retail customer service is working on, but it’s not the omnichannel.

The reality is that retail is more complex today than ever. Customers want to blend their in-store experience with on-line in a way that allows them great flexibility. They might view a product in-store and order it online for delivery, or order online for collection in-store, or receive a product at home that they are not happy with, but they go to a store to change it.

Creating a true omnichannel environment means that the customer is no longer differentiating about how they shop with your organisation, they are just shopping with you. The distinction between the online and instore becomes blurred to the point that there is just a single view of the experience with your brand.

This is not easy. It requires your supply chain to be able to cope with a new environment, but the customer doesn’t care about your need to improve a back office ERP system. If they order a product online for collection in-store and it’s not in the store on time then it’s your entire organisation that has failed – not just the website team.

This example can be even worse if the in-store team admit that they have nothing to do with the website, know nothing about the web orders, and really can’t help other than telling you to go online again to complain.

There has to be a single channel to the brand that does not distinguish between the physical stores and the online environment – this is how the omnichannel should really be described. You fulfil orders in anyway the customer requests.

Have you seen any retailers that are empowering customers by offering them more choice around how to order, and are getting it right on the ground? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @brownsourcing.

Japanese Shopping Alley
Photo by DILLEmma Photography licensed under Creative Commons

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