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Omni-channel means nothing to the shopper

I was delighted to be invited to speak at two different conferences last week about the emerging consumer, how their shopping experiences are being transformed and the implications of that for retailers. Interestingly one of those conferences was the Magazine Publishers Association, so a conference for a changing industry. In this world, storytelling is creating new ways for brand owners to connect with customers’ hearts, minds and souls and curators of opinions and information are connecting to individuals. Publishers are at various stages of re-imagining their relevance and some are feeling their craft is under fire.

So into this environment I ventured. At first glance it might seem a little weird to have a retail expert come and chat about EMBRACING DISRUPTION but there was some method to this madness. I can empathise. As retailers we’ve been there. Ten years ago pundits proclaimed that retail was on its last legs. ‘Who is going to go shopping once the window to the world is at your fingertips?”

Well, it turns out, everyone will still go shopping. One thing the pundits did have spot on was that mediocre retailing would die. Some instantly, some slowly but die they do. Online was a catalyst for change and created a retail renaissance.

The retail world starts and ends with the shopper – always has, always will - and never before has there been such complexity to the shopping journey. It’s a journey that can change each and every time as shoppers navigate their own way through shopping experiences in an era anything and everything can be purchased at any point in time.

With the swipe of a screen we browse, pin, tweet, buy, compare products and provide star ratings. Realising and accepting that control has been wrested from them has been tough for some retailers with decades of experience to get their heads around.

Traditionally, retailers had absolute control of the shopping situation – what people could buy, how much it cost and when they could buy it.

That has all changed in a market saturated with products, retailers and information that can be procured from a multitude of channels.

Yes, the customer was always right, but now she delights in wielding her power with a turn of her trolley, a click of her mouse, or a tap on her smartphone. The shopper is truly queen of her own destiny.

The ah-ha moment for many retailers has been that shoppers don’t think about where she is buying from in terms of “channel” - she just wants her needs met. Retailers are curators of product, information, service and advice to meet shopper needs.

Your shopper doesn’t care about your strategy or how you need to run your business, she only cares about how you can solve her need on her terms. Or not. In which case, she will go elsewhere.

The single biggest influence to shopper behaviour has been technology.

So I love this following article by Brian Walker, recently published by Inside Retail. Boldly continuing on the theme that retailers have got it wrong and omnichannel means diddly squat to her.

Is ‘omni-channel’ a bit passé?

June 24, 2015

Brian Walker – Inside Retail

Such is the speed of change in our sector that I sometimes wonder if we are often unintentionally getting rid of the good as well as the bad as we seek to improve. The buzz names that trends in retail are given suggest we must change our strategies and adopt new structures that, in many cases, we’re not comfortable with.

Yet despite the argument that all is changing, are some aspects really changing? The shops are still the centre of consumer attention, and always will be. The majority of us still watch and read – or at least acknowledge – the traditional forms of advertising and messaging. We still want the right product, at the right place, at the right time, at the right price.

What has changed irrevocably, and at increasing speed, is technology, the resulting consumer behaviour and, naturally enough, consumers themselves.

We speak of a requirement for increased customer centricity through customer journeys and the like, yet really retailing itself is a customer centric activity. The measurements are pretty simple and the best at it make more money than those who are merely mediocre.

Multichannel, cross-channel and even omni-channel have a very significant flaw in terminology, and that is that they are simply not customer centric terminology. They speak to a channel derived from pushing the product, service or message down the channel. That the target consumer is eagerly waiting at the end of the channel doesn’t imply the most customer centric type of nomenclature.

Two weeks ago I spoke at the Omni-channel Retailing Conference in Hong Kong, where I was also delighted to listen to the presentation of Andrew Keith, the President of Lane Crawford. Lane Crawford is an experiential department store, clearly bucking the general trend of department stores worldwide.

Keith spoke with clarity when he spoke about retailers, considering that through all the various formats, channels and mediums available, what really matters is, “Do I have my target customers catered for in my retail coverage strategy?”

So their approach to customer coverage includes:

  • World-class experiential department stores abound with rich department and category stories – and not too many of them.

  • Online support – urging targeted consumers into the shop.

  • Online offers supporting offline.

  • Social media linked to physical shop and online, building the sense of community – adding to the tribe.

  • Dedicated, segmented offers based on outstanding BIS application.

  • Understanding the desired customer coverage and building a world-class customer “pull strategy” rather than the rather passé omni-channel push tactics.

So, how do you seek to change the construct of thinking in traditional approaches? Because old approaches with new titles might not get us where we need to go.

Well said Brian.

Omni-channel really just means “On my terms” and that means that retailers need to start thinking differently to make the shopper journey more desirable, intuitive, intelligent, and user-centric.

You don’t need to be a multi-national retailer with buckets of money, but you do need to be smart and nimble. You do need to understand your shopper journey and use those insights to effectively meet her needs.

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