I was recently searching for fishing rods for my 5-year old son and his friends to use at our neighborhood pond. I know nothing about fishing, so I needed to get educated. First up, a Google search on my laptop at home. Then, I jostled between my phone, tablet and laptop visiting websites, reading descriptions, looking at photos and reading reviews. Offline, I talked to friends and visited local stores.
The product descriptions weren’t very helpful. What is a “practice casting plug”? Turns out, this was a great feature! Instead of a hook, the rod had a rubber fish to practice casting safely. What a missed opportunity for the retailers who didn’t share this information. I bought the fishing rods from the retailer that educated me with valuable product information and offered free three to five day shipping.
What does this mean for companies who sell products across multiple channels?
Virtually everyone is a cross-channel shopper: 95 percent of consumers frequently or at least occasionally shop a retailer's website and store, according to the “Omni-Channel Insights” study by CFI Group. In the report, “The Omnichannel Opportunity: Unlocking the Power of the Connected Customer,” Deloitte predicts more than 50 percent of in-store purchases will be influenced digitally by the end of 2014.
Because of all this crosschannel activity, a new term is trending: omnichannel
What Does Omnichannel Mean?
Let’s take a look back in time. Retailers started with one channel -- the brick-and-mortar store. Then they introduced the catalog and call center. Then they built another channel -- e-Commerce. Instead of making it an extension of the brick-and-mortar experience, many implemented an independent strategy, including operations, resources, technology and inventory. Retailers recently started integrating brick-and-mortar and e-Commerce channels, but it’s not always consistent. And now they are building another channel -- mobile sites and apps.
Multichannel is a retailer-centric, transaction-focused view of operations. Each channel operates and aims to boost sales independently. Omnichannel is a customer-centric view. The goal is to understand through which channels customers want to engage at each stage of the shopping journey and enable a seamless, integrated and consistent brand experience across channels and devices.
Shoppers expect an omnichannel experience, but delivering it efficiently isn’t easy. Those responsible for enabling an omnichannel experience are encountering barriers. Let's look at the three barriers most relevant for marketing, merchandising, sales, customer experience and information management leaders.
Barrier #1: Shift from product-centric to customer-centric view
Many retailers focus on how many products are sold by channel. Three key questions are:
- How can we drive store sales growth?
- How can we drive online sales growth?
- What’s our mobile strategy?
This is the old way of running a retail business. The new way is analyzing customer data to understand how they are engaging and transacting across channels.
Why is this difficult? At the Argyle eCommerce Leadership Forum, Vice President of Multichannel at GameStop Corp Jason Allen shared the $8.8 billion video game retailer’s approach to overcoming this barrier. While online represents 3 percent of sales, no one measured how much the online channel was influencing overall business.
They started by collecting customer data for analytics to find out who their customers were and how they interacted with Game Stop online and in 6,600 stores across 15 countries. The analysis revealed customers used multiple channels: 60 percent engaged on the web, and 26 percent of web visitors who didn't buy online bought in-store within 48 hours.
This insight changed the perception of the online channel as a small contributor. Now they use two metrics to measure performance. While the online channel delivers 3 percent of sales, it influences 22 percent of overall business.
Take Action: Start collecting customer data. Analyze it. Learn who your customers are. Find out how they engage and transact with your business across channels.
Barrier #2: Shift from fragmented customer data to centralized customer data everyone can use
Nikki Baird, Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR), told me she believes the fundamentals of retail are changing from "right product, right price, right place, right time" to:
- Who is my customer?
- What are they trying to accomplish?
- How can we help?
According to RSR, creating a consistent customer experience remains the most valued capability for retailers, but 54 percent indicated their biggest inhibitor was not having a single view of the customer across channels.
Why is this difficult? A $12 billion specialty retailer known for its relentless focus on customer experience, with 200 stores and an online channel had to overcome this barrier. To deliver a high-touch omnichannel experience, they needed to replace the many views of the customer with one unified customer view. They invested in master data management (MDM) technology and competencies.
Now they bring together customer, employee and product data scattered across 30 applications (e.g., e-Commerce, POS, clienteling, customer service, order management) into a central location, where it’s managed and shared on an ongoing basis. Employees’ applications are fueled with clean, consistent and connected customer data. They are able to deliver a high-touch omnichannel experience because they can answer important questions about customers and their valuable relationships, such as:
- Who is this customer and who’s in their household?
- Who do they buy for, what do they buy, where do they buy?
- Which employees do they typically buy from in store?
Take Action: Think of the valuable information customers share when they interact with different parts of your business. Tap into it by bridging customer information silos. Bring fragmented customer information together in one central location. Make it universally accessible. Don’t let it remain locked up in departmental applications. Keep it up-to-date. Automate the process of updating customer information across departmental applications.
Barrier #3: Shift from fragmented product data to centralized product data everyone can use
Two-thirds of purchase journeys start with a Google search. To have a fighting chance, retailers need rich and high quality product information to rank higher than the competition.
Take a look at the image on the left. Would you buy this product? Probably not. One-third of shoppers who don’t make a purchase didn’t have enough information to make a purchase decision. What product information does a shopper need to convert in the moment? Rich, high quality information has conversion power.
Consumers return about 40 percent of all fashion and 15 percent of electronics purchases. That’s not good for retailers or shoppers. Minimize costly returns with complete product information so shoppers can make more informed purchase decisions. Jason Allen’s advice is, “Focus less on the cart and check out. Focus more on search, product information and your store locator. Eighty percent of customers are coming to the web for research.”
Why is this difficult? Crestline is a multichannel direct marketing firm selling promotional products through direct mail and e-Commerce. The barrier to quickly bringing products to market and updating product information across channels was fragmented and complex product information. To replace the manual, time consuming spreadsheet process to manage product information, they invested in product information management (PIM) technology.
Now Crestline’s product introduction and update process is 300 percent more efficient. Because they are 100 percent current on top products and over 50 percent current for all products, the company is boosting margins and customer service.
Take Action: Think about all the product information shoppers need to research and make a decision. Tap into it by bridging product information silos. Bring fragmented product information together in one central location. Make it universally usable, not channel-specific. Keep it up-to-date. Automate the process of publishing product information across channels, including the applications used by customer service and store associates.
Delivering an omnichannel experience efficiently isn’t easy. The Game Stop team collected and analyzed customer data to learn more about who their customers are and how they interact with the company. A specialty retailer centralized fragmented customer data. Crestline centralized product information to accelerate their ability to bring products to market and make updates across channels. Which of these barriers are holding you back from delivering an omnichannel experience?