2014-22-July-Steam-Locomotive.jpgUnder pressure from pure play e-Tailers such as Amazon and eBay, brick and mortar retailers are scrambling to defend their businesses. To stay competitive, most have now added an e-Commerce channel. The challenge for many legacy retailers is that e-Commerce has involved a long learning curve and now mobile and web channels have become part of core functionality rather than a cutting edge addition to the brand.  Add to this that many traditional retailers still lack a core competency in the technical nuances necessary to compete effectively with the Amazons and eBays.

Top retailers have wisely chosen to focus more effort on delivering a superior omnichannel shopping experience. This means enabling consistent data about the product and about the customer across multiple systems and processes, which is no simple task. Legacy retailers may use hundreds of systems to run their operations. Many of these systems were not intended to talk to one another, a capability that is necessary if a purchase is to be started in one channel and completed in another.

Retailers are now considering the value of enterprise information architecture as a key to enabling omnichannel retailing. Web information architecture has traditionally been the domain of the online channel. The web experience is completely information driven. However, for the physical store, such product details were not needed -- if they were missing in the information system, the customer could still find and buy the product. On the web, missing metadata could mean that your product becomes invisible.

Where the Sale Begins

Consider how people research what they want to purchase. Customers gain a great deal of knowledge from online searching before they walk into a store. Pricing information is transparent and not typically a differentiator. The differentiator is the customer experience -- the ease of using the site, the presentation of product selections, the precision of search results. The omnichannel experience can strengthen the customer relationship or damage it.

After researching online, customers may want to complete the purchase in the store. If the online information is not the same as the information presented in the store (such as a price discrepancy, product description or dimensions, etc.), customers might decide they've been the victim of a bait and switch.

In its report, “The State of the Digital Store,” Forrester concludes, “No in-store digital experience can be effective by itself. Every investment will need to integrate with and leverage existing enterprise systems …” The key to omnichannel success is to provide customers with a seamless experience as they engage and interact with the retailer no matter how they interact -- via the web, in store, using a smart phone, using a tablet or calling customer support.

A Holistic View of Customer and Content

The fundamental enabler of omnichannel retailing is an enterprise view of information architecture, which provides a holistic view of enterprise data, content and information assets. This view requires integration of systems across traditionally segregated processes. It cannot be achieved without cross-functional and interdepartmental communications and deliberate decision making controlled by governance mechanisms. Traditionally, decisions made by merchandisers might not directly impact customer support and self-service operations. This is no longer the case in the omnichannel world.