The omni-channel appetite grows. Can you feed it?
My strategy at my first Internet Retailer Conference was to bounce around between different tracks – social commerce, retail chains, and advanced e-marketing, just to name a few – to ensure I was able to get a holistic view of retail right now. Even across tracks, I quickly identified a leading topic: discussion around omnichannel, multi-channel, and channel-agnostic experiences.
Customers cross channels without thinking about it. They are interacting with your brand whether through social, .com, their mobile device, flipping through a catalogue, or speaking to customer service representatives over the phone, via chat, or in brick-and-mortar stores. This behavior was best represented in the video played by Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com.
His session, “Creating innovation through the next generation of retail,” was one of my favourites, and I especially enjoyed his focus on the innovation coming from WalmartLabs. The video depicts a holistic look at one mother’s experience planning her child’s birthday party, starting with mother and daughter separately building a shopping list online. Mother then shops in-store while referencing her mobile shopping list for which aisles contain her products. She finds the birthday outfit her daughter wanted but, (oh no!) the right size is not in stock. Not to worry! She scans a handy rack-topper, orders the size she needs, and has it delivered before the party.
To be customer centric, brands must abandon the idea of channels, and instead serve all of a consumer’s needs everywhere they touch the brand. Through their innovations, Walmart creates the fluid experience consumers are looking for, bringing the digital and in-store channels together as one. These helpful experiences build loyalty, even when they’re as simple as the Walmart app prompting users to switch to in-store mode when they walk into a store, mapping every store to help customers navigate, and even allowing price check. The retailer shares their latest innovations on the WalmartLabs blog.
Create a consistent consumer experience across every channel, now
Many sessions with topics ranging from mobile to fulfilment to customer service referred to strategies based on creating a consistent consumer experience, everywhere. It is imperative to create an unwavering brand message, consistent voice, and unified cross-channel experience – including pricing, service expectations, inventory, etc. Communicate this consistency both internally and externally across all channels. The across-the-board consensus among speakers was that consumers expect nothing less when they move from one channel to another. Why should they? To them, you are one brand.
Jimmy Mansker, SVP Merchandise Planning at Bon Ton Stores, held a great session on “Marketing and merchandising your brand in a cross-channel world.” Bon Ton has put a lot of resources into being successful in a cross-channel world with an emphasis in inventory, customer service, and consistency in price and advertising. On the latter, he gave great advice about being explicitly clear and transparent with your base pricing to your customers. If you are going to promote a single channel promotion, clearly communicate it in all messaging and ensure all your staff is trained on these different promotions.
Consumers are more informed than in-store staff
We all bring our smartphones into the store with us and price check or read reviews right there in aisle. To that end, one specific challenge multiple session speakers mentioned was having in-store customers, with more product knowledge than their own staff. This is the time we live in.
Sean Bartlett, Director of Mobile Strategy at Lowes, discussed the associate mobility program they launched in early fall 2011. The retailer armed store associates with over 40,000 iPhones, giving them real-time access to the same information as their customers. This not only makes store associates as informed as consumers, but also empowers them to proactively share compelling product information like consumer reviews, how-to videos, and shipping options with shoppers, right in the aisle.
It’s an exciting time in retail, and the above examples are just some retailer reactions to the shift in power from retailer to consumer. I was inspired to see how retailers are embracing customer centricity. It was especially remarkable to see the head nods throughout sessions, reaffirming that retailers everywhere plan to work to create consistent and compelling omnichannel customer experiences.