In late 2012, many of the worlds retail heavyweights predicted that the future of retail lay in multi-channel eCommerce. It was thought that by maximising the number of platforms individuals have available to buy goods through, whilst at the same time making sure they could be communicated with by way of said platforms, would result in increased sales and a revitalisation of retail. Retailers invested heavily in omni-channel in the years that followed, in the desperate hope that it would revive their dwindling bricks and mortar sales. The brave new world that omni-channel eCommerce promised to be has failed to come to fruition. So why is this?
One of the main reasons omni-channel eCommerce has not been the success story it was expected to be, is partly down to retailers failures to meet the expectations of their customers. It has been revealed through recent studies that 71% of shoppers expect to be able to view the online stock levels of their favourite stores, whilst they are in the physical shops. Yet this is a service only 32% of retailers provide, even though it is considered vital in providing customers with a convenient retail experience.
A further 50% of consumers expect to be able to buy online and pick up their purchases in a store, via click & collect, but only 3% of retailers offer this method of payment. Given that these are services that omni-channel should in theory offer as they are intended to make the consumer experience smother and easier and therefore induce higher sales, their absence from any company is detrimental and puts the whole omni-channel experience into jeopardy. Without true integration, this ‘multichannel’ model fails to meet customer expectations.
Customers do not expect to have to differentiate between channels. They expect each channel to perform the same functions with the same levels of effectiveness. Here is where companies must step up to the plate and ensure that they deliver on their promise of consistency over all channels and that they integrate their channels effectively, so that they operate a truly cohesive omni-channel business.
The challenges to becoming an omni-channel retailer are not just focused at the customer-facing side of the business. Many retailers report difficulties in integrating back-office technology across all of their channels too. Poor IT is a significant barrier to meeting the challenge of omni-channel retail. Not having the right technology to support and enable all features and facilities your customers expect on desktop, mobile and in-store will greatly inhibit your successes.
The technology has to support the sharing of customer data and analytics between channels. It must also be set-up to support this sharing across many different countries and in a lot of cases this requires an increased level of staff training, both in-store and behind the scenes. These challenges are of course not without their high price tag, but a failure to accurately share your data across channels, can result in huge customer dissatisfaction. For example, if a customer’s details are not saved correctly and they have repeatedly shared their details online or in-store, it defeats the whole purpose of omni-channel retail, which is meant to store details over multiple channels, saving customers from the annoyance of having to re-add their data when they move between the same brands different channels. Not storing data accurately, also eradicates any potential for personal bonds between brands and their customers, who can quickly become disillusioned and feel unappreciated.
There is overall merit to the omni-channel concept, especially if it is carried through with verve and purpose, but assuming offering it plainly is enough to revive your profit margins, is naive. Its successful implementation requires huge manpower and investment, to enable you to deliver on the convenience that omni-channel promises. In the end, downsizing as painful as it may be can be a necessary part of the transformation that omni-channel retailers must undergo.