You’re probably sick of hearing about omni-channel as the answer to all your prayers; a single solution to drive customer engagement, loyalty and sales, all wrapped in one tidy, multifaceted little package. You know what they say about things that sound too good to be true? And even though it has been thus for the past decade, omni-channel as a concept isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, however, the concept is shifting. In an era where retail is hyper-focused on what customers want, need and find useful, the ‘new’ omni-channel is no longer about just joining the dots; it’s about solutions; about shopping with ease and simplicity; and most importantly it’s about a congruent and emotional experience.
Let’s just have a reality check for a moment though. We have seen many brands implement so-called seamless omni-channel, Macy’s being one, yet still delivering poor performing results. So how do we react to this information? The knee-jerk response is to bury the buzz word and all that it stands for. But on further investigation, it’s quite obvious that some fundamental mistakes are taking place as retailers scramble to create all things omni.
Unified channels won’t fix lack of differentiation
Firstly, whilst ploughing ahead to create unified commerce, many retailers haven’t even considered the fundamentals; if the product is poor, the pricing wrong and the customer service unremarkable, then extending the reach, or the ease of interaction is not going to make the offering more compelling. Where’s the relevance and differentiation?
Omni doesn’t just mean digital
Secondly, the emphasis – in the dot-joining rush – has historically focused on e-commerce, to the neglect of in-store investment, forgetting that the majority of retail purchases are still done in bricks and mortar locations. This is not to say that a digital first approach is not right, but by understanding channel performance and more importantly the interplay between channels, it will lead you to the right prioritisation. Don’t forget that digitally influenced physical store sales are far bigger than online sales.
There is no one size fits all approach
Thirdly, in the drive for omni-channel, retailers have attempted to offer everything, to everybody, in every way possible. One size does not fit all. A range of channels exist and should be used for different purposes, and for potentially differing customers. Which leads us on to the final point…
It’s the experience that matters
Retailers forget the whole point of omni-channel; the human. They haven’t done their homework upfront to really understand how their customers think, feel and behave and therefore how to engage with them in a meaningful way – and we are not talking demographics here. It’s a two-way conversation now, which takes me to today’s buzz-word; omni-relationship. It may sound like semantics, but at least it reminds us that its more than an operational link of channels. It’s about connecting, emotionally with real human beings.
So, whether omni-channel or omni-relationship, engaging in semantic arguments doesn’t ultimately accomplish very much. But neither does continuing to plough mindlessly ahead, chasing a once bright and shiny object that is rapidly losing its lustre. For us, the brands that will truly prosper in the future are the ones who recognise now, that the ultimate return on investment comes only from investing in human experience design to cultivate genuine, meaningful relationships with their customers.