Today’s consumers are always looking for easier and more convenient ways of finding, ordering, and receiving their goods, but it’s a big mistake to think of omni-channel retailing as a B2C investment alone. Retailers that want to offer an effective omni-channel solution will first need to assess how cohesive and collaborative their internal workings are, and then determine whether they will be robust enough to support the fast moving world that is omni-channel retailing.
Most retailers plan a year in advance for their product ranges, merchandising, and marketing, but these different departments and teams often develop these plans in isolation, without any visibility of one another. This Victorian working practice can lead to ineffective merchandising and a lack of support from other departments, whether marketing, HR, IT or Property, as a lack of visibility in any given team’s workings means that everyone else is blind to what’s being done in other parts of the business. This hardly helps today’s omni-channel customers who increasingly expect – and demand – to have the retail experience wrapped around them.
For example, any decent retailer will know that Easter is likely to be a busy time – but does the IT department know that? Human Resources? Property? If this particular time of year makes no difference to their specific remit, then why would they? But if these departments decide to launch new projects during this busy trading period, any grand plans for a cohesive omni-channel strategy that seamlessly combines bricks and mortar with e-commerce could be heavily compromised.
Likewise, what happens if the merchandise team realises a particular product line is under-performing – let’s say striped tops – and they decide they need to shift them quickly. How do they quickly mobilise all other support teams to help in this activity? If your needs and knowledge can’t be socialised quickly, the marketing department won’t have the chance to put any special promotions in place, staff won’t be trained to focus on these items, the visual merchandising team won’t know to feature them in the windows, and the web team won’t know to put them on the homepage. Where is the ‘omni’ in that?
It is this breakdown in communication and a lack of cohesive planning that seriously threatens the credence of many omni-channel strategies, since every department needs to be in complete alignment before retailers can begin to figure out how to best serve the customer. That’s why a robust omni-channel strategy needs to start with a cold hard look at best practice internally, so that companies can develop their own omni-channel for internal team collaboration with visibility across the entire business. The customer interface should actually be the last piece of the omni-channel puzzle, not the first.
Most discussions of omni-channel retailing tend to look at the B2C aspects of different apps and other ‘digital innovations’ – but that is just the icing on the cake. Businesses that want to launch a robust omni-channel strategy first need to determine how everyone behind the scenes can work together to deliver a consistent experience for the customer across every possible touchpoint.
Technology underpins all of this, and cloud computing can make this collaboration much easier. Email may have revolutionised business communication 20 years ago, but the volume of email received today is often more of a hindrance than a benefit. After all, modern retailers often rely on the coordination of many staff in many locations, using many different forms of communication to deliver information and carry out processes between people and teams.
Cloud-based platforms now offer a compelling alternative to email by providing users with a number of collaborative online tools that can be used to communicate with the right people, at the right time, in the right way. Plus, as retailers expand, important business assets are often spread across different teams, departments and locations. The cloud also offers users the opportunity to centralise all of this content into one secure online workspace. As a result, retailers benefit from structured storage and controlled access to all of their key business assets.
Even so, the hard yards need to start within a company’s own four walls, with an assessment of how joined up its processes are. Retailers who think that all they need is the right B2C technology and associated trade press release to create a compelling omni-channel experience have got it all wrong. Glitzy apps may seem like innovative omni-channel solutions, but without cohesive and careful planning from the outset, they are destined to disappoint.