This year promises to be a watershed for retailers trying to get on board the omni-channel boat. The complexity and difficulty of evolving from being a brick and mortar store into a fully-fledged omni-channel enterprise cannot be underestimated.
The cracks are already starting to show; Macy’s department store chain was the latest victim of not getting omni-channel right. After the 2015 holiday period, it admitted to dismal sales and announced a massive restructuring with thousands of layoffs and dozens of store closures.
Meanwhile, online behemoth Amazon reportedly snapped up almost a quarter of the expected $94 billion growth in all retail sales (in store and online) in 2015.
Today’s customers expect to get what they want—where, when and how they want it—and only omni-channel offers them a consistent experience no matter how they choose to interact with the retailer. This has not been present to date among most brick and mortar retailers, and customers are increasingly gravitating toward buying online.
“The promise of omni-channel isn’t really being fulfilled. While many retailers have been talking up their ‘omni’ game, the actual execution is generally disappointing,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle, in an article for Forbes.
He added that the actual execution of buy online, pick up in-store leaves much to be desired at most retailers, which “still have a way to go to correctly balance in-store and online inventory needs.”
It is not an easy transformation. There are a myriad of digital pieces making up the omni-channel puzzle. Different systems, technology, vendors and standards are involved with monitoring and managing customer flow, staffing, real-time inventory, dynamic pricing and supply chain. All of these systems must be linked together to create a coherent picture of your channels, from which you can manage the processes and maximize sales and customer satisfaction.
The best way to achieve this is to deploy an overarching layer on top of all of these pieces that turns them into something that is richer than merely the sum of their parts; a kind of “mission control” center where you can see and control every activity across all channels.
For all of the hype around omni-channel in retail, the reality is that no one has got it right yet. Truly connected retail is not a pipe dream, but it is a lot harder to manage than most retailers believed. By integrating, monitoring and automating the complex digital systems and processes that underlie retailing we can go a long way to achieving that omni-channel dream.