This week, I would like to introduce my fellow Ebeltoft Group member, Jim Okamura, the managing partner of Okamura Consulting (Chicago). Jim is an expert in cross-channel retail and international e-commerce strategies and the author of the 2012 Ebeltoft Global Cross Channel Retailing Study.
Myth #1 – The customer experience must be the same across all sales channels
Defining the customer experience within an omni-channel/cross-channel strategy is one of the most difficult jobs of any retailer. Many retailers we work with find it difficult to describe what they want their customer experience to be.
In many cases, dependent upon who we ask within the management team, we will get differing answers. The most common refrain that we hear is, “We want our customer experience to be the same across channels.” This is when you will find us asking what we consider foundational questions:
- Are your customers the same in all channels or are they different?
- Do you have opportunities online to enhance areas of your business that may not be possible in the store? (e.g. you product offering, enhancing customer loyalty, or acquiring new customers, etc.)
- Are you considering channel differences (e.g. competition and cadence) that you may be able to take advantage of?
We counsel retailers that the brand construct should be consistent across channels, but doing the work to understand how to leverage the channel differences will result in happier customers and, typically, better financial performance.
Myth #2 – Omni-channel retailing is a competitive advantage
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when cross-channel strategies could only be delivered by retailers with scale and deep pockets. By default, those retailers who embarked on early cross-channel strategies had to have the means to invest and the patience of their board for the time to realise that investment.
It was a select group willing to take on big risk as cross-channel strategies were unproven. These early and select pioneers envisioned big competitive advantages with their strategies. They were able to provide their consumers with a value proposition based on convenience and service as they shopped across the available channels.
Today, consumers are much more demanding and their expectations include cross-channel capabilities. Retailers of all sizes have risen to the challenge of considering how their channels can work together better to meet those expectations. We are seeing exciting advances across all segments of the market.
But, cross-channel strategies are relatively unproven and represent a great deal of internal change to execute. We find:
- Advanced cross-channel capabilities cannot substitute for good retailing in each channel independently, pure and simple.
- A good e-commerce customer experience is necessary to enable cross-channel retailing. You cannot leap-frog or short-cut here.
- Understanding what cross-channel capabilities will enable a robust customer experience for your business will help differentiate you from your competition. Selectivity and executional excellence are the keys to differentiation.
Myth #3 – The omni-channel experience is all about technology and operations
Omni-channel strategies have changed the role of the IT lead inside of retailers. Smart retailers have recognised that these technical visionaries are the gatekeepers to a smooth transition between channels. Their roles have been elevated to strategic thinkers and they have claimed their place at the senior leadership table if they were not there before.
But, a leading technologist within a Fortune 500 company from our recent paper for the NRF “Organizational Structure for the Future of Retail: The Digital Effect” said, “I can build platforms faster than the culture can absorb the change.”
Omni-channel retail is a sea change in the way organisations work together, plan together, and service the customer. Without the ability to describe the customer-facing experience and understanding how the work will get done to achieve cross-channel goals, the development of technology and operations meant to support the customer experience will be costly and likely flounder.
We are watching as savvy retailers work closely with their IT teams to create prioritisation and flexibility in their roadmap priorities. They consider the speed of internal adoption, competitive market conditions, and customer-driven insights to shape their vision for the future and guide their development priorities.
For further information and to register for our upcoming cross-channel retailing CEO breakfast and webinar on August 22, please visit www.retaildoctor.com.au/events/ceoboardroombreakfast/ email [email protected] or phone us on 02 9460 2882.
Happy ‘fit’ retailing.
Brian Walker is the managing director of Australasia’s leading retail consultancy, Retail Doctor Group.