Like Archimedes in his bathtub, I've had a great "Eureka" moment: It was the realization that the keystone for eCommerce Online Retail Competition of the future is the mastery and command of retail multi-channel operations. All these past months, we've checked and polled and written about trends and what's important to retailers... but the development that keeps rising to the top is multi-channel marketing, sales and fulfillment. Multi-channel has come to pervade, affect, influence, and guide every line of engagement with the consumer, and of the consumer with the retailer.
What omni-channel retailers are doing:
In August we took a poll asking: What do you think will be the biggest driver of retail change in the next two years? The poll answer choices were Globalization; Social Media; Big Data/Business Intelligence; Mobile technology; and Other.
Poll results: 45% of respondents indicated they thought smartphones and tablets would be the biggest driver of retail change in the next two years. 30% said Big data/Business intelligence; 11% chose globalization; 7% picked social media; and 4% said "other".
We didn't even mention omni-channel as one of the possibilities, yet it seems now to be the most important, most deserving, most over-arching of any of the choices.
In November, we polled: "What do you think is the #1 feature for building your customer base and insuring loyalty of online shoppers?" Answer choices were: Have the lowest prices; provide unequalled customer service; offer free shipping; offer free returns; and have a pleasant, easy-to-use website.
Poll results: 43% of respondents to our poll chose provide unequalled customer service as the most important; 24%, have the lowest prices; 21%, have a pleasant, easy-to-use website; 11%, offer free shipping; 1% offer free returns. We never mentioned omni-channel dexterity as the most important. It actually encompassed all of the answers above.
Some of you saw this coming in your comments on the poll: You said it was a combination of everything. You can't have one before the other, you need the whole megilla, the whole ball of wax, the big kahuna, and, you were right: That is, retailers need all of the above: Competent multi-channel marketing, selling, fulfilling, and follow up.
What omni-channel retailers need:
A recent poll by eMarketer for Akamai: The State Of Omni-channel Retail: Retailers Playing Catch Up With Consumers, explored the following questions:
Q. How close are retailers to providing an omnichannel experience?
A. Virtually all retailers aspire to providing an omnichannel experience, but far fewer currently deliver it.
Q. What are some factors inhibiting omnichannel adoption?
A. Implementation challenges, the complexity of attributing effectiveness to cross-channel techniques and complacency with the status quo have hindered omnichannel retail adoption.
Q. How are consumers using media to shop across channels?
A. Consumers are ahead of retailers in their omnichannel behavior. The majority of US consumers who connect to a store’s Wi-Fi use their devices while they shop.
Q. What are some omnichannel innovations gaining traction?
A. Consumers express strong interest in retailer innovations that add to the omnichannel experience, including wish lists, shopping carts, social integration, variable fulfillment and in-store apps.
Bottom Line For Your Bottom Line
Retail cannot exist, let alone prosper, without the mastery and command of multi-channel marketing, selling, servicing and followup:
1. Retailers have to master social, mobile, technical, marketing, etc. and integrate these functions closely so that they function as a unit, not as separate entities.
2. Retailers have to be consistent with their messages across all channels (it doesn't mean that the message have to be identical, but the content and intent should be).
3. Retailers have to competitively price with themselves across channels as well as with competitors.
4. Retailers have to pay attention to the socials. Use them as a tool as well as a source for information.
5. Retailers have to provide multi-channel services and deliveries, i.e. get information and order online from the ideal website, pick up the item in stores SHORTLY after ordering; be able to return or exchange in-store, and, ideally, pick up, delivery, and return services should be free or minimal fee.
And the winner of the most important function for retail sales, profit and customer satisfaction is… Multi-channel marketing and fulfillment.