The appeal of truly omnichannel retail is easy to grasp. Customers, whether they’re shopping on the high street or via any number of digitally enabled devices and touchpoints, get a consistent experience both within individual channels and when they choose to mix up their use of channels.
It’s a shimmering, ad-man’s view of retail where every sales assistant is helpful, where a server never goes down at a crucial moment, and where goods never go astray in transit.
From a consumer perspective, what’s not to love? Here is retail where everything works, and that’s the best kind of customer experience of all.
As so often in life, though, making things look effortless is the toughest thing in the world. How do retailers get a sales assistant who’s more concerned with shifting stock s/he wouldn’t have ordered in the firs place to buy into the idea of reengineering the company? How do retailers ensure technology is robust yet flexible? How do retailers select a courier that won’t lose items?
There are, of course, no easy answers to such questions, but what’s been fascinating about returning to the theme of customer experience after a year is just how many retailers are nonetheless engaging with these questions. It should be added that these aren’t questions that can be answered without putting the consumer at the centre of initiatives – the underlying question must always be, “If we do this, will it work for our customers?” That’s not to say any retailer has reached any kind of omnichannel nirvana yet, but what’s striking is that where, until comparatively recently, the notion of omnichannel was essentially a set of grand theories about how retail might develop, bigger retailers especially are now working on the myriad elements that will go towards making the idea a reality.
Here, department stores and supermarkets are largely leading the way, but don’t be surprised if other kinds of companies – perhaps luxury retailers selling direct to the public – come up with interesting new approaches.
This can only benefit customers, who will find it easier to buy the goods they want, when, where and how they want. Great for customers, but from the retailers’ perspective, companies need to be preparing for a far more competitive marketplace where customer experience will potentially be as much of key point of differentiation as price. Those retailers that understand this best and act upon that knowledge – and here, by the way, we’re not just talking about matching a competitor’s offering but exceeding it – will be the ones that prosper.
Chloe Rigby and Jonathan Wright