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Omnichannel Commerce: From Then to Now and Beyond

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To take the next step toward your own omnichannel future, don’t just try to keep up with the competition. Instead, know the problem you’re trying to solve.
Omnichannel Commerce: From Then to Now and Beyond

Successful retailers respond to customer demands. That’s why, several years ago, the retail industry started talking about omnichannel commerce. Customers had more ways to shop, and they wanted to use those channels whenever and however they desired. 

Omnichannel evolved quickly, with lessons learned along the way, and is poised to continue rapid transformation. Retailers wanting ongoing success need to anticipate what’s coming – and apply the lessons of the past to win the omnichannel of the future. 

Losing the Retail Silos 

When demand for omnichannel commerce emerged, many retailers took a wait-and-see approach. Some assumed it was a passing fad, or was too expensive to implement correctly, and consequently, they lost first-mover advantage. 

But even retailers that responded faced challenges breaking down corporate silos for a concerted effort. Executive strategy, store operations, ecommerce initiatives, the IT department – each function had its own perspective and processes, and none of them worked together effectively. 

Key learning: Departments have to work toward a single objective. Channels have to deliver a single experience. And commerce operations must be streamlined.  

The More Things Change, the More They Stay Omni 

At a strategic level, smart retailers will embrace these omnichannel transitions: 

From omni to commerce – From the retailer’s point of view, omnichannel blurs the lines between channels. But from the customer’s point of view, there’s no blurring. 

In fact, there’s no omnichannel commerce; there’s just commerce. There’s no store channel or web channel or mobile channel; there’s just shopping. 

Customers see a brand, and it’s either difficult to interact with or easy to interact with. Retailers that view omnichannel not as discrete functions but as a single operational ecosystem will be the future omnichannel winners. 

From BOPIS to holistic – Retailers will increasingly implement omnichannel tactics such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), buy online, return to store (BORIS), ship from store and more. These approaches are no longer innovative; they’re table stakes. 

To make their omni options stand out, retailers should think of omnichannel as a buy-anywhere scenario. It started with ways to manage fulfillment. But now it’s about how and where customers want to engage with your brand. 

On a practical level, that requires taking a holistic view of inventory. Did you just cancel an ecommerce order, even though the merchandise is sitting somewhere else in your fulfillment network? Instead of buying for each channel, leverage existing inventory in every channel. 

From operational to experiential – Omnichannel began with operational issues, like how to fulfill orders. But now it’s about delivering a single, superior experience. 

So, promotions need to be coordinated across channels. Inventory needs to be exposed for endless-aisle shopping. Customer care needs to intelligently serve customers no matter where they are in their buying journey. You need a single view of your customers, and your customers need a single view of your brand. 

At a more tactical level, anticipate these changing omnichannel realities – and take steps to meet them head-on: 

Carrier costs climb – For the foreseeable future, shipping costs will rise. The solution is to get closer to the customer by leveraging your own store network or that of a retail partner. Instead of centralizing fulfillment centers, handle pick, pack and ship from local stores to lower shipping costs, decrease shipping times and offer convenience such as in-store pickup and curbside returns. 

You’re only as good as your peak – Stores weren’t built to be fulfillment facilities. Especially during peak season, you probably need dedicated fulfillment centers to meet demand. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t continually improve store fulfillment. Leverage historic data to make sure you have the people and processes you need for peak. For example, know when to prioritize BOPIS and when to focus on walk-ins. 

Mobile technology plays a big role in store-fulfillment efficiency. But it can also add complexity. Make sure devices and apps are easy for associates to access and use. The more you master mobile, the more your associates can offer an endless-aisle experience. 

Analytics are the omnichannel currency – In return for your investment in omni, you get a goldmine of customer data. You can capture customer location, ordering habits and fulfillment patterns. You can see where items are ordered from and shipped to. You can understand which merchandise is selling well in one market but not in another. And you’ll know how to replace higher-cost distribution centers with lower-cost, higher-return stores. 

Emerging technology like machine learning will increasingly play a role. That will take the guesswork out of forecasting and help you make more accurate, data-driven decisions. 

To take the next step toward your own omnichannel future, don’t just try to keep up with the competition. Instead, know the problem you’re trying to solve. Do some of your stores have low traffic? Do you need to relieve older inventory? Do you want to invest in customer-facing approaches like BOPIS or non-customer-facing processes like ship from store? The answers will dictate the investments in people, process and technology you need. 

Regardless of your business goals, place customer experience first. And remember that from the customer’s viewpoint, it’s not omnichannel. It’s just commerce. 

Sean Seraphin is head of partner enablement and operations and Theresa Raczkowski is senior solutions consultant for Radial.