Omni-channel commerce: Why half-baked strategies won't work

     

An effective omni-channel commerce system is something a company can't simply fake. One side effect of rapid technological and strategic shifts in enterprise environments is that some organizations (not naming names, of course) "talk the talk" without "walking the walk." It's not hard to find companies talking up their success in the cloud when their actual investment is limited to Gmail and Dropbox. There are many companies that push technological prowess as fundamental to their business model but still have their office Internet cut out all the time. In both of these scenarios there is some wiggle room. A business doesn't have to practice exactly what it preaches.

describe the imageOmni-channel commerce is different. For a lot of reasons. Chief among them are two important, interconnected things. The first is that a company isn't operating in the omni-channel alone. Other suppliers, vendors and logistics providers number among the potential hundreds of companies that comprise a large, global supply chain. The second is that customers are involved. More than anything else, clients and consumers keep a business honest. If an organization falls short of expectations during a critical time, it risks losing a potential or current client to a business that meets all demands.

Changing definitions for omni-channel commerce
What is becoming more of an issue is that a "critical time" is rapidly normalizing to become "all the time." Customers don't keep office hours. Since e-commerce sites and online stores are open 24/7, the businesses behind them has to be open, or at least figure out a way to construct some level of availability during off hours. Some businesses have come under criticism for having Twitter-based help accounts that are only open during business hours. While it makes sense in a traditional business sort of way, one does have to admit that there's some cognitive disconnect in seeing an active Twitter account that is "closed." Some dissatisfied Twitterers certainly see it that way.

Over time, these customers can become a prominent voice of discontent, potentially damaging an organization's reputation. While a B2B company may not have to contend with the same public complaints as a B2C business might, the expectations for availability are the same.


A need for speed - and quality
Compounding the 24/7 mentality is that expectations for accessibility, communication and problem-solving are rising, in terms of quality as well as in terms of speed. Doing well in both aspects simultaneously can be a challenge.

Consider a recent study by Omnico Group on challenges wrought by omni-channel commerce. It found that long checkout lines would, for more than 77 percent of survey respondents, decrease the likelihood they would return. That's a fairly sobering total, but given how accustomed people are to online shopping carts and saved financial and shipping information, it is not all that surprising. These consumers can take this attitude into their B2B commerce negotiations and buying practices as well. 

"Customers want technology solutions that join up the channels and transform the customer experience," said Bill Henry, chief executive officer for Omnico‚Äč Group. "Retailers that embrace omni-channel technology and offer seamless customer journeys to the shopper have a very bright future."

A centralizing force
Centralized omni-channel commerce can provide the simultaneous boost in speed and quality that companies need to satisfy the expectations of their current and potential customers. However, the only way to do it successfully is to actually do it - half measures simply won't cut it. It extends to every organization and team member involved. A single centralized supply chain or order management system provides a single data source that tracks e-commerce, supply chain and warehouse activity in real time, according to Power Retail contributor Mark Troselj. This software, if accessible to every member of the retail chain, acts as a way to track specific products, fulfill orders and manage inventory. It adds critical speed without sacrificing any quality.

"[T]his is just another variation on a familiar industry refrain - overcome inventory challenges or die," Troselj wrote. "Without a modern, real-time and technologically advanced omnichannel strategy, satisfying customers is all but impossible."

Why leverage IBM Sterling Order Management software
If an organization intends to establish and retain a top omni-channel solution, it pays to get some help. Uniting all stakeholders in the supply chain can be difficult, but the right solution can help establish a roadmap to a successful implementation. IBM Sterling Order Management software has helped many organizations meet their omni-channel expectations by improving inventory visibility and customer order fulfillment. It provides more transparency into the process of order management, as well as demystifies the tactics for any supply chain stakeholders who may be reticent about a data-centric software solution. 

Many people have had the experience of walking into a store and asking for a specific product, only to find that employees aren't equipped to answer questions or solve the problem without laborious effort. It's what happens when omni-channel commerce is a facade, and today's consumers can see right through it.

If you liked this article, check out others from Lightwell:

IBM study: Consumers willing to give personal data in exchange for value, experience

Omnichannel  retail and supply chain management lessons from the Sochi Olympics

Why IT needs to be part of your omnichannel retail strategy

Keeping up with the 'Omnis': Overcoming challenges in omnichannel retailing

3 Critical success factors for omnichannel retail

More omnichannel resources: