What does omni-channel really mean and are we ready for it?

     

iStock_000032837572_Large-1It might go by several different names, but the bottom-line concept is the same: Omni-channel (cross-channel or integrated commerce, as it is sometimes known) is something that merchants must be ready for in order to achieve success in the marketplace. But what does it actually mean to be omni-channel ready?

In a recent piece for RIS News, contributor Ken Silay noted that within the past few years, the name associated with an omni-channel approach might of have changed, but the general idea hasn't. It seems, though, that many retailers might not be ready for a true omni-channel strategy.

"The poster child for omni-channel has been buy online, pickup in-store," Silay wrote. "It is entirely conceivable to connect the online channel with the store channel to send a message that says a customer will be in to pick up that striped shirt. However, when the customer arrives at the store, is the inventory accuracy and in-store procedures solid and timely enough to deliver customer satisfaction or are they disappointed?"

Defining omni-channel commerce

Silay pointed out that with the emergence of mobile checkout, omni-channel was born. Although it was first known as cross-channel, then omni-channel (and some groups are now referring to it as "integrated commerce,"), each phrase has a common definition.

Silay noted that according to a Motorola Solutions white​ paper, omni-channel commerce can be defined as a strategy in which "connected customers can shop for and purchase the same items across many different channels, in a retail store, on their home or laptop computers and perhaps most importantly on their connected mobile devices which allow them to shop online for virtually anything, virtually anywhere."

In this way, a true omni-channel approach calls for considerable responsiveness and connectivity omnichannellightwellamong a store's physical and online channels. If customers are not able to purchase something from their mobile phones and have it shipped, or pick it up in a store location within a certain timeframe, the company isn't truly omni-channel.

Are we really ready for omni-channel?

Although there are some firms out there that boast a true omni-channel strategy, many businesses aren't ready for the challenges this approach can bring. According to a recent Forbes survey commissioned by JDA Software, 83 percent of organizations admitted that their current supply chains were not optimized for the demands of omni-channel.

The study also found that many company CEOs are unsure as to what kind of impact omni-channel will have on their business - if there will be an effect at all. In fact, only 22 percent of administrators think omni-channel will affect their company, and 34 percent think the commerce strategy could pose a threat to their organization.

Only one-third of enterprises thought boosted distribution capacity and improved supply chain management - achievable through an omni-channel commerce strategy - could prove to be a key driver of revenue growth. Instead, many groups are focusing on traditional growth approaches, including expanding into new markets.

How can we become omni-channel ready?

Little do these groups know the benefits and company growth that can come with a true omni-channel approach to commerce. Instead of counting on separate online and brick-and-mortar channels, businesses can link and intertwine these to ensure that they are accessible to customers from every angle. Here are a few ways to make this happen:

  • Integrate online and in-person: Take a page from the book of other retailers and offer the ability to pick out items online and have them ready for purchasing in the store. Many customers would buy virtually everything online if they could, but shipping times can sometimes pose a problem. To address this, vendors can allow consumers to do their shopping online via their computer or mobile device and have in-store employees grab items off the shelf and have them bagged and ready to go when the customer walks in. In these respects, proper supply chain and warehouse management is key - if the shopper picks something out online, the store should have it in stock.
  • Test things out through a customer's perspective: Before letting customers have at the company's omni-channel offerings, each aspect should be tested out from the shoppers' point of view. Marketo​'s Mike Stocker suggested using testing in and outside of the company to make sure that every customer has the best experience possible.

    "Regularly review the experience your customers go through in order to research, purchase and connect with your products," Stocker wrote. "Test the experience by placing orders, interacting via all available channels, submitting a support case and more."

Use big data for a customized experience: One of the best ways to interact with customers is to offer them something that they truly want. And with all the big data floating around the cybersphere, this is more possible now than ever before. Stocker advised using customers' purchasing history and other information to offer customizable suggestions. Then, be sure to include ways to purchase these items across multiple channels - in-store or online.

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