Having spent the past ten years or so driving customer-centric growth and marketing strategies at places like Neiman Marcus, Sears and Lands’ End, I used to say there were two types of retailers: those that embraced an integrated multi-channel model and those that operated in multiple channels, but treated the channels as largely independent entities.
Today, despite ample evidence of customers’ researching online before going to stores, or shopping physical locations to then go home and order in the comfort of their own homes, we still see many businesses with limited channel integration. In fact, a major player like Pier One actually shut down their e-commerce operation for several years because they somehow thought it wasn’t core to their strategy. They have since come to their senses.
But after many years of pontificating on the power of a seamless, integrated multi-channel experience, I think it may be time to move away from the term multi-channel integration–which by now should be table stakes for any half-way competent retailer–to something that aims for a higher plane and a chance to be truly remarkable in your customer growth strategy.
My new favorite term is: channel agnostic, which I first heard the leadership of JC Penney espouse.
What’s powerful to me about this term, is that it really puts the customer first. It says as a brand we don’t care which channel you gather your research in, which channel you buy from and which channel you return in, we’re there to make it happen for you. If we are out of stock in our store, we will jump on our point of sale system, find it at another store (or on the web) and ship it your home if you like. “Integration” is nice–as if we just want to prove to the customer that we actually talk to each other, but ultimately it’s passive.
So how different would your company be if it really embraced the notion of being “channel agnostic?” Would your marketing change? Would your assortments? Would your return policy? How about the information that your sales associates have at the store? In the customer service center?
And if you find that the changes would be significant, then the real question is: would making those changes make your strategy more remarkable, allowing you to better engage, grow and retain customers in the new battle for market share?