The world’s first omni-channel retail executive was probably me.
In 1999 (not a typo), in a shockingly rare moment of forward thinking and risk taking, Sears’ senior leadership decided to launch an enterprise-wide initiative to glean how e-commerce and digital technology would alter our business model and to design a strategy to meet customer needs “anytime, anywhere, anyway.”
Millions of dollars were allocated, full and part-time resources were assigned from various business and support functions, a big name consulting firm was hired to help with systems integration, governance structures were created, and yours truly was plucked from the relative obscurity of running a small division to become the Vice President of Multi-channel Development & Integration.
Over a 15 month period, our renegade bunch of retail futurists executed a ton of analysis, unearthed scary findings (we had over 200 different 1-800 numbers!), delivered PowerPoint presentations bursting with jargon and coined memorable catch-phrases (my favorite: “silos belong on farms”). We also gained a deep appreciation for the barriers erected by organizations steeped in product and channel-centric thinking and behavior.
Once we wrapped up our work–and having blown through something like $7 million– we couldn’t point to many immediate high ROI recommendations. But our work did lead to an acceleration of investment in sears.com, building systems to create a single view of the customer and the formation of a central CRM group that yielded a lot of actionable customer insight. We also developed the confidence to make pioneering investments in critical cross-channel capabilities such as ordering on-line and picking up in-store.
Personally I gained a very firm understanding of what is required to design a customer-centric strategy and implement a frictionless, channel-agnostic experience–which I was able to leverage once I moved on to the Neiman Marcus Group and in the years since I’ve been a consultant.
The purpose of this story, however, is not to regale you with my multi-channel bona fides.
The real point is that despite all the recent fervor around omni-channel this and omni-channel that, if you were really paying attention at any time during the past ten years or so, it has been blindingly obvious that digital technology was going to dramatically change the retail customer experience.
If you were really paying attention, you would know that Sears (and others) were publicly discussing the higher spend and engagement rates of multiple channels shoppers as early as 2003.
If you were really paying attention, you would know that companies like Nordstrom have been investing heavily in channel integration technology and processes for nearly a decade.
So if you are just starting to take customer-centricity seriously now–if you are peppering your earnings reports, industry conference presentations and investor meetings with little anecdotes about cross-channel customer behavior and the omni-channel blur as if this all just started happening–all this proves is that you were not paying enough attention years ago. One has to wonder what other game-changing stuff you are years behind on.
Of course as Seth reminds us: “The best time to start was a while ago. The second best time to start is today.”
Leading through innovation starts first with awareness. Which needs to be followed with acceptance.
It’s a choice what you decide to pay attention to. And it’s a choice to act and to act boldly. Ultimately nothing matters without action.
It’s later than you think.