It’s an omni-channel world we’re told, where consumers are shopping anytime, anywhere, anyway. Rarely separated from their smart devices, our customers are one search or one click or, very soon, one buy button away from transacting wherever they happen to be. If we aren’t a ubiquitous presence anywhere and everywhere we not only risk losing out on that sale, we are likely at the start of a sad, inexorable march to the retail graveyard.
The staunch proponents of all things omni-channel have advanced a narrative that argues that every brand needs to sell in every possible channel, that millions must be invested to become seamless and integrated (whatever that means) as fast as possible and that unless a retailer is everywhere, it really is nowhere.
At one level it’s hard to argue with the thrust of this argument. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that the most fervent omni-channel advocates have financial interests in convincing retail brands to adopt their way of thinking.
There is no question that we have seen–and continue to witness–powerful shifts in consumer behavior. More and more, the blended channel is the only channel. The moments that matter in most consumers’ decision journeys are becoming profoundly different and that requires virtually every brand to fundamentally re-think how they engage with their customers.
There is also no question that a blind quest to be seamlessly integrated in all aspects of the enterprise is mostly a license to waste money. Chasing the bright and shiny objects of social media, all things mobile or “bringing the digital experience to your store” is more often a distraction in search of a strategy. The future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed and that means that one-size-fits-all strategies will not work.
What retail brands need is focused ubiquity. It’s great to adopt an “anytime, anywhere, anyway” rallying cry and to pray to the god of seamless integration. But once you say the right things at your Board or industry analyst meeting it’s time to drop the platitudes and make a plan.
A focused ubiquity strategy requires the following:
Adopt a “treat different customers differently” mindset. Some customers are more equal than others. Omni-channel investments need to be prioritized against a clear view of the needs and wants of your most valuable customers and prospects. If you lack sufficient customer insight, get to work on that before you throw big money and time at complicated IT projects and process re-design work.
Identify the “moments that matter.” Just as all customers aren’t equal, all customer interactions aren’t either. Relationships start, grow and stop in a myriad of ways and your mileage will vary when it comes to where the ultimate leverage is.
Understand digital’s impact on brick & mortar sales. Stop thinking about e-commerce as a sales channel and start thinking about how all digital channels drive physical stores sales (and vice versa). I’ve yet to work with a retailer who hasn’t under-estimated the interplay between digital and physical sales, and few had a good handle on the most damaging sources of customer experience friction.
Conduct a friction audit. Armed with a clearer sense of how your brand’s actions drive awareness, acquisition, growth, retention and advocacy among critical customer cohorts, understand where friction in the customer experience arises, estimate the cost of this friction and build a prioritized road-map to address the most critical elements.
Develop an amplification strategy. The friction audit mostly focuses efforts to stem customer defection and improve conversion rates. It doesn’t necessarily create long-term competitive advantage. To do that–again, armed with a clear sense of “who’s if for?”–you need to create amplification points. These elements of your value proposition are the places where your brand can be truly remarkable–remarkable in the sense of clear competitive differentiation, intense customer relevance and the willingness of your best customers to spread the word.
It often seems like human nature to try to be all things to all people, at least until we hit a point of utter exhaustion and/or the money runs out. This is the danger inherent in a “get omni-channel fast” strategy that so many retailer brands have seemed to adopt.
Adopting a focused ubiquity strategy acknowledges the anytime, anywhere, anyway world we find ourselves in. It also accepts the reality that few, if any, brands have the financial capacity or the human resources to do everything well at once.