Being Remarkable · Customer Experiece · Customer Growth Strategy · Frictionless commerce · Holiday Sales · Omni-channel · Winning on Experience

Omni-channel’s migration dilemma: Holiday edition

Last year I wrote a post about what I called retail’s “omni-channel migration dilemma” wherein I observed that while the deployment of so-called omni-channel strategies–i.e. making it easier for consumers to shop anytime, anywhere, anyway–improves the customer experience immensely, the outcomes for most retailers were, thus far, not quite so wonderful.

At the heart of this argument were three core points:

  • With few exceptions, omni-channel retailers’ total revenues remain essentially flat, meaning that robust growth online is mostly cannabilizing brick & mortar sales;
  • In many cases, the profitability of e-commerce is actually worse than a physical store sale. This is particularly true for lower transaction value players like Walmart and Target.
  • In their quest to become “all things omni-channel”, retailers are investing enormous sums–and in some cases–getting distracted from arguably higher value-added activities.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to understand that spending a lot of money to end up–if you’re lucky–with basically the same total revenue at a lower margin is not exactly a genius strategy. But this is where we find Macy’s and many other retailers right now.

The omni-channel frenzy around the holiday shopping season only shines a harsher light on the issue. By launching sales earlier and earlier, by pushing deep discount events like Cyber Monday and by offering free shipping pretty much throughout the season, the tilt toward online sales is exacerbated and margins continue to shrink. Consumers win through great deals. And retailers lose, as overall sales are likely to go absolutely nowhere.

Now some have argued that omni-channel is ruining retail. They are wrong. They’re wrong not only because it is pointless to fight reality, but also because efforts that are fundamentally rooted in the desire to improve the customer experience are rarely misguided. The key is not to confuse necessary with sufficient, nor “the what” with “the how.”

So we should not get distracted by analysts who try to extrapolate one or two days of sales as part of some trend.

And we should bear in mind that online sales for most omni-channel retailers remain far less than 10% of their total business. So even healthy e-commerce growth is not likely to offset seemingly small declines in physical stores sales. You don’t have to trust me on this. Do the math.

But mostly we should remember that the story is not about all things omni-channel, nor what happens on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or the few weeks that comprise the holiday shopping season.

It IS about which retailers are breaking through the sea of sameness with remarkable product AND a remarkable experience. It is about which retailers are eliminating friction for the consumers that matter the most in the places that matter most. It is about which retailers are eschewing one-size-fits-all strategies in favor of a “treat different customers differently” philosophy. It is about retailers that know where to focus and how to properly sequence their omni-channel initiatives, not blindly chase everything some consultant has pitched them.

Clearly, the future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed.

Don’t be blinded by the hype.

Amplify · Being Remarkable · Brand Marketing · Customer Experiece · Frictionless commerce

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff

We live in a world of expanding choice. A world where–if we are fortunate enough to have the money–almost anything can be purchased from almost anywhere in the world almost anytime we want. With the smart phone as a growing (and often omnipresent) access point, the web provides the portal to nearly infinite information and virtually unlimited products and services.

At one level this is a consumer bonanza. Limited data can now rarely be seen as a barrier to purchase. Prices are down, selection is up. A click replaces waiting until the store opens. Products come to us, rather than us going to them. Consumers are empowered in ways never thought imaginable.

Yet, more and more, we are faced with a tsunami of stuff. A bewildering array of seemingly undifferentiated products. Look-alike websites and marketing schemes. In-boxes chock-a-block with one-size-fits-all promotions. Spam, spam, spam, spam.

This growing mass of information and options–often combined with unrelenting interruption marketing–can be overwhelming. When the distracted consumer is the norm and it becomes increasingly harder to separate the signal from the noise, more is often less.

As our customers’ world grows ever noisier our reflexive response is often to dial things up to 11. Resist that urge.

The new battle ground is for share of attention. And we earn and command attention not through shouting louder than everyone else, throwing more at the wall to see what sticks or defaulting to using price as the only arrow in our quiver.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to know more about our customers than the competition and to turn that insight into intensely relevant products and experiences.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to eschew mass marketing techniques and to move aggressively toward more personalization and customization.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to embrace editing and curation as a fundamental competency.

The antidote to a tsunami of stuff is to ruthlessly root out the friction in our customer experience and to distort those things we wish to amplify to the truly remarkable.

11

HT to Barry Schwartz and his TED talk on the The Paradox of Choice  

Being Remarkable · Customer Experiece · Customer Growth Strategy · Innovation · Marketing · Omni-channel

Send in the clones

How’s this for an idea?

Let’s sell products that are pretty much identical to everything else that’s already out there in the market.

And then let’s employ advertising that is virtually indistinguishable from our competition.

Every week we’ll have big sales–and if you’re really crafty, you can use our coupons to save even more!

Sign-up to be on our email list and we’ll give you 10% off your next purchase. And then, just about every day, we’ll send you an email highlighting some of our me-too products while also reminding you how much you can save.

Be a good customer and we’ll throw in free shipping. Oh, you hardly ever buy from us? No worries, you get free shipping too!

We’re all omni-channel and what not, so of course we’ll have e-commerce. And our site will look like every other site. We want you to feel comfortable.

Oh, you didn’t buy just now when you were on our website? That’s cool, we’ll just keep serving up ads on Facebook and everywhere else you go on the internet. Hope you don’t mind the little interruption.

And, after we do all this and we don’t get the sales we want, we’ll just launch a “loyalty” program that–wait for it–rewards you with gift cards so you save even more!

As silly as this sounds, it’s the play book for many retailers. They continue to swim in a sea of sameness. Most often, their default mode is to compete on price because, faced with a paucity of actual difference, it’s the only thing that seems to drive sales.

Unfortunately, the fact is most categories aren’t growing faster than the rate of inflation. The fact is most consumers have more choices than they can possibly sort through and make sense of. The fact is share of attention is the new battleground. The fact is almost all price wars end badly. The fact is any real growth needs to come from stealing share.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. And it may seem safe.

Yet the fact is it is just the opposite.

seth

Customer Experiece · Customer Insight · Customer-centric · Innovation · Omni-channel

Pretending it’s new

When some leaders wake up to reality, when they slowly start to notice that things are in fact meaningfully different from how they were before, we often witness a self-absorbed, I’ve just found Jesus and I need to tell you all about it, kind of thing take over.

“Consumers who shop multiple channels are more valuable than single channel customers” they breathlessly announce at conferences.

“Stop thinking about e-commerce as a channel” becomes the title of a newly released white-paper.

“We need to differentiate ourselves on experience” the CEO implores a group of assembled executives.

Suddenly everything is about “seamless”and “omni-channel” and “the single view of the customer.”  Their sentences start to include a disquieting use of “integration”, “customer-centric” and “relevance.” Investor presentations and annual reports turn into games of buzz-word bingo.

I hate to drag you out of your pink cloud, but just because you took a long time to notice, doesn’t mean it’s a recent phenomenon. Responding energetically to a totally foreseeable crisis does not make you a great leader.

Pretending it’s new may prop up our ego or cast ourselves in a better light. Better late than never, huh?

Pretending it’s new may buy ourselves some time with a less than savvy Board. What they don’t know can’t hurt them, right?

Much of what passes for insight today has in fact been known for years if only we had taken the time to become aware, confront its import and accept the implications. It’s not new and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Of course, neither is this.

Now obviously we can’t go back and fix all the should of’s and could have’s.

But we can ask ourselves what of potential importance might we be missing right now?

We can go into understanding what our fear causes us to avoid.

We can accept that often our pretending creates the illusion of keeping us safe.

Being Remarkable · Bricks and Mobile · Customer Experiece · Customer-centric · Digital · Frictionless commerce · Omni-channel

Digital first retail

Many traditional retailers are already living in a “digital first” world. If your brand isn’t quite there yet, it’s likely only a matter of time–a short time.

Digital first means that even if the customer ultimately buys in a brick & mortar location, their journey starts online.

Digital first means that the primary way prospective customers learn about your brand is through your website, social media or online peer-to-peer reviews.

Digital first means whether the customer comes to your store for a particular transaction or not is determined by how well your online or mobile presence meets their needs in a highly relevant and compelling way.

Digital first means that holding on to the customer relationships that matter is largely determined by how well your digital tools eliminate customer experience friction and are rooted in a treat different customers differently philosophy.

Digital first means that the way your customers activate their passion for your company and become true brand ambassadors is primarily by sharing their remarkable experiences via their smartphones, tablets and other digital devices.

Digital first retail profoundly changes the way we engage customers, the way we deploy technology and the way we re-envision the physical store experience. It causes us to break down our silo-ed thinking and organizations to put the customer at the center of everything we do.

It’s not easy.

It’s not inexpensive.

It’s not without risk.

But frankly we have no other choice but to embrace it and get on with it.

And I’d hurry if I were you.

Brand Marketing · Customer Experiece · Customer-centric · Omni-channel

Epic battles of history: customer vs. channel

Because virtually all retailers have historically organized themselves around their sales channels, there is major conflict.

Because customer data typically resides in silos, a mighty struggle exists to provide a holistic, customer-centric view.

Because systems are not integrated, attempts to provide a seamless customer experience are fraught with friction.

Because companies most often employ metrics and incentives that are aligned against internal dynamics, rather than the way customers shop, tensions abound.

As the channels evaporate in consumer’s minds, the battle between what your customer wants, needs and expects, and that which your various silo chieftains and defenders of the status quo try to hold onto, is intensifying.

To be sure, the shift from a channel-centric culture to a customer-centric one is incredibly difficult. The investments to integrate data, inventory, point of sale systems and supply chains can be enormous. The complexities in reworking incentive structures and performance tracking are undoubtedly time-consuming and challenging. And re-mapping processes and re-training an entire organization is hardly trivial.

But in the battle between customer and channel is there any question which side will ultimately win?

Being Remarkable · Customer Experiece · Customer Growth Strategy · Multi-channel · Omni-channel · Retail

Small is the new stupid

With e-commerce continuing to grow far faster than brick & mortar sales–and already comprising more than 10% of many brands’ total revenues–the implication seems to be that retailers need far fewer stores and that future locations should be considerably smaller. After all, simple math tells us that with shrinking physical store sales, average productivity will decline, thereby making each remaining store less profitable. Moreover, the logic goes, it is much smarter to offer a wider range of products via the web owing to the efficiencies of centralized inventory and the like.

In fact, the folks on Wall Street seem to think that this is not only obvious, but it is the only way for retailers to be successful in this brave new omni-channel world. Be careful what you wish for.

While it is quite apparent that, in aggregate, most North American and Western European markets are over-stored, it is dangerous for an individual retailer to assume that aggressively shrinking their physical footprint is the pathway to success. For one thing, for most brands, physical stores help drive the web business–and vice versa. Closing stores and editing assortments too ruthlessly can drive down brand preference and market share, which ultimately is likely to reflect negatively on total profitability.

But the biggest challenge for most retailers and their brick & mortar strategy is how to remain relevant and remarkable in a blended channel world and how to create compelling reasons for customers to traffic their stores when so much of everything is readily available on the web, often at a lower price.

The quest to get small through the relentless pursuit of store productivity tends to drive brands to carry only their known best sellers. The victims of this strategy are the new, the interesting, the differentiated. If stores are reduced to selling only the safe bets–only average products for the average customer–then the internet becomes the best way to discover the remarkable. Alternatively, specialty stores may emerge to attack the market opportunity vacated by the bigger chains, who keep planing the edges of what they carry to “optimize the box”.

Either way, a get smaller strategy may only serve to make a brand’s brick & mortar stores all that much less interesting and accelerate an already precarious position into a downward spiral.

Surely, for some retailers, a rationalization of their store portfolio is overdue and a radical re-think of their physical store model is an urgent and important need. Sadly, for others, getting small will only turn out to be incredibly stupid.

 

Customer Experiece · Marketing

But it works . . .

Challenge some seemingly dubious strategy and you’re likely to get this sort of response: “Yeah, I know, but it works….”

Of course we send a lot of email, but every time we increase the frequency we see higher marginal sales.

I know charging for internet access seems crazy, but have you seen the growth in our ancillary revenue?

Raising late fees seems annoying, but our “other income” line is our biggest growth area.

Sure “enhanced interrogation techniques” don’t seem right, but just look at all the actionable intelligence we’ve gained. 

Often times the problem with the “but it works” answer is that it’s defined from a single, short-term point of view.

The person charged with email campaign effectiveness doesn’t notice that Net Promoter Scores are declining and opt-out rates are increasing among critically important customer segments.

The manager tasked with growing revenue per room, isn’t the same one paying attention to repeat booking rates.

The VP charged with driving credit card fee income isn’t responsible for customer retention and cardholder satisfaction.

Those with the singular purpose of stopping the next terrorist attack can’t fathom the broad-ranging impact of trashing our values and many other unintended consequences.

If you’re going to default to the “but it works” defense, it’s important to define your terms and take a holistic view. Plenty of things appear effective when seen from a single perspective.

And just because it’s effective doesn’t make it right.

 

 

Being Remarkable · Brand Marketing · Customer Experiece · Customer Growth Strategy · Me-tail · Personalization

No customer wants to be average

It’s only when our experience is terrible that we’d settle for average treatment. But what customer truly wants to be average?

average person

Most of the time, we hope brands know us, show us they know us and show us they value us.

And to do that, companies need to break out of a one-size-fits-all paradigm.

It’s not easy. Which is why so many stores are still filled with average products for average people and our mailboxes–virtual and otherwise–are chock-a-bloc with largely irrelevant pitches and promotions.

It also feels safe, even though it’s anything but. Relying on newspaper circulars and big TV ad campaigns and “Super Saturdays” and the same promotional calendar we ran last year, may bathe us in the warm water of familiarity, but more and more mass marketing strategies are delivering less and less.

Getting closer to the customer–making the choice to treat different customers differently–needs to be more than a slogan. It means busting the silos that get in the way of a unified and seamless experience. It means investing in deeper customer insight and the tools and techniques to deliver progressively more personalized interactions. It means embracing a test and learn mentality.

Mostly, it means radical acceptance of the reality that, for most brands, the only way to grow faster than average is to eschew the average.

 

Being Remarkable · Brand Marketing · Customer Experiece

A-Always, B-Be, C-Connecting

Perhaps you know this scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross (NSFW).

It’s a classic, not only for Alec Baldwin’s genius performance, but because of what it reveals about our own truth and experience with being sold and marketed to.

By now, we should realize that the pressure tactics revealed in the play and the movie rarely work. And they certainly don’t lead to building trusted long-term relationships.

Yet, many sales people, particularly those on commission, engage in this sort of hunt and kill mentality all the time.

Yet, non-profits relentlessly pitch donations way before we’ve gotten to understand the cause, the work and the lasting impact.

Yet, brand marketers bludgeon us with mass price promotions with little regard to understanding the unique needs and wants of their audiences.

Most people think it’s crazy to talk about getting married on the first date. But many of us engage in similar behavior through our jobs all the time.

Brands, whether they are focused on changing the world or maximizing shareholder value, become powerful when they establish and grow trust through mutually beneficial interactions over time.

If your focus is on closing, it’s easy to erode or destroy any trust that might have been established. If your focus is on engaging, learning, connecting, the opportunity to build something relevant,remarkable and powerful begins to emerge.

Always. Be. Connecting.