Omni-channel Retail Forum Breakfast – September 2013

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Omni-channel Retail Forum Breakfast – September 2013

Late entrants into the Omni world were Walmart but they are now disruptive thinkers, considering the store estate an asset to support Omni-channel, not a burden on the P&L. It is reported they are even trialling store customers, delivering to online customers, for a discount on their shopping. The Harvey Nash CIO Survey shows that the innovation gap is widening, this is the difference between innovation potential and achievement.

At today’s forum we discussed Omni-channel innovation and how to effectively operationalize the innovation.

The discussion started off with how innovation, led by technology, can actually be detrimental and lead to reduced staff and customer interaction. So the challenge is how to get staff to provide the right kind of interaction with customers at the various touch points. Generation Y colleagues respond to very different communication styles, that are more Facebook in feeling. And it was suggested that in the same way businesses use advisory boards they should have user boards so that the business is really focused on the needs of the customer.

This led on to the point that technology is only the enabler of new channels and new ways of interacting with customers. Interesting that in the publishing field the online versions provide information on what is actually being read and so content is now reader driven. And in the transport area the convenience of smart tickets poses its own problems, as innovation takes time to embed, as time has to be taken to educate the customer on how to use it. But convenience, solution driven innovation, gives the ultimate competitive advantage. The importance of providing a consistent experience across all channels, and providing a solution to customers, will give genuine competitor advantage. This was evidenced through the House of Fraser example where the integration of web, app, click n’ collect etc. provided convenience and so loyalty.

One of the big challenges is simply the amount of data available, so that data analytics, customer segmentation and understanding the customer journey becomes ever more important. Whether, it is structuring the content of a newspaper to be accessible by interest or sector, or understanding that a young fashion shopper does not want to shop in Malls but on a more individual High Street.

On top of this is the element of speed of response. Gone are the days of the four season fashion model. Now Zara store managers will report best sellers through a hand-held, the design will be refined and manufactured, to be back in stock in four weeks.

And one final thought. In Russia, shoppers are uncomfortable making online transactions, so the courier waits outside while the customer tries on clothes purchases. When I started in retailing, we delivered stock on approval and COD (cash on delivery). This just goes to show, there is nothing new in retailing, as long as we remember that the customer is always right.


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