Right now, the retail industry is very fond of saying that omnichannel marketing is dead. Although I tend to agree with the general consensus, “omnichannel marketing” in the true sense of the term isn’t going away, but the discussion we have around it needs to be refocused.
Instead of telling everyone that omnichannel marketing is dead, what we’re really trying to communicate is that all of these different channels are really just one channel. There is still a role for it to play in the modern retail industry. Let me explain.
What is Omnichannel?
The term omnichannel references how a retail brand connects with consumers across ecommerce and in-store to create one cohesive brand experience. Instead of viewing all of the different ways that consumers interact with a brand as different channels brought together through one omnichannel strategy, retailers are now realizing that to consumers, every mode of interaction is one facet of the larger brand channel.
Let’s take a look at how we got to here in the retail industry and strategies we can employ to overcome it.
How Omnichannel Retailing Became the Norm
In 1991, the National Science Foundation officially lifted a ban on commercial businesses operating over the (then nascent) internet, which allowed brands to start officially exploring ecommerce as revenue source. As ecommerce grew, retail businesses built out online/ecommerce divisions of their enterprises. Although this worked as a quick fix, the two departments developed as separate business units with different visions for physical and digital stores.
This is where the concept of omnichannel marketing started to gain popularity; it forced retailers think about their online and in-store presence as one cohesive business unit for marketing, advertising and sales.
However, calling this merger of the two worlds omnichannel is incorrect. Bichannel (or two) was the proper term that implied the combination of the two business units: online and in-store.
If you fast-forward to present day, we’re actually living in a what should be considered an omnichannel world, where consumers can search for and purchase from a retailer online, in-store, through Amazon, on Facebook, Instagram, etc. The buyer journey is more and more fragmented than ever from a retailer’s perspective, but consumers have the most access to brands at all times, which is a win for them. Today’s buyers are likely to interact with a retailer in many different ways that affect a sale. Omnichannel as a term technically now encompasses the multitude of channels that it originally promised, but it’s still not quite right.
Retail Marketers Need to Stop Looking Internally and Start Looking Externally
A retailer’s customers don’t see them as an omnichannel brand with an in-store and ecommerce offering; they just see the brand, completely agnostic of the platform or site. So today, creating a truly connected brand experience across channels starts with thinking about the customer, how they operate and who they are as a person.
At this year’s ShopTalk event in Las Vegas, Faisal Masud, CTO at Staples, did a session on this subject. Retail brands always talk about omnichannel solutions but forget that customers don’t work in this parlance. “Omnichannel means everything to retail but nothing to customers,” Masud said.
Great marketing empowers consumers across channels. Upstarts like Casper and Warby Parker have shown that there is no barrier to entry for retail companies if they take the ecommerce route, and they’re making the experience easy and flexible for the consumer. Not only are they beating more traditional brands at their own game, but they’re some of the most innovative retailers in market today. These are modern-day examples of businesses in the retail industry being omnichannel from the start. They never knew a different world.
They’re also changing consumer behavior; customers are now expecting to have brand messaging that speaks to them. The focus has to stop being so inward and start going outward: How do you provide a consistent story in everything you do.
Who is doing this well? Home Depot
Silos Are Destroying Big Retailers
The bigger retail brands are still just trying to bring together channels internally, which doesn’t solve the issue. If they recognize that everything needs to start with the customer, then instead of figuring out how the organization fits into the customer journey, the question becomes: How does the customer journey shape the organization?
The retail industry need to figure out how to generate the lifetime value conversation with the customer on a consistent basis. Staples has taken this idea to heart, and Masud expanded on how the organization is using customer-centric strategy to break down silos.
Although it would be a great accomplishment, Staples isn’t interested in being the biggest online retailer in the market. Instead, Staples’ main focus is to be an extension of their customers’ offices, which led to them breaking down its organizational silos, allowing for greater flexibility across the company.
“Staples is now one organization doing everything instead of in silos,” Masud said. “The strategy should not be to send people to stores or online, but just allow them to transact more easily.”
This can be seen in Staples early commitment to Purchases on Google, where the company has 95 percent of its products listed.
Our world is actually more omnichannel than it ever has been before, but the term itself brings too much baggage for today’s retailers to truly create innovative marketing plans for today. Instead of thinking about how to bring the channels together, retail marketers need to think about their core customer and how they interact with your brand. This way, your customer becomes the channel instead of trying to reach them across channels. Omnichannel marketing now refers to a more customer-centric approach, and the retail industry is starting to join the discussion.