Navigating the future of omni-channel retailing

Customers are increasingly expecting unified experience when they engage with retail brands, but many Australian organisations are struggling to catch up

When ecommerce burst across the Internet in the late 1990s, it was natural to see it as something new and different. Traditional retailers regarded pure-play online competitors as alien invaders, and those who set up a clicks-and-mortar model often did so using separate divisions with unique tools and processes.

But as retailers gain maturity in their omni-channel ambitions, many are finally coming to realise customers don’t perceive them as a separate group of channels, but as a single brand.

Meeting consumer demands for a unified experience means bringing together systems and processes across different channels, and is increasingly leading to the same tools being applied across all. For progressive retailers, the future is not an omni-channel experience, but a unified one – perhaps better described uni-channel.

“This idea of a universal experience, or experiential commerce, is becoming the focus of retailers,” says David Geisinger, retail innovations and product marketing chief for the Magento commerce platform. “And it’s not because retail had the idea, it’s because that’s what consumers are forcing retail to work towards.

“As shoppers, we don’t think of shopping as a channel experience. We think of it as a brand experience.”

Customer expectation of their experience in store is the same as they expect online, across activities such as access to inventory, product knowledge, and ease of check out. At the same time, the information regarding a customer that is resident in CRM and ecommerce systems should also be available to floor staff in a store environment.

“Consumers are demanding much more relevancy and personalisation, which they historically have received online with recommendation engines and digital commerce platforms,” Geisinger says. “But that hasn’t translated in store.”

Winning over with experience

One company running with the concept of a unified experience is Winning Group, which picked up the award for Best Customer Experience for its Appliances Online pure-play online retailer at last year’s World Retail Awards.

Chief executive, John Winning, says the win was the direct result of leanings he gained working with his father in his family’s century old retailer, Winning Appliances.

“We aim to offer the same high level of customer experience across every business and channel of the Group, whether that’s online or offline,” he says. “Some of the learnings acquired through our online presence are universal and can be applied to every channel used by the Group, however, there are obviously some insights specific to an online experience.

“As online involves less face-to-face interaction, we try to replicate the traditional service found in a store in a modern context, by offering 360-degree imaging and product videos, 24/7 customer support and live chat.”

Winning says the company’s CRM integrates Web analytics, point of sale/ERP information and phone interactions between all channels to deliver a single customer view. This is currently being rolled out to customer service representatives.

“This single view has allowed our marketing teams to better understand the customer lifecycle and whether they are focussing on replacement or renovation requirements, as the businesses within the Winning Group attract different customers,” he says.

Unifying channel experiences is being picked up by other Australian retailers, such as Magento customer, Harvey Norman. Long criticised for its cautious adoption of online retailing, Harvey Norman is now showing progressive thinking in its desire to translate the benefits that customers experience online into its stores.

Chief digital officer, Gary Wheelhouse, says customers have embraced the more extensive inventory they can access online, along with the site’s live chat function. Chat staff have immediate electronic access to information regarding all of Harvey Norman’s product range, including availability – something floor staff can’t currently match.

The goal now is to bring the two experiences together, starting with improved training for floor staff. But that is just the beginning.

“In our mind, we still have a lot to do in terms of getting the salesperson in the store into the ecosystem that we’ve built,” Wheelhouse says. “Without giving too much away, the logical thing is you look to try and understand how you make your people more mobile.”

Whether that will lead to Harvey Norman sales staff patrolling stores with tablets in hand, Wheelhouse won’t say. But the strategy will focus on eliminating tasks where the customer experiences ‘friction’ – finding a product, finding someone to help them, and standing in a queue waiting to pay. None of these tasks create friction online. So far this has led to the rollout of electronic receipts, but Wheelhouse says much more can be done.

“We think we are a good way down the road in giving online customers those things that they love about stores, and that is great product range and the ability to be able to talk to somebody,” he says. “But the reverse of that – trying to give customers in store the things they love about online - that’s hard.

“They are nice big problems to solve. But when we do solve them, we are seeing good traffic to stores.”

UP next: How to bridge the gap Australian retailers still face in providing consistent experience across retail channels

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

Launch marketing council Episode 5: Retailer and supplier

In our fifth and final episode, we delve into the relationship between retailer and supplier and how it drives and influences launch marketing strategies and success. To do that, we’re joined by Campbell Davies, group general manager of Associated Retailers Limited, and Kristin Viccars, marketing director A/NZ, Apex Tool Group. Also featured are Five by Five Global managing director, Matt Lawton, and CMO’s Nadia Cameron.

More Videos

Great read. I agree that it should be a perfect balance between interacting with your customers and knowing your brand. As a business, yo...

Caroline Scott

7 ways CMOs can improve their customer engagement game

Read more

Very true. Team development helps improve collaboration among the team members. I was able to improve my team's collaboration skills by t...

Quent Sinder

Why empowering others can help make you a great leader

Read more

CRM is a very good software that can help you succeed in your business. In my company, this system has allowed me to improve customer rel...

Anna Janicka

Sensis rebrands to Thryv and brings business software to Australian SMBs

Read more

AI Leasing Assistants have finally arrived for the multifamily industry. With so many to choose from it can be hard to figure out which i...

Alice Labs Pte. Ltd.

CMO's top 8 martech stories for the week - 6 May 2021

Read more

Nowadays, when everything is being done online, it is good to know that someone is trying to make an improvement. As a company, you are o...

Marcus

10 lessons Telstra has learnt through its T22 transformation

Read more

Blog Posts

Why if marketing is all you do, you’ll never be very good at it

OK, so you’re probably thinking: “Here comes another article to badger me about living in my bubble.” And also, “I bet this bubble-bashing piece will go on to explain how I can achieve better results through some heady dose of new life experiences, new routines and annoyingly different opinions on social media.”

Dane Smith and Toby Harrison

Ogilvy Australia

A leader’s role in rebuilding a culture of confidence

Every day, there are new predictions and studies on the future of work, the state of the economy and the unfolding global pandemic. All of which creates uncertainty and heightens the imperative of effective leadership.

Michelle Gibbings

Workplace expert, author

Confused About Your Customers?​

​I've worked in brand and marketing for more than 20 years. But there’s one area where I’ve found myself going around in circles and I must admit I'm becoming increasingly confused.

Rich Curtis

CEO, FutureBrand A/NZ

Sign in