The Data Age

Big Data and Living in an Age of Data

The Data Age - Big Data and Living in an Age of Data

Omnichannel is Not just a Technology Revolution

I often hear a lot about the “technology revolution” that is going to need to take place for omnichannel to work. The very people who bring this point up are talking about how digital is going to play a dominate role in everything and how we need to invest a lot of money in the back end technologies to run all these systems and into mobile and tablet experiences. While I do agree this is going to play a big role in omnichannel, I also believe that omnichannel starts and is won somewhere else. Omnichannel is not primarily a technology revolution but rather a cultural shift that depends on consumers becoming participants in a socially dynamic relationship.

Let me start backwards with what I just said. Socially dynamic relationships doesn’t mean social media. Yes it will play a role but what I mean by that is; the days when you entertained or educated consumers is over. You need to interact with customers because they are no longer consumers but participants in the experience of the sale. In other words, sales has become a socially dynamic relationship where you sell and build relationships with customers to help them solve their problems.

Customers at not going to be consumers as they have traditionally been. Doc Searls had a great presentation last summer where he had a cow and calf. The cow is the company and the calf is the consumer. That was a great analogy about the relationship between consumers and businesses. Today, consumers are not the calf but more like the farmer, wondering if that cow can still produce or should he just take it to the slaughter house. If companies want to change this and make it more about two human beings talking to one another and finding a win-win, then they need to use omnichannel in a way to build relationships. You can have all the personalized ads you want but if you don’t actually build a relationship, you just wasted your time. If you are serious, this requires a cultural shift.

Most retailers are still far too silo to make omnichannel work. To change this, a cultural shift needs to take place. A lot of executives talk about team, transparency, customer centric, etc… Omnichannel means, you better have a plan to make this all happen because if you don’t, you are going to have a bad time. A cultural and operational shift needs to take place and those who cannot adapt may need to find something else to do. There are a lot people in retail who don’t understand the massive chance a real omnichannel experience will create. This is not going to be easy!

However, the organizations that learn to make the changes needed, are the ones that everyone is going to be trying to catch. After all, if omnichannel was easy, everyone would be doing it and nobody would really be talking about it as the next great thing. That’s why the prize is great.

The Omnichannel Problem

Omnichannel is the new buzzword for retail. Everyone is into omnichannel today, everyone I know in retail is talking about their omnichannel strategy. But few can really define it let along point out the difference between multichannel and omnichannel. The problem for omnichannel as most describe it is, it isn’t solving the old problem that multichannel said it would but didn’t.

Multichannel was the big promise 10 years ago that if we have all these channels both online and offline, we would see sales grow, we didn’t really. It also distracted businesses from the future and forced old school methods of marketing to last longer than they really should have. I mean seriously, banner ads? Who even pays attention to those anymore. As a consumer, I don’t notice them. Yet I hear strategies around having the same banner ads shown on tablet and laptops and that’s omnichannel. If that’s what you call omnichannel, you are really selling your company short.

Some are now talking omnichannel, break down the silos and make multichannel seamless. Great, but the problem is, nobody is talking about the future or how this is any better than multichannel! If you want an omnichannel experience that really works, you have to start to take down the systems that are in place already.

Most organizations are still full of silos. I enjoy talking to other retailers and you see what the PR department says and then what the people on the front line say. Two different stories. Front line people will tell you, the silos are alive and well. That’s because most of the reward systems and reporting structures are still designed to reward people for just what they are focused on. The ripple effect of their actions is not measured or rewarded. A true omnichannel strategy will recognize that seamless means, a sales experience may start in one channel and end in another and the original and intermediate channels deserve credit for the sale, not just the final POS. If you want omnichannel, you will have to solve this. This was the big issue when the internet came up as a channel and the store managers felt it was taking sales away from them. Fix this and you can get closer to omnichannel.

Omnichannel requires rewriting a lot of methods and systems. Analytics will need to be improved and this is where big data, data science and omnichannel all converge. The three new disciplines entering the retail world, are the pieces that will reshape the landscape. A really good omnichannel experience requires a lot of data. Once you have that data, you need people who can analyze it and make some sense of it. Finally, omnichannel needs to drop the old and allow in new ways of doing business. At work I always say, omnichannel is about creating new customer experiences. It is not about showing people the same banner ad across platforms. It is about creating a totally new engagement that can be channel agnostic.

Omnichannel is new, still full of promise and hope. At the heart, it is still claiming the same benefits of multichannel. But if all companies do is make multichannel seamless, they will never achieve the kind of results they hope to gain from omnichannel.