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Omnichannel: The prize jewel in the customer experience

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In a digital world where the swift and often brutal evaluation of retailers is continuous and transparent, consumer experience matters – a lot. Not just because it’s good for sales or brand image, but because it really is a new dogma. Numerous studies in neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to alter its behavior based on new experiences), show that technology has actually altered human physiology.

Technology is changing the way we think, altering the way we feel, impacting our attention spans, and even affecting the way we dream. If the omnichannel experience isn’t a priority for your organization this year, think again.

A recent study sponsored by SAP and PwC, “Customers Are Calling The Shots,” surveyed more than 2,100 consumers and over 300 retailers across Europe to take a closer look at consumer and retailer perspectives on the integrated shopping experience. The research found that this widening gap around the omnichannel experience – between consumer expectations and retail reality – is becoming a differentiator between commercial winners and losers.

It’s been a ticking time bomb for some time now, and time is running out for those not digitally fit for purpose. Some see the step-change as being just too big. Others view it as a rich, virtual land-grab full of retail opportunity. It’s the expectation of seamless experience across all channels and devices that’s both creating strain and driving change.

2017: The year of the customer

As an industry, only a handful of retailers (just 17% according to the study) have so far matured from multi-channel business models to fully integrated omnichannel operations where the role of store and online channels are managed in a seamless, integrated manner. The SAP and PwC research found that 48% of retailers say they’re delivering an integrated customer experience, but admit to still operating in business silos, which is eroding margins and increasing costs. 

In a few years, I think this will become an oxymoron. Silos will ever only take you so far. The Holy Grail of an integrated consumer experience will ultimately fail if the marketing department isn’t empowered to work well with other business functions.

The study also found that retailers aren’t deciphering data fast enough into actionable insights. Many are still at the starting line. In fact, 79% of retailers cite gaining a single view of the customer as an issue for their current or future agenda, with just a startling 8% having successfully achieved it.

Many analysts predict that 2017 will be the year of the customer as consumers continue to call the shots. That requires retailers to follow their lead – and keep pace with customers through personalized engagement. This power shift is also forcing a rethink in the way retail loyalty programs are delivered. Getting loyalty schemes right is not just about the traditional reasons of retaining customer loyalty. Rather, it’s becoming a key enabler for a better overall customer experience: Think Amazon PRIME with its non-price related benefits.  

Of course, most retailers are aware consumers are active on social media, but maybe not to the extent they might think. The study found that more than 50% of consumers are now writing reviews or venting complaints on social media platforms. That’s a lot of noise about your service if you get it wrong, and a powerful endorsement if you get it right. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons retail CEOs are concerned that technology isn’t being used to its best effect or full potential. 

The customer may be king, but the omnichannel experience is the crown jewel. While technology infrastructure and platforms are the enabler, it’s clear that only few retailers have managed to define and execute an effective roadmap fit for the digital age. In my view, this represents an enormous opportunity – but only if you seize it.

Ready to become digitally fit? Download a copy of the 2017 Retail Study, Customers Are Calling The Shots, for free here

Shane Finaly
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July 19, 2017
Shane Finaly

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