I find the term "omnichannel" to crop up more and more in my reading these days. It's a 2014 business buzz word used in the world of retail. ("Big data" is so 2013, as was "twerking" and "selfies").
Omnichannel retailing is the attempt by large companies to sort out their customer experience.
Until recently, traditional retailers saw "online" as a separate business unit. They had to. They lacked the experience and operational expertise to have eCommerce at the heart of their business. So, separate divisions were created, headed up by hipsters and hustlers who understood online.
That era is passing. First of all, eCommerce is no longer an optional extra as it was 3 or 4 years ago. eCommerce has been proven as an important channel and retailers such as John Lewis have led the way. Every retailer knows they need to embrace online.
The next wave of innvoation for the major players is to connect their online and offline experiences. A great example of this is John Lewis' "Click&Collect" service. Customers can order online and then collect for free at their chosen shop (Waitrose or John Lewis) after 2pm the following day.
Last week, Gap stated that omnichannel was to be at the forefront of their 2014 strategy.
Building upon its current omni-channel suite – including reserve in store, find in store and ship from store – later this year, the company will be testing its new order in store capability, which allows customers instant access to expanded product offerings online
This is great. Innovation towards a better consumer experience where friction is removed from the buying process.
Why is this important?
Customer experience is a key differentiator for brands. It holds real value. Yet there are a few building blocks that need to be put into place for brands to achieve the holistic customer experience...
- Delivery service innovations
- Unified real time inventory management across all points of sale (online and offline)
- Personalised shopping experiences enabled by capturing customer intent and history in a single unified view
- Real time optimisation of the shopping experience based on shopper behaviour
All of the above are areas where startups can innovate and help solve these problems for retailers.
If companies like Gap and John Lewis are prepared to invest heavily, that opens up a world of opportunity for startups.
Further reading: I recommend this excellent overview; Six omnichannel trends in ecommerce by Ben Davis at eConsultancy.