What is Omni Channel Commerce? Really…

This term gets thrown around a lot lately.   Most of the time I’m hearing it in the wrong context, or perhaps too narrow of a context would be a more accurate statement. I think we’ve all forgotten what omni-channel really means.  This isn’t something that describes bricks & mortar level fulfillment for your online store.  While this is a part of a great omni-channel strategy it is most definitely not the only thing.  Heck, it may not even be the piece you should be focusing on right now.

Omni-Channel Commerce is…

Omni-channel

…about creating a great, seamless customer experience across all of your channels.  This includes everything from the web, mobile, television, print catalogs, and any other channel where you speak to a customer or sell to a customer.

Yup, it’s all of that.  Hence the word “omni”.  Retailing today is a giant multi-headed beast that needs wrangling.

Why do Brick & Mortar Retailers love Omni-channel?

I understand why bricks & mortar retailers love this idea of omni-channel when they first hear of it.  It’s comforting for them to hear about a concept that involves bringing life back to their physical stores.  It’s probably even a glimmer of hope that maybe we’re returning to the good old days of retail!  Sadly, it is way too easy for retailers with bricks & mortar to forget that focusing entirely on their physical stores is probably what put them behind the times in the first place.

You should start with the following foundational elements before you decide to dig into the more narrowly focused “store level inventory” type stuff….

The One-Screen World

Multiscreen-world

Mitch Joel really nailed it with his idea of a one screen world.  The only screen that matters is the one you are looking at right now.

When I examine my own use of the many devices / screens I have at my disposal I’m constantly getting frustrated with my experiences with certain services / brands.  This one screen world is no different than retail “omni-channel” strategy. It’s all about creating the best possible experience for your customers no matter where they are interacting with your brand. It just so happens for retailers that this means lots and lots of communication & sales channels.

This should be your foundation for any omni channel strategy.  Your focal point is the customer experience.  If this means “lighting up” your store level inventory for users on your responsive site to purchase / reserve, then so be it.

If you don’t even have a responsive site yet, stop everything and get your sh** together.  We live in a world where more smart phones and tablets are being purchased than desktops / laptops.  This also isn’t just about mobile phones and tablets anymore.  You have to concern yourself with what the users experience will look like on large format screens as well.  The new televisions hitting the market along with retina-type high resolution screens for desktops/laptops are also being adopted and used to browse the web.

This isn’t a future problem, it’s a now problem.

Related: Responsive Design Vs. Mobile Websites
5 Things We’ve Learned about Responsive Design in eCommerce

Single View of the Customer

Targeting Customers

Improving user interactions with your fully responsive site is definitely a big part of a great omni channel strategy, but it’s also just one part of a very complex puzzle. Having one view of your customer is also incredibly important going forward.  You can have the greatest mobile app in the world, with all of your customers using it as they walk through your bricks & mortar stores, but if you aren’t connecting that data with the customer data from your site, your email platform and any other touchpoint then you are missing the point!

How can you possibly create the best possible user experience across all channels if you don’t know your customer intimately?  What they buy, which channel they bought it, how they got there, what they say on social media, how they interact with your email communications and on and on…this is all very important.

If you don’t understand your customer at this level, what makes you think you can create omni-channel solutions for them?  A clear understanding of all problems you are trying to solve with omni-channel should be your first step, and this definition generally starts with the customer in this grand world of digital retail.

Related: Customer Service: How it Affects eCommerce

5 Ways to Improve UX for eCommerce

Inventory Solutions

inventory-management-sales-forecast-retail-analytics
Once you have your one view of the customer, and once you are happy that you are delivering the best possible user experience across all screens, only then should you be looking at inventory related solutions as part of your omni-channel strategy.

You might be asking why I think this shouldn’t be the first thing you do, and it would be a very valid question.  For me it always comes down to lowest hanging fruit.  What gives you the best bang for your dollar?

Enabling ship from store is not a simple task.  Think about the logistics problems you’re going to have to worry about.  Are the staff at your stores the right people to be picking, packing and shipping orders?

How are your store managers, district managers going to be compensated for online orders?  Don’t underestimate this one.  Your entire company needs to buy into omni-channel when you go this route.  If you are a larger retailer with dozens or hundreds of stores then this is going to be a challenge if you haven’t yet broached the subject.

Now, if you can walk into meetings with your bricks & mortar retail teams and show them real data on real customers and show them how enabling the store network to participate in the digital channels will bring not only their specific stores up, but the entire business up…that’s pretty darn compelling.

Related: The Complete eCommerce Cycle

Think it all the way through!

Before you start screaming omni-channel from the hill-top and how amazing it is, take a step back and make sure you have a complete understanding of the concept.  Make sure you have all your bases covered before you dive into bricks & mortar level changes.  You’ll thank yourself later when your customers start telling you how great their entire experience was instead of just part of their experience!