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Setting Standards for Omnichannel Retail

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The emergence of omnichannel has brought the retail industry a new set of retailing rules. It’s required retailers to appear as omnipresent – offering consumers that want to shop anywhere, anytime and on any device with a seamless experience. As the pace of innovation gets faster, it’s vital for brands to have a benchmark on the current state of omnichannel offerings.

These are reasons why we created the NRF-FitForCommerce Omnichannel Retail Index, to examine how retailers across multiple categories are performing across the web, mobile and in-store. I asked Bernardine Wu, Chief Executive Officer at FitforCommerce and Shop.org Board Member, how the inaugural report sets the bar for assessing how brands are performing today, how it defines an omnichannel “leader”, and what progress means in the future.

Why is the Omnichannel Retail Index important? What is the report trying to benchmark?

The industry is moving fast – keeping up with customer expectations is almost like an extreme sport. And there’s a lot of pressure on retailers to figure out how to deliver on the omnichannel promise. The industry needed a tool to help retailers understand the customer’s perspective, provide insight on the omnichannel strategies being executed right now and help prioritize tactics moving forward.

We developed the Omnichannel Retail Index to be a premier benchmarking tool that retailers can use to understand where along the path to delivering a seamless omnichannel customer experience the industry is. We believe that, in order to succeed in omnichannel retail, it is important for retailers to understand where they stand – compared to best practices and compared to their competition. 

What results from the report surprised you?

There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to omnichannel retailing. Retailers are making great strides in the basics of omnichannel, but there still is so much more that can be done. Even the “leaders” in the industry that scored high in the Index have areas for improvement. The highest score was 80 percent for execution of omnichannel “best practices,” with the remainder of the Top 10 between 67 and 74 percent. A lot of opportunity to improve!

While it is understandable that many have not been able to implement the technically and operationally more difficult omnichannel tactics such as “buy online pick up in store” (23%) or product availability by store (41%), we were surprised by how some of the best practices considered to be easier were not in place, such as incentive for online email sign-up (40%) or a customer service number on the mobile product detail page (18%). 

Bernardine C. Wu, CEO, FitForCommerce

Bernardine C. Wu, CEO, FitForCommerce

Define the key characteristics of an “omnichannel leader.” What kind of standards are there when it comes to omnichannel retail?  

Across the board, what we found from the results of the Index is that the omnichannel leaders are truly focusing on a customer-centric approach. Notably, some luxury and apparel brands are significantly ahead of the competition in the areas of mobile and cross-channel functionality.

While retailers may compare themselves to their competition in their vertical, consumers are comparing retailers to the best experiences they have across all verticals. Therefore, an omnichannel “leader” has to look at the big picture and strive to provide the best experience from the customer’s perspective.

The report also includes a consumer perspective. Why was it important to augment the report with this research?

The consumer is already omnichannel. She doesn’t see the difference between channels – she only cares about the total experience. We felt that it was important to provide context because, in essence, it is the consumer who is driving the demand for omnichannel and retailers that need to catch up. The criteria of the Index combined with consumer research are important with respect to meeting customer expectations and enabling customers to get the information they need, to make the purchases they want and to get the help they require, as seamlessly as possible. 

Getting Ahead of the Curve: Who's Doing Omnichannel Well?

Bernardine will be joined by executives from Abercrombie and Fitch and Walgreens to share insights from the report at the Shop.org Digital Summit in Philadelphia. Learn more and bookmark this session

How would you define “progress” in this area moving forward, especially for retailers looking grow their omnichannel offerings?

Even in the past six months we’ve seen a lot of progress among retailers. Many are starting to adopt mobile and cross-channel best practices. But the truth is that today’s innovation is tomorrow’s best practice and tomorrow’s best practice quickly becomes table stakes.

For this study, benchmarking was done against “best practices.” For the next one, to be done during 2015 peak holiday season, some of what were viewed as “innovative” for this study will be considered “best practices.” The criteria used will be reassessed for each round of benchmarking because the industry moves so quickly, as do customers’ expectations. Therefore, retailers have to always be cognizant of the next new thing, while being careful not to chase after something just because it is new and cool, but rather because it enhances the experience for their customer and adds to the bottom line.

Another interesting outcome was that, since we also shopped the physical store, there often was a discrepancy between what the store could technically and operationally do versus what the sales associate thought they were able to do. Training will be a big component of omnichannel progress.

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