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Fulfilling the Promise of Channel-Agnostic Retailing

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What makes the difference between competent customer service and inspired customer engagement? How can you advance from merely executing functions to fully commanding processes? More importantly, how can you and your employees leverage those capabilities to address questions, demands and opportunities without limitations, to quickly get to “yes”? These questions are critical to achieving a level of performance that places you above and beyond your retail competitors. And although they pertain to different aspects of your business, the search for answers will direct you toward a single overriding capability: the capacity to operate seamlessly and invisibly across channels — with your customers, your merchandise and all of your vital resources.

One brand, one view The need is well-established by now. Customers don’t shop channels, they shop a brand. In most cases they don’t even know what a channel is, so it’s not enough to offer them multiple channels through which to access your brand. Instead, your goal must be to leverage and unify all your channels to support a seamless customer experience. It’s about ensuring that all retail channels operate in coordination and collaboration with each other, and about managing transactions across all channels to support seamless processes and the delivery of a consistently superior experience. The value of pursuing this level of channel-agnostic operation is clear. Multi-channel shoppers spend more and have a higher lifetime value than single-channel shoppers. Each channel is differentially effective at satisfying those shoppers’ needs, and offering numerous channels lets them interact with your brand more conveniently, in more circumstances, more often — as long as they aren’t restricted by different capabilities and rules.

The experience engine So how can you make that happen? How can you elevate and refine your cross-channel strategy to focus on converging and integrating your channels in order to improve customer service and operations, instead of just delivering multiple routes to market that impose inefficiencies, redundancies and delays? Cross-channel order management or enterprise selling systems offer one effective approach. By allowing orders to be fulfilled from any channel and optimum location, they make all inventories across the enterprise available from all channels and enable discounts and coupons to be used at any transaction point. For your customers, this reinforces a unified and deeply satisfying brand experience. For you as a retailer, it prevents stock-outs from becoming walk-outs, hang-ups or click-aways and lets you better exploit the benefits of multiple channels while overcoming their deficiencies. But in a true channel-agnostic system, integration points run deeper than exposing inventory to all channels or allowing discounts. They also include routing orders to stores and warehouses for ease of fulfillment, and extend to the merchandising system so available-to-promise inventory is accurate. Moreover, this means having one promotion engine servicing multiple channels and one CRM system to collect and process shopping and purchase data so you can develop and maintain a better understanding of your customers’ needs, preferences and traits. The list is almost endless, as is the potential value that can be derived from the synergy of people, processes and technology that can be achieved through channel integration. At the end of the day, when evaluating cross-channel retailing strategies and considering “what’s next” for your retail operation, it’s not how many channels you have but how you make use of them that really matters — both to you as a retailer and, more importantly, to your customers. And in an era when highly connected “right now” consumers expect nothing less of you than a highly connected “right now” experience, making your channels effectively invisible is an idea and practice whose time has come.