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Taming the omni-channel beast

Omni-channel commerce as a strategic initiative is much lauded as it improves upon multi-channel and leaves cross-channel in it’s wake. We already know that “60% of customers interact with brands through multiple channels”*, so the very etymology of ‘Omni-channel commerce’ – i.e, ‘all’ or ‘every’ commerce channel – naturally infers that this is an instantly more complex strategy to entertain.

Indeed in our inter-connected, instant world, where a single social slip is costly, the thought of managing ‘all’ or ‘every’ channel simultaneously is fraught with danger, labelling this particular cage “handle with care”. However, as with any beast success is all about mastering your approach.

Approach from any singular point (or channel) and you’re likely to get mauled, missing a vitally positioned claw that sideswipes your strategy into an eviscerated mass of misaligned messages and confused customers.

Seeing the beast holistically, understanding it’s scale, joining up your channels in a cohesive message must therefore be the key to success? That’s the commonly held view and it’s relatively accepted as the keenest way to approach it…

Or is it?… Granted it’s the stated norm, but that strategy is simple on paper. Many commentators have written similar statements, but we always rely on the same examples (John Lewis, Nike etc.) because – as it stands – truly notable omni-channel examples are few & far between.

The reason? The real world of retail isn’t played out on paper. It presents a vastly different habitat. A converged approach is great, but the sheer expense of aligning a jungle of legacy infrastructure, disparate business goals and differing internal communications favours only the super-large retailer and punishes the less financially committed (or able).

Taking the holistic approach is akin to ‘overpowering’ the animal. To dominate it and – following our analogy – to do that you need to be very big, very united, anticipate every move and be blessed with deep reserves of agility and cash.

Who in truth can say they fulfil all those characteristics for both today and tomorrow in our rapidly evolving, digitally-connected landscape?

At Session & Inviqa we work with a huge diaspora of large and small enterprise retailers, all of whom suffer difficulties in aligning their channels. Not insurmountably, I must add, but the thought of ‘dominating’ a particular omni-channel strategy is more dream than reality – especially with respect to the expectations of evolved and “connected consumers”. It’s very difficult indeed.

Thus we’ve established both approaches are fraught with pitfalls? It remains impractical for many retailers to think in totality, scaling to dominate an omni-channel strategy yet it is also irresolute and toothless to approach from a single strategic opening.  Is there any other way?

Thankfully, yes and – at the risk of sounding too Zen – to outsmart the beast, you must first become the beast; and the best way to accomplish that is to target its deepest desires.

At the very beating heart of any omni-channel strategy is the customer.  All channels point inwards to them, they are the nucleus around which any strategy revolves. They decide whether to engage, how to engage and where to engage the brand. As connected consumers they simply experience the brand and the message, demanding an “immersive and superior experience regardless of channel”.

In short, to understand omni-channel fully, your customer’s desires must become your own.

‘Beastly’ analogies aside, and being practical, how exactly do you create a cohesive omni-channel strategy orientated around customer’s desires? Customers themselves are massively diverse, both demographically, technologically and geographically. They do spend up to “30% more than multi-channel shoppers”**, but behave unpredictably across all of your channels, often appearing to defy logic or reason. Giving them opportunity to visit all or every one of your channels at liberty, with an expectation they are all perfectly aligned is a big task. Satisfying their desires on those channels is tough, expensive work.

This is our approach:

People (not users) and context

As we’ve established, desire comes from the heart; from warmth and is expressed at the customer’s convenience, utilising the most applicable channel in that particular consumer’s context. For true omni-channel success the brand must meet the customer in this specific moment as it signifies the optimal point.

At Session & Inviqa ‘people & context’ form the intractable core to any digital strategy (omni-channel or not). Seeing customers as people with desires and needs – in context – rather than users with screens and bandwidth is our method and it works. Placing an engaging brand experience, conveniently at the right context is the solitary goal of any commerce activity as it reduces the distance between customer and brand.

With this in mind, the massive surge in mobile commerce comes as no surprise. ‘Companion devices’ (mobile devices) are always at hand, always on, the most conveniently placed. Rapidly the concept of filling ‘dead time’ with “mobile economic time” has arisen. This is time we previously just spent on the move, waiting, reading etc. now we instantly turn to our companion devices. Start by looking at mobile statistics and you won’t go far wrong as they infer channel usage at its most convenient.

However, don’t get too fascinated by mobile or you’ll neglect other channels. Instead, seek a ‘centre of most resonance’ and allow this optimal ‘sweetspot’ to lead outwards to other channels, which can be controlled consistently, impact-mapping your key message as it grows.

Creatively, to be effective one must be selective, in order to control the consistency of execution across all channels. Find a key message that resonates, then repeat constantly, never deviating from it or you’ll soon become misaligned… “Just Do It” indeed.

Journey > Destination

Regard technology as the enabler not the priority. Mining useful data (localised or ‘big’) will divulge trends in interaction. Embarking on a thorough study on real data (not bought) will reveal habits in customers interfacing and interoperating across omni-channels. Focusing on these patterns as journeys not as destinations is vital as it gives true insight into your customer’s habits across your brand. Facilitating the customer journey as an ongoing process not a final destination is the very principle of omni-channel.

To that end using channels such as social as a method to coerce customers along a journey can assist your strategy. Combining that with local relevancy allows you to create eCommerce landscapes for your customers to travel in. Adding technology (such as mobile) to that mix and you have the beginnings of a proven ‘SoLoMoCo’ method.

Learn & adapt

Build in feedback loops to assess validity and success. Without it you’re flying blind and instantly at a disadvantage allowing hope to drive your strategy rather than knowledge. Failure of an omni-channel strategy comes with inability to adapt, and you can’t adapt if you don’t understand what you’re attempting to achieve.

Across The Inviqa Group our agile methodology allows for learning and adaptation, “test & iterate” is our mantra. It works because it’s based on immediate results that are grounded in instant feedback and constant evolution.

The agile approach is the right one to tame your omni-channel strategy as it relies on constant feedback. It’s similar to what sportsman call “feel” or “intuition” and is successful because it is wholly defined by your customer’s desires and their fluctuating emotions. They change their minds, they follow their own journeys through your brand landscape. To succeed your omni-channel strategy needs to be aligned to these desires, meeting their expectation at every touchpoint and creating an immersive environment that your customers engage with.

In short, the right approach to taming the omni-channel beast is not to see it as a beast in the slightest, it’s much more human than that.

 


* Demystifying the Online Shopper: 10 myths of multi-channel retailing. PwC.

** Retail Insights Predictions 2013: Retail Report. IDC Corporate.

Article update
This article was originally published under Session Digital, which unified with Inviqa in June 2016. For more information about the unification visit https://inviqa.com/new-era.