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Omni-channel: Bringing the Big Retail Picture Together

By Vivek Venugopalan, Blog.wipro.com/tag/vivekv

The connected customer is reshaping retail. Today’s digital and mobile technology presents consumers with new ways to shop. With a combination of brick-and-mortar outlets, catalogues, mail and phone orders, TV shopping, kiosks, e-tailing, devices, platforms and apps, the choices to keep the consumer engaged, satisfied and loyal have grown.

Say “Hello” to your ‘new’ customer
Retailers now have to relearn their customers’ buying process and habits. When a customer sees an ad in a magazine with a QR Code they scan the QR code on their mobile and are immediately taken to a mobile based solution1. The customer looks up the retailer’s website using semantic search, which brings up results based on content, context and meaning. The customer finds a few products that they want and add them to their wish list on the cloud. This is a universal wish list, which is accessible to retailers on demand. The customer then checks in at a local mall. The retailer’s check-in app identifies the customer, accesses their wish list and sends them a personalized offer on their social network with an invitation to visit the store. When the customer visits the store, the facial recognition app identifies the customer and greets them. The store makes personalized recommendations based on the customer’s wish list, shopping history and browsing patterns. The customer picks up the products and the store assistant rings up the charge on their tablet app. The customer cans the code on the tablet and confirms the payment with a tap on their mobile. The NFC application on the mobile completes the payment.

When the customer faces problems with the product, they take and post pictures on the retailer’s social network page along with the issue details. The Retailer App intelligently picks up the complaint, forwards it to the customer support team and automatically posts the solution on its social network page.

At each touch point, the customer’s demographic details, activity, behavior pattern, preferences and choices are recorded, providing the retailer with insightful data that personalize the customer experience.

Evolve or perish
All of this technology is already around us. In a few years it will become so pervasive that retailers who don’t keep pace may be eclipsed from the market.

Retailers have gone from single to multichannel sales and have adopted cross-channel sales strategies. Over a period of time, they have not only added to the cost of technology but also created siloed shopping experiences.

Omni-channel to the rescue
Retailers embrace digital technology without a cohesive strategy, rapidly testing their appetite for online marketing, e-commerce, Bluetooth technology, social media engagement and mobile app usage. Retailers must take stock to integrate the customer touch points and the supporting backend technology. The end-goal is to create a unified omni-channel that delivers consistent brand and user experiences.

As social networks, location based services and mobile commerce (SoLoMo) gain ground, retailers will have to ensure that customer interaction across channels is seamless and aligned. Forester predicts2  that online retail sales will total $249 billion by 2014 up from $155 billion in 2009. It also forecasts that U.S. online and web-influenced retail sales will account for 53% of total retail sales in 2014 up from 42% in 2009. Similarly, the report further predicts web-influenced sales will reach $1.4 trillion.

The Omni imperative
A study shows that omni-channel customers spend 15 to 30% more than customers using a single channel3.  Integrating brick-and-mortar, online, social, mobile, tablets and other channels is an imperative. Customers want a data rich experience, choices, price comparisons, recommendations, promotions seamlessly stitched. A retailer's ability to suspend and then resume a transaction at any point, and in any channel, is key to providing an omni-channel experience.

Historically, channels have operated as different business units, with their own inventories, promotions and pricing. Most retailers manage replenishments to the store and the e-commerce channel separately. Store replenishment was built around providing palletized orders. E-commerce fulfillment was focused on picking and packing individual orders. In the new omni-channel world retailers will need to focus on building unified supply chain capabilities that can handle both e-commerce and store demand simultaneously, allowing customers to order, receive and return product regardless of the channel they use.

Omni-channels are “work in progress”
With retail technology still evolving, an omni-channel defies a complete definition. It is, at best, work in progress.

What should you as a retailer be concerned with to leverage the advantages of an omni-channel approach?

  • Ensure a synchronized view of channels and a single cross-channel view of inventory;
  • Automate order routing and transmission, order status tracking, shipping, invoicing, reporting, and order lifecycle visibility;
  • Build your mobile presence using innovative approaches;
  • Embed social into the shopping experience;
  • Build apps and experiences especially for tablet-based shopping (use finger swipes, taps and pinching);
  • Deliver information to the customer – videos, reviews, ratings, recommendations and price comparisons;
  • Ensure relevant product discovery using customer analytics and location based data;
  • Seamlessly manage after sales service;
  • Address organizational and cultural roadblocks.

A word of warning
A Gartner advisory sends a clear message: In a report titled “Predicts 2012: Retailers Turn to Personalized Offers Through Mobile and Social but Will Struggle With Multichannel Execution,” the analyst suggests that 80% of multi-channel implementations will fail. Reason? A siloed approach and channel-centric strategies (resulting in inconsistencies) that will turn off customers, impacting loyalty and sales.

The challenge for retailers is to shift their approach from developing channels in isolation to putting the customer at the center. On the technology front, the focus has to be on unifying disparate systems and processes, enhancing data capture at every customer touch point and using it in real time to impact buying decisions. Finally, the real bet is the touchpoints that a retailer believes will be favored by their customers and the technology platforms on which to build the future.

Vivek Venugopalan is chief technologist in the retail, CPG, transportation and government business unit of Wipro. He has over 17 years of experience in the IT industry helping clients determine the optimal technology solutions to drive their business efficiently. Blog: http://www.blog.wipro.com/tag/vivekv.


1.  QR Code scans have been grown at 4549% between Q1 2010 and Q2 2011. A June 2011 US study found that 14 million mobile users in the US, representing 6.2% of the total mobile audience had scanned and used a QR code, comScore, http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2011/8/14_Million_Am...

2.   U.S. Online Retail Forecast, 2009 to 2014, Forester

3.  IDC Retail Insights

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