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Omnichannel is More Than a Buzz Word

By Joe Scartz, jscartz@digitalbrandworks.com

“Omnichannel” has become the buzzword de jour in retail circles lately and for good reason – ecommerce pure plays are now trying to do it too. Consumers are always shopping and looking for a way to trade product ideas, compare price and ultimately make the purchase via whatever medium works best for them, regardless of where they are.

You’ll read a lot of different definitions of “omnichannel” shopping but generally I define it as a seamless shopping experience where the consumer can move between digital devices, bricks-and-mortar locations and other outlets like connected kiosks or pop-up stores and find the same inventory at the same price with the same shopping cart and the same customer service. It’s an always on, always available shopping experience facilitated by a single retailer and shopped by consumers across several retailers.

This all started years ago but the accelerated move to “omnichannel” has been accentuated by the continued explosive growth in mobile and use of the shopping comparison apps popularized a couple of years ago by Amazon’s Price Check App, among others. In effect, the hastened move to omnichannel was forced by “showrooming” more quickly than it might have been without the in-aisle price checking phenomenon taking off.

Online retailers (some unauthorized) have continued to undercut the minimum advertised price (MAP) policies of many manufacturers and sell products at rock bottom prices through various online marketplaces. Retailers have responded to price wars with expanded inventory, price matching and better in-store and cross channel experiences. By moving to “omnichannel” strategies that take advantage of the best of each medium and, of course, by price-matching, retailers have been able to slowly fight back against insurgent ecommerce pure plays and this has resulted in, for the first time, some truly integrated “omnichannel” shopping experiences.

Mobile really enables “omnichannel” shopping and Macy’s and Best Buy are good examples of this. Macy’s is encouraging shoppers to scan their mobile app while in-store for more product information. Macy’s is also rolling out touch-screen check out kiosks in-store and running a TV campaign encouraging viewers to download their mobile app. Best Buy famously tore down the “showrooming” walls this past holiday season by calling their stores a showroom and inviting the process. They have heavily advertised their “in-store pick up” option through their shopping cart and elsewhere on Bestbuy.com.

Both massive retail chains are looking to engage the customer through personalized shopping experiences, relying heavily on CRM, unique offerings, spruced up bricks, technology utilized within bricks and consistent pricing and shopping experiences across platforms. Best Buy has also heavily promoted their price guarantee and has quietly rolled out an online marketplace where third-party listers can sell products via Bestbuy.com and increase their inventory without taking the inventory risk.

I recently was interviewed for an article in The Chicago Tribune that dissected the question as to why some online pure-plays were getting more into the business of bricks-and-mortars locations – permanent and pop up. The rationale for these moves by e-tailers is simple: 1.) shopping is an “always on” activity; second, 2.) expect to be able to find a great price anywhere; 3.) shoppers want to be able to browse and explore anywhere; 4.) brand awareness; and 5.) improved customer service.

In essence, mobile changed the game – first by inviting “showrooming” into the retail lexicon and second by introducing the masses to another buzz term “omnichannel.” Buzzwords or not, these terms reflect real shifts in behavior and the consumer shopping experience is getting better – fast.

Joe Scartz is the chief marketing officer at Digital BrandWorks, www.digitalbrandworks.com, a Chicago-based digital consultancy, which specializes in representing manufacturers in the digital marketplaces. He can be reached at jscartz@digitalbrandworks.com.


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