The omni-channel destination is not always clear

In a perfect omni-channel world a customer would fall in love with something in a catalogue, check it out on the store app, order it on the website and have it delivered or choose click-and-collect to pick it up locally in store, with all of his items in one bag. Returning the item(s) would be just as painless.

Today’s customers expect to get what they want, where and when and how they want it. Omni-channel offers consumers a consistent experience no matter how they choose to interact with the retailer — where the consumer determines the journey they take. Omni-channel allows the consumer to interact via any channel for each of the four key retail touch points — Select, Transact, Acquire, Return — irrespective of the channel they used for the previous step.

Many retailers have already successfully embraced this business model in a relatively short period of time. But what looks seamless and easy from the customers’ perspective takes vast effort from retailers, long lumbered with complex and siloed processes behind the scenes. What may appear to customers like a metaphorical swan gliding serenely across a lake is accompanied by some frantic paddling underwater to maintain the illusion.

The journey to achieving the omni-channel dream requires planning; there is no set way to get to your destination. And that destination may not always appear to be clear. But we have identified some specific points, or milestones, that we believe will help you arrive there safely. There may be other milestones that pop up on your own journey, but we feel these are a good place to start.

Milestone 1: Plan for the peak. There are well-known periods of high traffic in retail. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas see significant peaks in online trading, often accompanied by website outages, and long queues and product shortages in brick-and-mortar stores. Shopping baskets, both virtual and physical, are abandoned as frustrated customers rebel. You need a low-risk, cost effective way to prepare for the peaks — one which helps during normal trading times too.

Milestone 2: Maximise resource return. The wrong inventory in the wrong place at the wrong time is the curse of retailing. In an omni-channel world this is exacerbated; your product might be on the shelves in store but it is not ready for online ordering and next-day delivery. You need full, across-the-board visibility to take advantage of this valuable resource.

Milestone 3: Conduct your “orchestra.” How can a brick-and-mortar/omni-channel retailer beat the likes of Amazon? By playing the omni-channnel tune! If your supply chain network, store and individual systems come together, you can conduct your supply chain orchestra across all channels.

The road to omni-channel has no clear blueprint for success. The road will have some fog to steer through in order to get to your destination. While we may not be able to deduce the exact distance you have to travel, we can at least offer you these milestones to guide you on your path.

By Oliver Guy, retail industry director at Software AG

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