How to create an omnichannel culture
For the longest time, retail operations were very siloed and departmentalized, with each channel and business team operating almost independently of each other, much like the mythical nine-headed hydra.
However, the retail landscape is quickly changing as customers grow to expect seamless shopping experiences. When a person shops, he or she does not think to themselves “today I am going to be an online shopper and tomorrow I’m going to be a mobile shopper.” People just make purchases through the channel that is the most convenient at any given moment – if they are on a bus, it may be a mobile device. If they are already in the area, going to the nearby brick-and-mortar may be the best option. And if they are in the comfort of their own homes, few customers have qualms about making purchases online.
Through the use of new omnichannel solutions and software, merchants are better able to create that seamless shopping experience that people so desire. However, to do so, they must break down the walls that separate the different shopping avenues and teams engaging customers. If they want to enable the seamless shopping experience, then behind-the-scenes operations must also be seamless. There is no room for turf wars or departmental walls – a successful omnichannel experience hinges on merchants’ ability to put cross-channel operations at the heart of the company.
Barriers to becoming an omnichannel company
Because becoming an omnichannel retailer is such a significant shift, merchants may face some initial resistance. In fact, one report from Forrester noted several obstacles that hindered retailers’ ability to becoming omnichannel organizations pertained to business models and siloed operations. Some of the leading challenges included:
- Inflexible business models
- Problems integrating back-office technology
- Difficulty sharing customer data between channels and locations
- Lack of appropriate systems in place (ranging from eCommerce platforms to order management solutions)
- Limited staff skills
- Inward-facing departments that could not be easily incorporated into other operations.
Collaboration is critical to becoming a true omnichannel retail empire. Merchants cannot offer a seamless shopping experience if everything – ranging from individual teams and departments to the technology they deploy – is not on the same page and running in unison.
The first step toward making the omnichannel transition is deploying the right technologies that work together to create a single view of the customer and products across all channels. Not all solutions are designed to work and communicate with other systems, which can make providing a seamless shopping experience needlessly challenging.
For instance, order fulfillment systems need to work in conjunction with inventory management systems to decide the optimal location to fulfill an order from. If inventory runs low, inventory management solutions must be integrated with purchase and supplier management systems to ensure retailers can quickly and automatically generate purchase orders, whether it is for a specific channel or for the chain as a whole.
Depending on the retailer in question, the level of integration required to become an omnichannel presence may be difficult to achieve. For many merchants, technology purchases are done in a piecemeal fashion – they purchase different systems and solutions as they need them. This can result in the acquisition of solutions that do not work together easily and require excessive amounts of customization to get them communicating with each other. This may have to be done all over again once the next system is integrated as well. There is a reason why 40 percent of retailers responding to the Forrester survey said the integration of back-office technology across all channels was a top obstacle.
Once retailers have all the solutions integrated, the job is only half over. Businesses also need to get different teams and departments within the organization using these solutions to improve the customer experience. For example, inventory management can also be tied to marketing operations – perhaps marketing departments want to create campaigns designed to offload slow-moving product to make room for new inventory? Order management solutions are similarly pivotal to customer service – if people call customer service with inquiries about order statuses or because they want to make additions to orders, service agents need the tools that can help them serve these customers adequately.
The key is getting everyone working together on the same page. It is easy for different departments and different channels to get petty over their contributions – if customers looked at an online store before making a purchase at a brick-and-mortar location, should they get the credit? At the end of the day, though, the end goal is creating an excellent customer experience. Everyone needs to work in unison to accomplish that end objective.