Technology Empowers Truly Omnichannel Experiences

contextFor the past few years, commerce companies have worked the term “omnichannel” into the ground. It’s become one of those terms that is overused so much that it might start losing significance if we don’t see widespread implementation soon. It found itself in several discussions at this year’s NRF BIG Show just as it did last year as well. What this means is that shopping is becoming pervasive. You and I are becoming channel-agnostic consumers who want the convenience of getting what we want, when we want it. People, places, and things need to be connected in a seamless loop of want, desire, and gratification.

Having said that, it is important to note that the growing adoption of smartphones is having a huge impact on the way that people shop and look for products. Wearables are also being added to this list, driving the point that businesses need to deliver relevant and personalized product offers on devices that consumers use, and more importantly, the ones that they carry on themselves at all times.

Anybody connected to commerce looks forward to the trends and terms coming out of the BIG Show, as it usually ends up being a good measure of where efforts are focused for the rest of the year. A few things stood out for me based on what I read about the Show this year.

Speed in delivery – instant gratification

Speed is becoming of utmost importance in the supply chain mix as (almost) instant gratification promises to become the norm. The past few years have seen the growing rise and popularity of “buy online, pick up in store”, “same day delivery”, “Sunday delivery” etc. Delivery within days and even hours is apparently not good enough anymore. Businesses are talking about delivery within minutes. To that end, Cole Haan partnered with Uber to deliver in less than an hour in New York, as part of a campaign in September 2014.

In today’s world, shooting for customer satisfaction is just not good enough. Surprising and delighting customers is more the need of the hour and this is one way to do it. If commercial usage of drones gets FAA approval, the possibilities for innovation will be mind-boggling.

Brands and retailers becoming technology companies

Probably one of the most compelling quotes of the conference came from Chief Omnichannel Officer at Macy’s, R.B. Harrison. In a panel on dissecting omnichannel strategies, he said, “most people may not really think of Macy’s as a technology company, but we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on technology to enable all of this. This change in the way we look at inventory is all to facilitate a customer experience and deliver it to her truly seamlessly.” The operative word here is technology. Macy’s is a technology company, and every brand and retailer needs to move in that direction if they want to win this game.

When companies weave technology into the very basic fabric of their being, they will truly realize their omnichannel potential. Omnichannel is not a standalone strategy or tactic. It’s the only way you can run a successful business today, and technology is indispensable to realizing that dream. Macy’s has made huge strides in being on top of its omnichannel game, whether is installing beacons in their stores, or combining their in-store and ecommerce businesses under one umbrella. We can see that internally they’ve adopted an attitude to think of their business as one that would offer seamless experiences across all channels.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap in the understanding of omnichannel for some other companies, which is probably why they are are still talking about omnichannel and not really delivering on the promise. 2015 would be the time to do that. Businesses have no choice but to embrace and immerse themselves in technology if they want to be successful in the age of pervasive commerce.

What about the physical store?

The physical store isn’t going anywhere either, but it also has to be powered by intuitive technology. It is also a part of the omnichannel universe that is helping businesses fulfill their promises. The role of the store is even more interesting as consumers increase their use of smartphones. Shopping on smartphones increased by 45% last year and it promises to get even bigger this year.

The smartphone is a great way to get consumers into stores. Say you are looking up a pair of jeans on their phone. The search result generates local information and tells you that a pair is in fact available in your size at a store nearby. Wouldn’t you be tempted to just go pick it up? Remember, this is not just idle browsing. A search like this is probably based on buying intent. Macy’s is already enabling this service in partnership with Google.

If we just step back and think about our own shopping journeys, we’ll be surprised by how much we take technology for granted. And by technology, I’m not referring to the gadgets that we use to search for and buy products, but the back-end technology that empowers our experiences from the want of something to actually finding it and then completing the purchase. It includes everything on the spectrum from product intelligence to geofencing and personalization. The more this technology get integrated into everyday experiences, the more shopping will become seamless and truly pervasive.

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