Saturday, February 1, 2014

Omni-channel Retailing: When it becomes a commodity, what then?

A few weeks back, the potential of Omni-channel Retailing was the most discussed topic in the NRF (National Retail Federation) Convention held at New York. The Retail industry has evolved across single-channel, multi-channel, and now on to omni-channel retailing (although the term has been around for quite some time now).

I wrote a White Paper on the topic – ‘Omni-channel Retailing: When it becomes a commodity, what then?’, a while back. With the changing landscape of the customers’ buying habits and the expectation of consistent brand experience across channels, retailers need to plan/review their technology and business roadmap for addressing tomorrow’s potential changes. The White Paper looks at factors that will help retailers differentiate when being Omni-channel will become more of a hygiene factor.

I’m bringing out here an excerpt from the White Paper. Below is a typical impulse purchase scenario in the not-so-distant future:

Emily sees a woman wearing a new shoe style and wants to buy a pair for herself at her earliest opportunity. With one glance and a touch—using Google Glass or something similar—she quickly takes a photo of the shoes. The inbuilt application reaches over to the cloud at the back end, determines the style type of the shoes and the color code, then populates the list with brands and retailers that carry this model. For a larger view she opens the Google Glass (or similar) application on her smartphone which is already in-sync. Emily chooses her favorite retailer from the list and sees that the item is not in stock at all. She is surprised, but quickly chooses the next favorite retailer and sees the display for the item. The display lists the availability in stock in the nearest retail store to where she is standing (through GPS location services integrated with inputs from OMS) or through any other channel. It also displays the delivery time in case of a web/mobile purchase and the social media statistics on the model. In other words, how others feel about it in terms of likes/dislikes (probably a next-generation, leading shopping-focused Social Media website called, let us say, “BuyingHaven”). She then uses an augmented reality feature in the application to see how it looks on her, and sends it to her friends for feedback. Her friends give a positive review and she places the order online, to have it delivered to her home in the next few hours.

From a retailer’s perspective, this will present the highly challenging requirement of providing an always-connected experience that seamlessly integrates the various front end and back end systems. Innovation (sustaining vs. disruptive) in the way customers live, work, purchase, and get entertained will be the game changers. There are some more interesting aspects, and areas to focus on that I’ve covered in the WP. Hope it’s an interesting read for all.