An open letter to retailers from a Millennial: Fix your omnichannel!

Photo: RetailWire
Mar 31, 2017

Jeff Arps, Sr. Business Development Manager, WD Partners

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners.

One recent morning, I ambitiously grabbed my phone to check out Instagram. Seeing that one of my favorite retailers posted that a jacket I had my eye on was going on sale for a limited time, I double-checked my e-mail and, sure enough, a bold “30% Off!” appeared. Finally! That jacket had the price tag that I had been waiting for.

Checking the website, I headed to the closest store that had my size. I walked through the store, unorganized merchandise creating no easy path to the outerwear section. Miraculously finding an associate, I asked where I could find the jacket I was looking for. The frazzled associate said, “Hold on.” She then walked to the back and returned through the swinging doors empty handed. “We ran out of that jacket yesterday. It’s really popular. You can go online and they’ll send it to your house, though. You’ll just have to pay for shipping.”

Are you kidding me?!

Being in the industry, I may be hypersensitive to how “omnichannel” should work. But I also know that good, consistent omnichannel strategy and execution is possible.

Brands like Nike, Adidas, Starbucks and REI are realizing that, instead of just omnichannel, they need to act as one consistent channel in order to provide the consumer what they are looking for. If there are any inconsistencies across store, website, Instagram, etc., consumers notice.

How are these realizations and revelations happening? Executives are actually talking to each other outside of the quarterly board meetings. E-commerce, operations, design, web, social and marketing teams are getting together regularly to discuss goals and initiatives they can combine efforts on. Companies are allocating funds toward experience initiatives that involve multiple departments rather than splitting up everyone’s budgets to their own individual initiatives.

Oh, retail heavens rejoice!

As more and more brands adapt and departments continue to evolve outside of their own silos, I know that someday soon I will not have that empty feeling that I had when I left that unnamed retailer empty handed.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are departments working in silos the main hurdle preventing frictionless shopper journeys across different touchpoints? Does retail have particular characteristics that make silos harder to break down?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Nothing is worse for a brand than a customer wanting to buy something and not being able to."
"True omnichannel retailing means the process through which a transaction is completed would be the same or very similar across all channels..."
"The idea of retailers “cannibalizing” their own profits is ridiculous. You want to know another word for “cannibalization”? Evolution."

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19 Comments on "An open letter to retailers from a Millennial: Fix your omnichannel!"

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Max Goldberg

To properly design and execute an omnichannel strategy, retail management needs to go all in. This means breaking down the silos, providing the resources necessary for implementation and settling for nothing less. There is no excuse for not having a fully integrated omnichannel company.

Mark Ryski

Silos still exist, but I think retailers have made good progress in working to break them down. The fact is, it’s still very challenging to execute well and many retailers — like the one in the example — struggle with it. It’s hard to say if retail is particularly “siloed” compared to other industries, but we all know that there are many moving parts in a retail enterprise and it takes a lot of coordination to execute effectively.That said, there’s much work retailers need to do to improve this and it should be a top priority.

Anna Tolmach

So many retailers deliver a terrible customer experience in large part because their back-end tools and systems don’t talk to each other. You shouldn’t be advertising a jacket that’s out, much like you shouldn’t be telling a customer that the purchase they made online can’t be returned in-store. Siloed inventory is a huge problem for brands not only because it creates a suboptimal allocation problem between channels, but it also bleeds into a poor customer experience. Nothing is worse for a brand than a customer wanting to buy something and not being able to.

Sterling Hawkins

There’s a massive historical infrastructure many retailers have that makes it hard to break down silos and actually innovate. Some of them have taken the right steps, but the costs involved make the process too slow for the consumer market to bear. We’re seeing eCommerce players move into the brick and mortar world much more flexibly because they’re able to create an infrastructure purpose-built for omnichannel. Having updated information in the right place at the right time is key to omnichannel workability and a great customer experience.

Kate Munro

I completely agree, Anna. Millennials are strategic decision makers who retailers have struggled to understand for a while. In order to address their needs and provide an on trend product that Millennials actually want, when they want it, retailers have to leverage the entire retail community instead of working in silos. As retailers adapt to an omnichannel world, they must engage their suppliers, manufacturers and other business partners from the start of the design to the production process. Only when they take advantage of the industry knowledge and expertise available can retailers provide a seamless experience for this particular generation.

Jon Polin

Surprisingly many retailers still discuss channel cannibalization, when all that should concern them is getting that sale in any channel rather than letting it go to a competitor. A driver of this mistaken belief in cannibalization is crediting specific channel managers for sales, which dis-incents online and offline managers from cooperating with each other and aligning promotional and merchandising activity.

Jasmine Glasheen

I agree, Jon. The idea of retailers “cannibalizing” their own profits is ridiculous. You want to know another word for “cannibalization”? Evolution. And with all of the economical options for inventory management, there’s no excuse for customers still to be having the above experience.

Charles Dimov

Silos definitely exist. It takes commitment to a strategy to break through them. Retailers who figure this out are going to prosper… the rest are simply going to languish (they’ll experience a long slow death or eventually they get into it).

I am shocked every time I walk into a retailer who tells me that their online group is a different division and has nothing to do with their physical stores group (YES — it has happened to me and I am sure I am not alone). As more retailers take to omnichannel, the ones who don’t really are going to perish.

Set a strategy. Commit to it. Get the right technology to support it (OMS, good e-commerce software … ) and watch the competition flounder!

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
3 years 9 months ago
While omnichannel may have become a bad word now in some circles, it really represents a symbiotic relationship between online and physical stores and it requires full buy-in at all levels of the organization starting at the top. Successful retailers that become “omnichannel” have two things going for them. First, they have full executive sponsorship that actively tries to break down silos. There’s no doubt that silos in an organization, developed over many years of channel-focused sales and marketing, are preventing retailers from achieving omnichannel nirvana. Second, these retailers understand that omnichannel isn’t just about breaking silos by connecting disparate system in the back-end. It’s a complete cultural and organizational shift to thinking in terms of one channel — the customer. One view, or a unified commerce view, is now the goal to delivering a frictionless and great customer experience. The example in the article is spot-on regarding how this process is broken at so many retailers. At the same time, we’ve all seen this play out successfully at other retailers so we know it’s… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino

I’ve been following a new consumer-oriented design discipline which has emerged out of the social services delivery world: Service Design. Not thinking solely about such steps followed in an attempt to renew a drivers license or a visit the emergency room, Service Design can also apply to the process a shopper must go through to become a buyer. True omnichannel retailing means the process through which a transaction is completed would be the same or very similar across all channels, building a unique brand experience for that label. Open the silos!

Dick Seesel

Retailers are working to break down silos (not just between IT, merchants and stores but also between different groups of merchants overseeing the same products), just not fast enough. But the story related in the article also comes down to poor execution given the information tools available to avoid this sort of situation.

For a long time, retailers have run items in their promotional circulars that have not been in stock when customers visit stores — and companies like Target became notorious for this. But the systems that existed even 10 years ago are far different from today’s, so there is no excuse for this happening now. Any sort of marketing vehicle — whether a website, print ad or TV spot — ought to function like a party invitation, and the guests should be welcomed accordingly.

Brian Kelly
3 years 9 months ago

I recently did a bit of work and studied the executive leadership organizational structures of top retail. It starts there, among the c-suite. Winners have thinned out the direct reports to the CEO and responsibilities are combined which centralizes selling model components to ensure a seamless experience. At Kohl’s, Mansell has only four reports.

Additionally, old skill-sets are no longer appropriate for new tasks. And in order to create a brand experience relevant to a digital native, leadership has to improve its forward vision.

So the other challenge is an organization that remains overly driven by last year. Because the behavior of yesterday’s family-starting Boomer is not comparable to today’s family-starting Millennial.

It’s not hard to change if the organization is customer-centric.

Shep Hyken

To the customer, it’s not omnichannel. It’s ANY channel (or as Pegasystems calls it: No Channel). The experience in store, online, via social sites, etc., should be in line with the traditional experience that customers would normally expect from the brand.

The issues that many retailers have is they haven’t figured out how to integrate the channels properly. Some companies are doing it well and there are many platforms in support centers that bring all of these channels together. The one channel that is not easily tracked and combined with other channels is the in-store experience. However, with the right data integration, that in-store channel should blend in with the others.

Ralph Jacobson

Millennials aren’t the only shoppers who struggle with online shopping. All consumers do. Functional silos are definitely a major hurdle to creating the seamless shopping experience. The end-to-end journey needs to have constant and consistent communication across marketing, ecommerce, fulfillment and store/web operations. Capabilities like real time personalization for shoppers can best be accomplished via internal collaboration networks (e.g., instant messaging, etc.) and follow up for things like automated online anomaly detection, and intelligent sequencing of items on each web page, etc.

Lee Kent

The main hurdle I am seeing is the lack of inventory visibility. Many retailers are still behind the eight ball on inventory accuracy and omnichannel relies on it.

For my 2 cents.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m unclear on precisely what was Mr. Arps’ complaint: that they ran out of his size? That he had to pay for shipping? That there wasn’t a way to verify inventory without going to the store ?

I interpret “omnichannel” to mean being available in a variety of ways: in-store, online (with shipping), BOPIS, and the ability of the retailer to move between methods efficiently if one method becomes unavailable. But “frictionless” is a fantasy, and — IMHO — belongs right up or down there with complaints like “there was a sale, but the store was crowded….” In other words: “Get real.”

Bob Phibbs

Let’s be clear here. This is not a post about omnichannel. This is about a consumer who waited to buy an item. They saw the sale item and the retailer ran out of it. That’s what sales are supposed to do.

Could the experience have been better? Maybe. Retailers do not exist for people to follow merchandise down to the lowest price point.

William Passodelis
This whole thing seems ridiculous to me — in my stupid naïve way of thinking. Please the customer and do what you can to make things right for them. The sales associate in a perfect world should have been able to go to the computer, find IF any of the customer’s size was left anywhere in inventory, had it shipped to the store (free) or to his home (possibly with shipping? I say no, but I am not considering cost. However, a happy customer may be a good thing and worth assuming the shipping cost.) This should be possible today. There ARE retailers who can do this. Perhaps if the institution is so rigid and fixed in its way of operating, then those retailers need to go away so someone who can be more smooth in fulfillment CAN do the job. Perhaps that is what we are now witnessing day by day. Characteristics that make breaking down silos difficult are likely a result of a stale and un-evolving or rigid systems. If that cannot be… Read more »
Jeff Miller

Silos are definitely a hurdle, but I am not sure they are the main hurdle. The key issue is that change is really difficult and takes a large, ongoing and cohesive effort, especially the larger an organization is. I also don’t think retail is any different than other businesses who face changing consumer expectations.

"Nothing is worse for a brand than a customer wanting to buy something and not being able to."
"True omnichannel retailing means the process through which a transaction is completed would be the same or very similar across all channels..."
"The idea of retailers “cannibalizing” their own profits is ridiculous. You want to know another word for “cannibalization”? Evolution."

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