Five keys to success in an ‘unboxed retail’ and ‘omnichoice’ world

Photo: REI
Aug 15, 2022

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Dave Wendland, VP, strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group and Forbes Council Member. The article first appeared on

With today’s shoppers interacting with retailers on their phones, through social media, websites and countless other modes, “unboxed retail” has created a dilemma for many retail formats anchored on street corners across America.

How can stores untether their shoppers from legacy shopping and manage the associated logistics of inventory management, fulfillment, returns and customer service?

The pandemic certainly put a spotlight on the significance of omnichannel commerce as online retail transactions became more prevalent. Consumers are increasingly in charge of how, where and when they interact with retailers.

For brand marketers striving to remain at the forefront of an increasingly “omnichoice” market, positioning products that are available when and where consumers need them and having the infrastructure built to function in a seamless virtual world are necessities.

Here are five keys to success:

  • Product assets: The consistency of your brand’s data, attributes, images and representations is essential.
  • Fulfillment: While access and availability (in-stock condition) remain essential, last-mile delivery and fulfillment are now key factors among consumers. Work backward from the customer’s viewpoint by asking yourself these critical questions: What is the desired outcome of the delivery? Where will the ordered product be stocked (warehouse, in-store, third-party, etc.)? How will the product arrive? What will happen if the consumer is dissatisfied?
  • Brand integrity: As shoppers become more aware and learn about the purpose of any brand, they are more likely to purchase. Give consumers the “why” behind their buy. This will create the brand’s personality and establish its identity. The key is to communicate repeatedly. As a wise mentor of mine, “Rocket Ray” Jutkins, once told me, “Repetition will build your reputation!”
  • Loyalty: Lifetime customers should be the goal of any brand (unless you are selling coffins). Understanding your consumers, inviting them to establish a relationship with your brand and then truly getting to know them — as personally as they will allow — inspires one-on-one conversations and a true bond.
  • Expansion: When consulting with brands, they are often taken aback when I ask them, “What’s next?” In other words, what are the long-term plans for the brand’s life cycle? Preliminary planning can be the difference between long-term success and short-term failure.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What factors have become more important in guiding retail success amid increasingly “wherever, whenever, however” shopping behavior? Which of the suggestions offered in the article is most overlooked?

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"Location, location, location is now visibility, visibility, visibility. "

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14 Comments on "Five keys to success in an ‘unboxed retail’ and ‘omnichoice’ world"

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Ken Morris

Location, location, location is now visibility, visibility, visibility. Retailers and shoppers alike must see the same products, in real time. Stores will either become destinations for designed experiences or they will be drive-throughs for picking up orders. What will tie all this together? Strategy and universal application of RFID technology. I’d like to say it’s just that simple, but it’s not. Today’s retailers — if they want to be around tomorrow — need to completely rethink their business models.

Dave Wendland

You nailed it, Ken. “Today’s retailers — if they want to be around tomorrow — need to completely rethink their business models.”

Jeff Weidauer

The first step is for the retailer to make “wherever, whenever, however” its priority so resources are focused on that goal. Right now many are still pining for the “good old days” and trying to bring shoppers’ behaviors back to normal.

Gary Sankary
I mostly agree with the metrics put forward by Mr. Wendland, with a couple of caveats. In the last few years, one thing that has become crystal clear is in-stocks, i.e., inventory reliability, especially in key items, might be the single most important metric to measure. Studies have shown that if you’re out of stock more than twice on a customer’s core basic item, you lose the customer and all the other items on their list. I strongly agree with the point on brand integrity and customer loyalty. The two go hand in hand. Building a credible, relevant brand relationship with customers is even more critical now that the competition for customers’ attention is fierce. The one attribute I would add is “accessibility.” How easy can customers shop, receive, and return products from your brand? I saw the following scenario during the pandemic when retailers were ramping up their BOPIS and curbside capabilities. I could shop and pay for products. Meanwhile the scheduled time to pick up the products might be three to four days… Read more »
David Spear

Dave’s five keys are all spot-on. I’ll do a brief dive into omni-fulfillment because I think it’s critically important. Before COVID-19, a colleague and I developed a presentation for BOPIS/D (buy online, pick-up in-store or delivery). As we put a microscope on it, we found roughly 18 different steps that had to be orchestrated flawlessly in order for the experience to be minimally successful. Every one of these steps is not easy and requires collective thought on how to continually make it better. As the world becomes more digitally native every day, e-commerce and the manner in which it’s delivered requires new thinking, new ways of working and new business models. Looking out five years from now, I’m sure what we know of BOPIS/D today will be radically different.

Dave Wendland

Thank you, David. I would love to see the 18 steps you identified as requirements for flawless BOPIS/D. Seems to me few retailers — if any — are mastering this yet. And, by the time they find the key, the lock will be changed (again!).

Brad Halverson

No doubt. Kudos to David and team to view so many angles from the customer side of things.

Gene Detroyer
This is a spot-on analysis by Dave. Each of the items named is important. If you made me vote, I would take integrity. Integrity in every sense of the word is not only in your products but in how you run your business, and how your associates see the customer. There’s very little to add to today’s commentary. However I particularly like the last paragraph. It talks about legacy. Legacy in retail and any company continues to get in the way of that company’s future. Very few of today’s most prominent companies are over 30 years old. What happened to the ones before that? I can imagine Dave’s conversation with the head of a Woolworth or a Sears or an A&P, in their heyday, answering about the future. “This is the future. We’re number one. We’re the best. Why would we change?” Sadly, the consumers are changing without any commitment to the retailer’s legacy. When I teach business models, I surprise my student with how to approach them. They always want to start at the… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron

You’re exactly right to take the customer first approach to designing strategies and supporting operations. My vote for #1 is brand integrity provided the retailers can deliver on the promise.

Rachelle King
In today’s commerce-verse, omni-commerce created omni-choice. Omni-choice requires omni-presence and omni-presence is not sustainable without brand integrity. Sometimes, brands and retailers launch a website and dust their hands off, as if the website alone will drive omni-commerce. That website is just the tip-of-the-iceberg. The real work comes in driving traffic to your site, delivering on fulfillment expectations and providing an experience that invites consumers to return. It also requires meeting your consumers where they are in the commerce-verse and constantly reminding of your brand promise. Often, the most tangible growing pain in omni-commerce is fulfillment. But why so many efforts rise and fall quickly is the real strategic work required upfront is not done. The minute a brand launches a commerce site, they become one of many. This is not just a fulfillment challenge. The truth is, no one cares to buy your stuff just because it’s available online. Things like brand trust, brand integrity, consumer experience and that fine line of being present/accessible without being annoying are equally important. The more omni-commerce we have,… Read more »
Brad Halverson

Fulfillment can often be overlooked, not in the sense that should it be executed successfully and consistently, but more so around not adequately doing the heavy lifting in planning, and in working backward from the customer to ensure an incredible experience.

A great brand promise, brand assets and relationship building will support a good customer experience foundation. Product and execution must deliver first and well for brand and loyalty to be real and believable.

David Mascitto

In an increasingly omnichannel world, fulfillment has grown and continues to grow in importance. Historically, when DCs did most of the heavy lifting for order fulfillment it was a supply chain responsibility. With omnichannel retail, fulfillment is now part of a network that includes stores. The responsibility of fulfillment should no longer rest solely on supply chain; e-commerce, store ops and even merchandising/allocation now play a role in ensuring a seamless shopping experience across all channels, physical and digital.

Ricardo Belmar

It’s all about the data. Product data, inventory data, customer data, and the list goes on. Data is the foundation of the modern retail business. Without reliable, up-to-date, and clean data it’s difficult for any technology investment in fulfillment, marketing investment in loyalty, or expansion strategy to be executed successfully and maintain brand integrity. Poor data will result in your customer not seeing the same product assortment in-store and online, or missing out on a loyalty perk, or failing to get the product fulfilled in the manner they desire. Starting with data around your products and customer is fundamental and is where retailers often overlook in the zeal to deliver new capabilities to the business or to customers. Once this is firmly established, retailers can move on to the rest of the list and then think about how they are expanding the business!

Anil Patel

Customers look for convenience when they shop. So, retailers must become more “customer-centric” and to achieve that, one lucrative way could be establishing omnichannel capabilities.

However, many retailers often overlook the fulfillment part of orders. For instance, a customer may have ordered a BOPIS product via e-commerce but, on arriving at the store to pick up the order, if the order is not ready and packed the customer will have to wait in the interim. Such mismanagement in order fulfillment leads to poor customer experience. Therefore, to refrain from such scenarios retailers must do a vigilant analysis while deploying any solution.

Ultimately, retailers’ aim must circle around providing customers with an elevated shopping experience.

"Location, location, location is now visibility, visibility, visibility. "

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