Reality hits omnichannel retail with a hard truth
Does a customer really care who handles their purchases, customer service questions or returns so long as it’s fast and convenient? Is a unified back-end process managed by a single entity the key determinant of loyalty in 2022?
Having recently purchased an item from Walmart.com and returning it to a FedEx office closer to my home than the nearest Walmart store, I’d say no to each of these questions. Walmart’s willingness to “farm out” this aspect of product returns points to an opportunity that goes beyond traditional operating models.
The same could be said of department stores spinning off their e-commerce businesses. Many retail experts express horror at what looks like a regressive step in the pursuit of a unified customer experience.
Some fear competition for customers between formerly unified store and e-commerce operations. Others see stores becoming simple distribution centers optimized to support digital sales and returns.
Retail’s omnichannel problem has been characterized as operational silos preventing a seamless customer journey across channels. That was true in the past, but there are factors redefining omnichannel now.
A software engineering team focused on customer experience is concerned with the in-store experience to the extent it helps customers find, buy and collect their purchases most efficiently. Nothing in that statement suggests stores must be owned and operated by the same entity. It’s a research exercise, not a required business model.
Shopping behaviors have been forever changed by the pandemic, with consumers buying more online. Successful digital operations are a necessity, not an option. These need funding and focus given the rapid pace of innovation and competition.
Speaking of innovation, Industry Clouds from AWS, Google, Microsoft and others are driving massive growth in these technology businesses. These are bringing best practices, lower costs and agility to retailers struggling to adapt to constant change, given decades of legacy IT acting as an anchor on digital transformation.
The cloud offers easy access to analytic methods like AI and external data to power differentiated experiences across any touchpoint — be it digital or physical. Greater intra-industry partnering, technology integration strategy and Cloud will define omnichannel success in 2022 more so than intertwining store and e-commerce operations under a single banner.
- Will physical and digital retail operations perform better on their own? – RetailWire
- #1 Industry Cloud: Google or Microsoft? Salesforce or SAP? Oracle or Workday? – Acceleration Economy Network
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do customers care who handles their purchases, customer service questions or returns? Can retailers maintain seamless customer experiences via separate physical and digital operations?