The omnichannel journey in retail
Retail companies are struggling to reach their customers in a direct, personal and seamless way, considering different touch points across digital and physical environments. Furthermore, they also failed in providing a unified communication across omnichannel experience, as well as building a customer-centric insight, in a path of knowing who their customers are, their desires, their current context, interpolating theirs customers’s probability of purchase or revamping their brand value.
This fact will be distilled in four sections:
- The problem presentation;
- Most-likely explanations;
- Current actions in progress;
- Good-to-go approaches in omnichannel journey.
1. The problem presentation
To better describe this problem, I’ll assume you, personally, have recently faced one of these three problems below:
- You complained about an online purchase delivery and when went to the brick-and-mortar store, they didn’t know anything about you and your previous purchases;
- You complained about a bad quality service inside a physical store and when you returned to the same store, or even another store of the same chain, they did nothing to take your attention or even try to change your concept or point of view about chain’s reputation, for instance, offering you a simple discount about referring your last purchase;
- You have a birthday, you received a 20% discount on a product and in the next day, a marketing email arrives your inbox, offering you a 35% discount in the same product.
These simple and dummies three examples brings out a collection of internal and deeply co-related problems: the lack of a 360º view of a customer, product and supply chain processes, as well as the absence of reacting properly to returning frustrated customer.
Retail know few things about customers, and among all those different information pieces from channels, they break down in combining information properly, in a sense of provide an appropriate way of touching customers heart. 
Another simple example of how the limited available data is disconnected is about predicting and suggesting what a hypothetical father of a newborn boy will need in the middle of a super crazy feeding routine. Retail just know they are man, middle-aged, who buys diaper frequently. Instead of suggesting additional baby-needs products or even understanding the current context, based on social-network data, historical purchases data or even direct-contact through a simple feedback, there are just discounts in the same obvious diapers packages (when happens, in the super best case). Even worst: alike if the baby doesn’t need diapers anymore.
As important as creating a customer picture insight, a secondary challenge, is to distribute recommendations and communications across all the channels, in a very consistent way, avoiding flooding the customer with controversial and repeated overlapped marketing and retargeting campaigns.
It is worth to note the way customers use different channels to make their purchase decision is very unpredictable, but it is important to understand and provide a affordable and ease background. A good customer experience in just one channel is not enough to maintain customer loyalty, and that’s the most important reason to observe and curate every single touch point.
2. Most-likely explanations
Few parts of this problem can be explained from past actions: many companies have created separate divisions for areas such as web sales, mobile app, B2B partners, as well as isolated departments for each channel, among packing, promotions, pricing, deliverable and inventory, constantly measuring their capacity of gross delivery in supply chain. 
The lack of processes governance, as well as absence of information federation, prevents a appropriated holistic view of the entire process and the whole customer’s journey. Nevertheless, this obfuscated vision avoids to engage people, since they can’t measure results and trust in day-to-day operations correlated data.
Company executives argues the biggest obstacles to accomplish better processes are organizational, rather than technical. They see lots of silos within the organization as the biggest hurdle, in companion of lack of senior management vision. 
Additionally, software platforms valid today may not be valid tomorrow, specially under different changing customer needs. We are seeing how fast industry and customer habits change from one day to another. And the reality is that many retailers still do not have a system that is valid today for an omnichannel environment, where business goals and the technology platform are closely interrelated. 
Dipping this set of co-related practices against an optimized and integrated view, we can list some of the major mistakes in inner silos:
- Strategic decisions focused on basis metrics: CAC, CRO, SCA, AOV, CR and CLV. It has been only measurements on the basis of the evolution of sales and profit, regardless of the public’s loyalty;
- The lack of company’s master data management and data federation across different channels;
- Operational data collect, measurement and KPI’s monitoring, cranking and justifying the company’s direction changes;
- 360º degree view of product, customer and customer’s journey across all retail channels ;
- Integrated inventory, delivery, reverse logistics, post-sales and customer support management across different channels;
- One-to-one marketing management and federation across different channels;
- Deep and many customization in software, implying in difficulty when updating off-the-shelf software platform, specially in global deployment cases;
- Acquirement of old-school monolithic software, stuck to the impedance of the tools functionality changes.
3. Current actions in progress
Nevertheless, wondrously, accordingly to , most retailers are just in the beginning of this journey: still looking at simple sales volumes to measure performance rather than longer-term indicators, such as length of customer engagement (only 27% of retailers).
Executive and strategic actions
There are a few exceptions like John Lewis , Marks & Spencer , Oasis, Disney and Uber, who invested in tracking every single user action, journey, cycles and channel bridges, to really know their customers, and cases in early stage as Walmart and Starbucks does, but massively the current executive action plans are:
- Adapting websites to mobile apps;
- Hiring a person to take overall charge of the customer journey, enabling a Clienteling practice;
- Unifying customer service across platforms;
- Setting up an integrated customer response unit to handle unified communication;
- Solving inventory management equation (and the bricks and clicks problem): connecting store transactions with online transactions for the same consumer, despite the lack of unified inventory view ;
- Mitigating the current distance and error-prone process of click and collect;
- Deploying web-based and mobile-friendly and analytics-powered PoS for brick-and-mortar retailers ;
- Enabling fleet, delivery, physical inventory, maintenance control as realtime promotions with IoT technology, as beacons provides .
Besides those elementary actions plans to create new channels and customers touch-points, as effective supply chain processes, a secondary big problem emerges the lack of integrated systems and data insights, which requires a major company reorganization and IT investments, as well as, exposes a major set of critical of operations.
Data integration barrier
Integrating data over different sources and vendors, despite a high degree of historical customization from mainstream off-the-shelf platform versions is a huge hurdle. Data cast, data correlations, quality and coherence is just an near impossible problem to solve.
Co-relating data properly is essential to enable a correct interaction between retailers and customers, since customers will be able to touch through several enabled channels.
Accordingly with Datameer and IBM , less than 1 in 10 companies feel they have an excellent understanding of the overall customer experience, and although it is very scary, it unveils a significant true: data is not correlated or integrated properly.
In major of cases, the current challenges in data integration are :
- Managing massive amount of consumer shopping and feedback on-premise data;
- Choose a suitable cloud or on-premise platform, which fits in data warehousing, aggregation and transformation needs;
- ETL load of unstructured and lazy/inconsistent data, distributed by several different marketing automation players, CRM, demographic data, web logs, social media and mobile data;
- Data lake correct analysis and reactions to the new ingested data (both as batch and streaming software operations) creating a enabled environment for customer actions predictions;
- Data enrichment and validation across different departments demands, as well as different channels and touch points;
- Creating data insights enabling KPIs monitoring in real-time, or even in near real-time.
- Sentiment analysis and recommendations based on machine learning algorithms .
4. Good-to-go approaches in omnichannel journey
Although most of retailers companies are just in the beginning of this complex journey, and below points are just baby steps (given the whole complexity and human/knowledge capital evolved in the process ), you should head the process considering high-end and first-class technology to provide ways to solve those problems and scale-as-you-grow, avoiding most commons businesses and software engineering problems.
There are some interesting facts to take into account :
- In a customer point of view, companies that reacts quickly to complains are important as those who offer a simplified checkout process;
- Companies are still groping the omnichannel experience, and are still making mobile-first experience in their newly arrived e-commerce platforms as well as understanding what really works to KPIs in loyalty program;
- The two biggest problems to provide a omnichannel experience is based on integration between legacy systems and silos in the organization, usually created by the evolutionary process itself.
Given that, here go some advices in providing an efficient way of solving these kind of disconnected businesses cases :
- Strangulate and dissolve local and inner silos. They should be transparent and not brought to customers;
- Clarify in advance to whole company what are their KPIs and objectives, which are the roadmaps and what reallly counts as success;
- Spread a top-down data-driven culture: the primary goal is to use data to be more agile and intentional than you are now;
- Recognize cross-channel retailing is the new normal and regular;
- Rely on technologies that are both easy to use and easy to change
- Scale maturity of platform as needs (transactions and governance) scales too; Avoid premature scaling.
- Provide ways of bridging customer’s journey, without processes glitches or abrupt breaks;
- Support full cycling services instead of defining full-service or self-service journey. Give the customer full process control to go back and forth;
- Provide personal recognition in the right moment and right place, providing gotchas moments.
Specific for technology and software architecture design, keep in mind to avoid :
- Over enginneering to build a integration or a new feature;
- Accidental complexity over essential complexity;
- Inapropriate technology deployment, delaying software development life-cycle;
- Not measuring or tracking changes properly, as well as customer engagement and feature usage;
- Total segregation of teams, lack of properly community and share motivation workplace;
- Building a feature or product without solution fit;
- Over-planning, executing without regular feedback and adjustment loop;
- Lack of a short planning and value engineering, clear enough to evolve every single person in the company, from technology perspective as well as in supply chain and operations perspective. (context over control)
Keep moving forward
Consumers make little distinction between the various platforms on some offer, and they judge companies squarely on their overall performance. They value speed, simplicity, quick responses to questions and reliable delivery, rather than worrying about whether they shop online or in-store. And they will walk away from companies that fail to satisfy these demands.
Providing a omnichannel experience is expect that people should be able to shop how and when they like, up their presence on the various individual
platforms, so that customers can switch between them or use them simultaneously, seamlessly.
The mindset and motivators to pursuit of a true omnichannel strategy implies a dramatic challenge to CIOs and IT departments of retail organizations, as well as constantly keep the whole company engaged during the process of how big will be losses and the impact of not deeply knowing who is buying goodies.
References & Additional content
-  Creating a seamless retail customer experience (Panasonic)
-  Building Architecture to deliver omnichannel services (OpenBravo)
-  The operational implications of omnichannel retailing (Cisco)
-  Omnichannel vs Multicanal (CI&T)
-  Loja do futuro (Ecommerce Brasil)
-  The transformational power of an omnichannel POV (CMSWire)
-  Omnichannel Retailing: It’s Just What Customers Expect (CMSWire)
-  The omnichannel challenge in retail (Economists Insights)
-  How the IoT is changing the face of commerce (Startrack)
-  Capturing the Potential of Omni-channel Commerce (Accenture)
-  How to build an ecommerce business that scales (Bigcommerce)
-  That’s a nice little $40M ecommerce company. (For Entrepreneurs)
-  Building Large-Scale eCommerce Platforms With Oracle (Oracle)
-  Right integration strategy — a cornerstone for omnichannel retail (WIPRO)
-  John Lewis’s journey to omni-channel retail
-  Retailers aim to solve omnichannel inventory equation
-  User experience: what are the real beenfits of a web-based PoS? (OpenBravo)
-  Conquering Customer Analytics in retail (OpenBravo)
-  Startup Genome Report Extra on Premature Scaling (Interactive Lab)
-  How retailers innovate with new generation PoS (OpenBravo)
-  5 Big Data Use Cases to Understand Your Customer Journey (Datameer)
-  5 Ways Retailers Benefit from ‘Internet of Things’ (Practical Ecommmerce)
-  Big Data Analytics and its Application in ECommerce
-  What can you learn from Oasis’s omnichannel strategy
-  The Wizards of Omni: How Disney and Uber Transformed Omnichannel from Fantasy into Reality
-  Omnichannel Heroes: Starbucks and Its Cultivation of a Community