Total Retail… Buzzword, or a genuine shift from omnichannel, to “customer first”​ retailing?

This post originally appeared as an article on Carl’s LinkedIn profile here.

Following a year of political instability, rising operational costs and store closures there was no better way to blow off the retail cobwebs, than an 8,000 mile round trip across the USA — meeting retailers and marketers to share ideas on customer first retailing.

Not dissimilar to the UK, the US has seen online channels continue to grow, with mobile commerce gaining momentum in a movement that is changing the way consumers shop and challenging the overall purpose of physical stores.

Retailers in both markets have started the new year pondering how to broaden their reach to generate awareness and foot traffic, while creating experiences that are personalized, relevant and immersive so their customers remain frequent and loyal (nothing new there).

In fact, everything I read prior to my trip felt of old. There was still a lot of reporting that “retail was dying” and referred to a wave of mass mall closures. I also read a lot of news that big brand retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Walmart, and Sears would close stores in 2017 following a challenging year for many other retail brands like American Apparel, The Limited, Aeropostale and Sports Authority.

Through all of the gloom and scaremongering, I kept finding references “to channels,” and so I wanted to explore the steps retailers have been taking to bridge the gap, close the loop and “omnify” their retail business. This had me thinking about the term “omnichannel” — a buzzword that has been kicking around in retail for the best part of a decade.

I reflected on the many strategies I have personally observed, designed for the purpose of connecting across the channels, following a path and propensity to purchase, with close attention to how mobile devices and new technology can positively impact the journey across multiple touch points, online and offline.

I couldn’t help but think that with so many moving parts and the need for multiple departments to break operational silos (online, offline, e-commerce, mobile, e-commerce and brick and mortar), it’s no wonder that 10 years had passed with many retailers still struggling to execute strategies initially designed to simply let the customer shop when, where and how they wanted.

My curiosity kept directing me to the same question…

Is it possible that retailers have become channel obsessed, and if so, what could be done to future-proof their business and avoid ten more years in a slow moving, omnichannel state?

What better way to find out than to visit the country that hosts over 50% of the largest retailers in the world. And I learned a lot along the way…

The level of focus shown to the consumer, (a subject close to my heart) inspired me, and I felt encouraged by the urgency to get all marketing functions (and budgets) under one roof — removing the restrictions and silos that often exist within complex org structures in a major retail company.

I felt the reality from a customer perspective was starting to hit home.

Consumers don’t think in channels and give no thought to whether they’re in a store, on a mobile device, or browsing from laptop. They want one seamless experience, and they don’t care where the channel is or what it’s called.

Similarly, shoppers are not thinking online and offline — why would they?

Connected mobile devices and mobile shopping are becoming habitual with 19% of all US e-commerce sales come from mobile, a number that is expected to reach 27% by the end of 2018. (A similar trend in the UK is happening where reportedly 2.5 million Brits are buying on their mobile device every day.)

It was incredible to see that this seismic shift in shopping behavior is not cause for concern. Channels still continue to operate in complete isolation and are unable to see beyond blurred lines from channel to channel.

Mobile has become a personal passion of mine, especially in regards to future proofing retail, through the engagement of the younger generations coming through — the tech savvy, early adopters of technology, who consider mobile as a portal to the world, not just a phone. This audience is not mobile. First, they are always mobile.

I am privileged to work for a company dedicated to future customer segments, beyond millennials (who are now early 20’s heading towards graduation) — Generation Z, Alpha Gen and beyond.

These generations are born and grow up connected, in a world where social media influences mobile buying behavior and contextual, relevant mobile experiences are an essential part of the shopping experience.

I set out with my US colleagues on a cross-country road trip, to explore how retailers can learn from younger generations that are growing up demanding a “totally unified retail experience.”

An experience that allows them to glide seamlessly across the channels using their technology to access full visibility over inventory, pricing, and ratings — bridging the offline and online experience with digital/social tools and immersive in-store experiences that make shopping personal, relevant, social and interactive.

We were able to channel our thinking towards customer first retailing, both for today and for the future generations, considering how standard retail practices would change to meet the needs of customers.

It was great to take a step back from traditional omnichannel thinking and share new ideas, and transformational concepts that shift from a digital/store focus to a customer-first focus. It is a concept I’ve been lovingly referring to as Total Retail — the new buzzword on the block.

Buzzwords aside, this journey gave me confidence that retail and omnichannel are in fact, not dead, just rapidly changing. Many retailers are embracing the change head on — putting customers before channels and looking to the future generations to get ahead of the curve.

The big wins are happening where brands, retailers, and marketers take steps towards channel agnostic thinking. Where it doesn’t matter where the customers shop, it is about understanding what inspires and drives them there, wherever they prefer to purchase and via a combination of the latest social media, mobile innovation, and personalized, immersive experiences.

There are naturally lots of other considerations, ideologies (and buzzwords) going around.

Seamless circular commerce, customer centricity, effortless experience, price parity, price intelligence, content benchmarking, cross brand transactions, boundary-less shopping, attribution, store tracking, data, merchant POS, NFC, RFID, (and hundreds more…).

But there is something about this Total Retail thing…

Customer first retailing, everything unified, always mobile, future proof — now there’s a thought!

To learn more about UNiDAYS and how we can breathe life back into your in-store programs, visit our website at

Like what you read? Give Carl Aelle a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.