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The multi-challenge journey to multi-channel retail

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 18, 2014
Research suggests that 55% of  retailers investments have been driven by customers already expecting mature omni-channel capabilities and the need to play catch-up with their competitors. But how many of them can actually deliver?

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Last week we flagged up the difficulties that UK supermarket chain Morrisons has encountered, in large part due to the neglect it’s shown of the need to address the needs of the multi-channel shopper.

At the time we called it a warning to shops all around the globe, a warning echoed today by new research that finds that retailers as a whole are struggling to meet the multi-channel expectations of customers.

The research - Customer Desires vs. Retailer Capabilities: Minding the Omnichannel Commerce Gap - from Accenture and SAP subsidiary Hybris and conducted by Forrester Consulting, makes for grim reading for the retail sector.

The report picks out four key findings:

  • Technology investment is critical to enabling exemplary omni-channel customer experience.
  • Omni-channel customer experience is now a brand differentiator.
  • Many retailers have reached a false state of omni- channel comfort.
  • New titles alone won’t cut it — retailers must abolish siloed channel strategies altogether.

Based on responses from 1,500 multi-channel shoppers and 256 decision makers from retail and manufacturing organizations across the US, the UK, France and Germany, some stats:

  • 94% of retail decision makers said their companies face "significant barriers" to becoming an integrated omni-channel company.
  • 71% of the shoppers expect to view in-store inventory online
  • 50% expect to buy online and pick up their purchase in a physical store.
  • 39% of customers say they won’t revisit a store if the website doesn’t meet their need.
  • 46% of retail decision makers say they have assembled dedicated omni-channel team.
  • But 40% of retailers admit to “having difficulty" integrating back-office technology across all of their channels.
  • Only 36% of retail decision makers surveyed said their companies could meet customers multi-channel expectations.

Most alarmingly, 55% of the retailers state that their investments have been driven by customers already expecting mature omni-channel capabilities and the need to play catch-up with their competitors.

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The Accenture/Hyrbis/Forrester study warns:

The problem is that many retailers lack clear goals for what they are trying to achieve. Not all initiatives can or should be measured using the same metrics. Retailers must group initiatives based on intended outcomes, for example, revenue growth, customer experience, or cost efficiencies. Once the goal for each has been established then measurement can occur, which in turn can help retailers prioritize future investments and identify the innovative game-changing initiatives from the white elephants in the room.

Mobile clearly plays a significant role, both on the buy and sell side:

  • 56% of consumers have used their mobile device to research products at home.
  • 38% have used their mobile device to check inventory availability while on their way to a store.
  • 34% have used their mobile device to research products while in a store.
  • 69% of consumers expect store associates to be armed with a mobile device.
  • Half of all consumers that visit a physical store expect the sales associate to be able look up product information for them.
  • Only 39% of retailers today have enabled this capability.

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The main challenges to successful deployment of multi-channel infrastructure are:

  • Organizational and ownership-centric with too many stakeholders ranging from CMO, SVP eCommerce, head of omni-channel, CIO, head of sales, and head of supply chain.
  • Technology and integration-centric with difficulties in integrating back-office technology across channels.
  • Operational and execution-centric with few retailers having made the necessary training investments to enable store associates to effectively perform the roles of product evangelists, customer service advocates, and distribution experts.

Ultimately the report makes a series of strategic recommendations:

  • Stop playing catch-up and start integrating your channels now - on the basis that retailers that take a wait-and-see approach to omni-channel initiatives will miss the expectations of their customers today.
  • Leverage technology to enable a seamless experience, allowing for inventory to be visible and available in all touchpoints and enabling the leveraging of key customer data at the moment the customer is ready to make a purchase decision.
  • Create a cross-functional omni-channel leadership team, balancing the desire to have buy-in from multiple functions with the ability to be agile and move quickly.
  • Establish clear goals that bridge the gap between your customer expectations and existing capabilities.
  • Create success metrics and incentive structures that drive omni-channel results and lead to customer-centric goals that are universal across all channels.
  • Understand that success may take longer to see and be ready invest today with the understanding that ROI may occur over time.
  • Turn physical stores into service and engagement centers.
  • Remain agile as retail is a journey where the end result is always in flux.


A timely read for the senior management at Morrisons, but also for all retail firms.

The final point - about retail being always in flux - rings particularly true.

The multi-channel demands of the customer base are not going to be easy to meet, but no retail firm that hopes to be around in five years time can afford to flinch from facing up to the challenge.

Graphics: Accenture/Hybris/Forrester

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