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Going omni-channel: Are your offline and online strategies at war?

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Modern Indian consumers are increasingly seeking seamless shopping experiences across digital and offline channels. They expect to have flexibility to find and buy a product or service no matter where they are.
"Digital commerce, although currently only a $2B market, but growing 65 per cent, it is a key driver of the overall $600B retail sector," says to a report by Strategy&. This growth of digital commerce has made consumers an “Omnichannel consumer” who expect to be able to provide feedback and receive service in multiple channels.
Thus to make the shopping experience seamless and to give consumer new levels of convenience some big offline retailers are taking a major steps toward adopting an omnichannel way for their business.
Last month Future Group’s Group CEO Kishore Biyani disclosed plans on the ‘rebirth of Future Group’, which included becoming a multi-channel retailer and launching an omni-channel retail strategy later this year."We have a plan: 50,000 online agents, assisted shopping, pay anywhere, pick up anywhere. The strategy will emerge slowly. We want to tap 16,000-18,000 pin codes," Biyani said, referring to the Group’s omni-channel ambitions.
[The status quo of siloed online and offline groups prevent innovative omni-channel programmes from seeing the light of day.]
Department store chain Shoppers Stop has also announced its intention to invest about Rs 50 crore over the next three years in building the technology, supply chain and talent to strengthen its omni-channel play. The chain has partnered with hybris, a SAP company, to generate seamless and unified shopping experiences for customers across multiple channels.
Thinking — and transforming — it through
Experts, however, feel that mere adoption of a multi-channel operation for business is not the right approach; it should be a step-by-step process."The first step on getting started with omni-channelling is understanding the needs and behaviours of one’s customers. This will lead to the next step of designing the experiences that fits your brand into their natural habits and day-to-day lives," explains Berry Singh, COO and co-founder of Ace Turtle, a company that designs and manages mono brand online stores for brands, enabling them to capitalise on omnichannel opportunities.
"Finally come the selection and deployment of right technologies to optimise and deliver these experiences in an efficient, cohesive and consistent manner to the consumer. Brands that can deliver this will create value and increase loyalty," he adds.
Turf wars
"Moving towards an omni-channel structure is a combination of mindset shifts, which needs to flow across the organisation with a buy-in from all key stakeholders and more importantly, patience. The fundamental success of an omni-channel environment will not depend on the amount of investment, but on adoption and transformation," Singh notes.
A Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper commissioned by Accenture and hybris, a SAP company, endorses this analysis and points out that retailers must abolish siloed channel strategies altogether. "Regardless of who is ultimately responsible for omni-channel, a successful strategy requires more than just deep crossfunctional alignment. Many retailers today are going further by unifying their P&Ls, organisations, and technology to ensure an obsessive focus on the needs of the customer rather than the needs of legacy channel structures," the Paper says.
While many of the most successful online retailers in the US today are those who started out as brick-and-mortar retailers and converted their retailing insights into a robust omni-channel strategy, Indian retailers are just warming up with omnichannel strategies. Asserts J Suresh,managing director & CEO, Arvind Lifestyle Brands Ltd: "There is no question that all brick-and-mortar retailers today need to be omni-channel retailers. I mean, it’s not like there is a choice.""If you look at the top 20 US online retailers, only one — Amazon — is a pure play. All others are omni-channel retailers who started out as brick-and-mortar formats," he states. As for Arvind Lifestyle Brands, the company is currently developing a robust omni-channel framework — across all portfolio brands — which is to go live in October 2015, Suresh informs.
But for Arvind Lifestyle and other Indian retailers developing omni-channel capabilities, change management at the organisational level will be the key to a successful transition, as the Forrester Consulting paper warns.
"The status quo of siloed online and offline groups prevent innovative omni-channel programmes from seeing the light of day. There are many stakeholders involved in the strategy and execution of omni-channel," it says, although referring to only retailers in the U.S.
"The reality is that only a few retailers have yet completely dismantled their online, offline, and mobile channel silos, implementing a single retail P&L with an associated organisational structure for all sales, regardless of channel," it adds.
And this is something Indian retailers can take note of; undoubtedly, their transition stories feature similar plots. For companies with multiple franchisees, the complexities would be immensely higher. The successful evolution to a bricks-and-clicks model — the most likely future format, according to experts — will depend on how retail organisations execute an enterprise-wide change management protocol.

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