Let’s call a spade a spade: Omnichannel is one of the most bastardised words in the retail lexicon. Every one of us in the industry has at one point or another (loosely) used the word to refer to the evolution of organized brick-and-mortar retail to this fuzzy wuzzy, feel-good future utopian vision of seamless multi-channel consumer journeys where consumers effortlessly float between the offline and online worlds, with magical smartphones in their hands, purchase inducing tablets in those of store staff, dazzling large-form factor digital interfaces in stores, and unified inventory and order management as free-flowing manna powering these journeys. Take any/ all of the italicised words above, string them in any interchangeable combination, package it as the future ‘digital’ state of a brand/ retailer and you have talking points for board meetings and strategy sessions for the second coming of your business to combat slowing comps, shrinking margins, and competition from marketplaces. In fact for most of the last decade in modern retail, we have been heralding Omnichannel as the messianic solution to an otherwise hyper competitive industry. It’s like a bad Chinese calendar: every year is the ‘Year of Omnichannel (plans)’ for most brands and retailers, with an aspiration to cater to the new mysterious digital consumer. Our continued commitment to this quest for the holy grail in retail has even induced us to come with new words to continue selling the dream: New Retail, Phygital, Retail 3.0, Me-tail, etc. But here is the other fact that we need to internalize: most brands/ retailers have still to create meaningful Omnichannel results that deliver value for their consumers and their businesses. So regardless of what we call it and how we choose to define it, as practitioners we still need to build on Omnichannel retail correctly–or more apt, smartly.
At Arvind Internet, we also started off with the same fuzzy vision of Omnichannel retail, but after working with leading brands and retailers in India to enable their Omnichannel playbooks, we’ve come to realize that the missing element in failed Omnichannel roadmaps vs. their successful counterparts is often the ‘smarts’. While we’re being a bit cheeky in using the word smartly, it is meant to highlight one important fact that is often written off given all the noise around this topic: there are significant positive benefits for the consumer AND positive ROI for retailers in implementing an Omnichannel playbook, if implemented keeping the key job to be done in mind. So what is the key job to be done in Omnichannel retail? That’s the topic for the rest of this article but before we get into it, let’s state a few first principles regarding Omnichannel retail–a few ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ statements before proceeding further:
1. Omnichannel retail is not a sprint to a utopian vision but learnings driven, long-term, sequenced organizational transformation playbook, equally technology and operations driven, to create value for your customers first and thereby for your business.
2. There is no offline consumer or online consumer. There is the (same) consumer who interacts with your brand/ retail business through multiple channels: stores, apps, sites, pop-ups, emails, SMS, call-centers, chatbots, etc.
3. Just because you build, does not mean your consumers will use it; building multiple channels/ touchpoints for your consumers does not necessarily give you a win but just gets you to the [poker] table. Your subsequent playbook enables you to win.
4. A corollary to the previous point: if you build without a thoughtful playbook, you’re at the table, but you’re pot committing to a losing game. Add confirmation + outcome biases and you start questioning the value of Omnichannel retail.
5. Omnichannel retail is like an iceberg. The hype is currently about the tip of it–the hygiene ‘plumbing’ needed to connect channels. The large value-creating ‘bulk’ of an Omnichannel transformation still remains below the surface of the water–well out of view of most brands/retailers trying to surmount the tip of it.
The Job to be Done
If we believe these principles, then we come back to the question about the job to be done: what value are we creating for the customer and therefore, what must our carefully sequenced transformational playbook be focused on to truly realise the larger value in Omnichannel retail, beyond the hygiene plumbing? If we speak about fashion, then the job to be done becomes quite simple: we should be solving core fashion shopping needs in a smarter, more effective manner than in the past. Sounds quite simple, eh? So why the struggle to reach our utopian destination?
Let’s try an analogy to answer this question. Imagine if a consumer goes to a store to buy a computer and the retailer hands him a display, keyboard, mouse, motherboard, casing, power supply and all the other unassembled hardware required for a functioning personal computer. Does the consumer have a computer? Yes, in a manner of speaking, but is that really the computer the consumer had in mind?
Let’s say that instead of disparate hardware, the computer hardware came pre-assembled? Would that solve the consumer’s needs? Again, yes to a better extent but let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the real needs of the consumer. When the consumer is asking for a computer, he/ she is not really asking for hardware. The real needs of that consumer are word-processing or browsing the Internet or printing a document, etc. These are the core reasons why the consumer wants a personal computer and thus along with the hardware the consumer is also looking for operating logic (an operating system) to enable these activities. The consumer is implicitly asking for the ‘smarts’ needed to solve his/her computing needs in the most effective manner.
Similarly when it comes to fashion shopping, a consumer’s core needs are not ‘hardware’–websites, apps, kiosks, chatbots or any other channel/ touch point. Consumers are looking to purchase a cocktail dress for a party in three days or a pair of pants to wear with a given shirt or the latest trends from a favorite brand–these are the core needs to be solved for and the job to be done in Omnichannel retail is to cater to these needs in a more seamless manner. Rather than focusing on the core needs, most retailers are focused on knee-jerk, flavor of the month ‘hardware’ strategies and are still struggling to execute Omnichannel at a hardware level, the tip of the iceberg. Retail insiders often make the mistake of defining Omnichannel success around channels, features or technology implementations rather than the operating logic to solve customer needs. We are often more enamored about the thought of digital interfaces in stores rather than thinking about what that interface does to solve real customer needs. Thus shopping logic and therefore seamless experiences are often completely missing from our Omnichannel playbooks. Some retailers are further down the roadmap with a rudimentary operating system, like MS-DOS, if you may. Like MS-DOS, the current operating logic built into our shopping systems requires the consumer to figure out what commands to execute to get what they want. Just as the user must memorize the command prompt commands to be able to access files, print, browse, etc. in MSDOS, shoppers in the current shopping system must rely on their logic to decide how to use various touch points to get what they want in the most headache-free manner. But the true holy grail of retailing is not having consumers jump through hoops to get what they really want, but to provide them with superior operating logic via the shopping system to get what they want, when they want it and with minimal effort. The job to be done is to progressively and swiftly move away from MS-DOS to a Sirilike operating system which enables consumers to tell the shopping operating system ‘what to do’ rather than ‘how to do it’. Keeping these core customer needs at the center of the playbook, the goals of Omnichannel transformations then is to abstract the shopping logic away from the consumer and build it seamlessly into the retail network to allow a consumer to get what they want, when they want it and in the smartest manner possible.
Building-in Retail ‘Smarts’
At Arvind Internet, we work closely with our brand partners to build long-term playbooks focused on the jobs to be done and therefore the operating logic to be built into the Omnichannel network to solve core customer needs, seamlessly. Our product platform, Omuni, offers an integrated SaaS technology stack with the building blocks needed to create retail ‘smarts’ for consumers to get what they want most effectively. While there are many areas where we bring in better operating logic into the shopping system, let’s discuss three areas that are low hanging fruits to build-in smarts into fashion Omnichannel playbooks:
A simple need like buying a pair of jeans to replace an old pair can often be daunting process for consumers. After identifying the need, a consumer will often have to use their head to decide how best to shop that need. Should I go to a store or check online? If I shop online, will I get it on time? Which store should I go to, given the brand has four stores in my city to get what I want? Where will I get the best price? These are all answers that require the consumer to think through ‘how to’ shop. And even after going through this decision making each time, retail data tells us that consumers have broken journeys. 1 in 4 customers typically walk out of a store because they might have an intention to buy but can’t find their size, style or price point. While the sale might be lost what’s even more painful (and sadly accepted shopping expectations) is that the consumer might have to hop between 3-4 stores before they can find the ‘right’ product. Now imagine a journey where a consumer starts the journey on a mobile app and simply specifies the need to be solved via a natural language voice input: ‘I want a pair of dark jeans in my size, under Rs 3,000 and I need it today’. Connecting the consumer’s opted-in identity, shopping history, preferences, and 360 degree customer data model genome mapping vs. others, along with geo-location sensor data, the app is able to show all recommended products as a personalized lookbook available in driving distance of the consumer to ensure that he/she gets it the same day. More importantly, the personalized listing shows the exact size, inventory, and price availability of the products before a customer even decides to step foot into a store and allows the consumers to buy the item on the app. When the item is ready for pickup, the app notifies the customer that the order is ready, maps the directions to the store, and informs the store associate that the customer has walked into the store for the pickup and to recommend two shirts that complete the look based on predictive AI-driven recommendations. This example of a simplified end-to-end product discovery journey exemplifies the power of abstracting the ‘how’ operating logic away from the customer and builds it into a ‘what’ driven guided journey.
– Connecting Content to Context – Shopping for fashion is no longer simple, linear, single session journeys. Inspiration, awareness, consideration, purchase, service, and loyalty often happen today in a series of micro-moments across physical and digital media. A consumer, made aware of a brand by user-generated content on Instagram two days ago, might see the same brand’s ad on Instagram while riding the train to work and decide to click through to the brand’s landing page. The journey might pick-up at lunch the same day, where the consumer considers a few products and adds them to the shopping cart but having to rush to a post-lunch meeting abandons the items in the cart. Two weeks later, the consumer might walk into a mall with family and happen to notice the same brand’s store and decide to purchase the items, he/she had shortlisted on the brand’s site. To usher the customer through these cross-session and crosschannel journeys requires the Omnichannel network to have operating logic features to serve customers. Customer interactions, sessions, preferences, carts, and recommendations need to be tracked across time and channels to offer relevant content to customers in the future. Making sense of these inputs, the platform would be able to take the abandoned cart data in the example above and when the customer walks into the brand’s store two weeks later, the platform would be able to identify the customer, recommend the abandoned cart item available in the store along with five other products available in the store, based on a crosschannel single data model of the customer and a predictive recommendations engine, all offered with a personalised, dynamic pricing for the customer basis the customers lifecycle with the brand and sell-through dynamics of the products being recommended. Th us, you’re able to connect context and content to simplify the consideration set for a customer and complete logical journeys when he/she walks into a store.
– Inspiring to purchase – Fashion retailers spend a tremendous amount of effort and money to build brand and inspire shoppers via great creatives often disseminated via traditional media (billboards, magazines, newspapers, etc.). While these media help in brand building and creating inspiration, they have poor call-to-actions especially when they are product oriented. If a consumer wants to purchase the products in these campaigns, they again need to think through how to shop the inspiration. Do I go to the website of the brand or to a store? Which store carries this product? How do I search for this product online? Again, a series of questions that the consumer needs to think through to figure out a path to purchase. Now imagine a journey where using an app, the consumer is able to capture the inspiration via a photo and the app is able to connect the consumer to a stylist, who using AI driven matching and a real-time CRM capabilities is able to help the customer to shop the inspiration via a digital channel or in a store. Moreover, imagine if the stylist is a local sales staff who is able to have a realtime conversation with the customer to guide him to the store 5 kilometers away to shop the relevant range of items in the collection highlighted in the campaign with the in-store identification journey described above. Again, the diff erential success here lies in not just providing shopping channels but rather building shopping logic across touchpoints to deliver end-toend needs solving journeys to consumers.
Doubling down & diving in
Thus, the long-term success of Omnichannel retail playbooks must lie in a customer-centric approach where our prime job as retail practitioners is to build smarter shopping logic to connect the dots for our customers–not building disparate channels or flavor of the month features. For nearly three decades of organised retail, we have been getting the hardware built and rationalised, but the future calls for data driven, personalised logic across channels to guide customers through multisession purchase funnels. While this sounds obvious and innocuous, it requires organisational fortitude to realign your Omnichannel playbook, beyond the hygiene use cases, to double-down on the harder, more time consuming shopping logic driven roadmap. As Arvind Internet, we are able to help our brand partners scale the tip of the iceberg fast and start diving deeper into end-to-end smarts driven journeys that create lasting ROI for brands in the future.