Commerce, Anyway You Want It

I believe our industry is finally starting to realize the importance of letting consumers determine how, when, and where to interact with retailers. Over the last few months I've seen several articles discussing the importance of removing the barriers between existing channels. Paula Rosenblum of RSR first brought the term omni-channel to my attention back in September. She stated, "omni-channel retail isn't the merging of channels -- rather, it's the use of all possible channels (present and future) to enhance the customer experience in a profitable way." I added to her thoughts in this blog posting in which I said, "For retailers to provide an omni-channel experience, there needs to be one logical representation of products, prices, promotions, and customers across all channels. The only thing that varies is the presentation of the content based on the delivery mechanism (e.g. shelf labels, mobile phone, web site, print, etc.) and often these mechanisms can be combined in various ways."

More recently Brian Walker of Forrester suggested we stop using the term multi-channel and begin thinking more about consumer touch-points. "It is time for organizations to leave their channel-oriented ways behind, and enter the era of agile commerce--optimizing their people, processes and technology to serve today's empowered, ever-connected customers across this rapidly evolving set of customer touch points."

Now Jason Goldberg, better known as RetailGeek, says we should start breaking down the channel silos by re-casting the VP of E-Commerce as the VP of Digital Marketing, and change his/her focus to driving sales across all channels using digital media. This logic is based on the fact that consumers switch between channels, or touch-points as Brian prefers, as part of their larger buying process. Today's smart consumer leverages the Web, mobile, and stores to provide the best shopping experience, so retailers need to make this easier.

Regardless of what we call it, the key take-away is that "multi-channel" is not only an antiquated term but also an idea who's time has passed. Today, retailers must look at e-commerce, m-commerce, f-commerce, catalogs, and traditional store sales collectively and through the consumers' eyes. The goal is not to drive sales through each channel but rather to just drive sales -- using whatever method the customer prefers. There really should be just one cart.


I have also been reading these same posts and articles and agree this requires a paradigm shift in how we think about serving our customers. I also appreciate Nikki Baird's (RSR) comment that even with all of this new technology and volumes of customer data, are we able to answer the simple question to the customer, "What can I help you with today?" Ultimately, unless we know what the customer wants, regardless of channel or touch point, we will fail to satisfy. How much effort do we expend to project what we think the answer is without actually asking?

I love your statement, "There really should be just one cart." This is simple and poignant. The omni-cart is tied to the customer and available everywhere s/he shops. It should also be Amazon-esque with a wish list attached to it. As a consumer walking through a store, it would be great to be told that an item I've had on my wish list, aka extended shopping cart, is now on sale. One cart to rule them all :-)

Posted by Alexander on March 15, 2011 at 10:10 PM PDT #

"One cart to rule them all"..Interesting. But the size or the components of the cart is what will decide the winner in the long run. The idea is to cover the maximum customer touch points in all the walks of life and not limited to wherever s/he shops (currently). The customer should be empowered to take shopping decision absolutely anywhere. Be it home, shopping mall, metro or public rest rooms. The list goes on... And when you are able to follow customers so closely, you are bound to solve the timeless puzzle 'what customer wants?'

Posted by Ashish Keshri on March 16, 2011 at 01:19 PM PDT #

Ashish, well said.

Posted by David on March 22, 2011 at 08:33 PM PDT #

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