BrainTrust Query: Commerce, Anyway You Want It

Discussion
Mar 21, 2011

Through
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current
article from Insight-Driven Retailing Blog.

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."

In a posting in my own blog in December, I added to her thoughts, "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 recasting 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 whose 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.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree that ’multi-channel’ is becoming an antiquated term for retailers? What barriers do you see to a consistent offering of products and information across all the traditional and emerging touch points?

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23 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Commerce, Anyway You Want It"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Multichannel thinking is about as vital today as DPP or ECR. The world has simply moved on.

To be more accurate–part of the world has moved on–the consumer.

Customers today don’t move through various physical and digital channels, they source retail brand offerings through a variety of media.

The problem of course is that retailers haven’t moved on. Would, for example, Borders be in the position it is now if it had installed online kiosks connecting to a (non-Amazon operated) website in its stores in the early 1990s? Or would Blockbuster have fallen apart if it understood how apps and digitization would impact movie rentals?

The key here is to understand that people will continue to source the same range of goods and services they always have in the most convenient way.

They used to say the three keys to retail were “location, location, location” and it’s still true today, although some locations are physical; some are digital; some are reached and transacted with by smartphone; etc., etc.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 1 month ago

Literally speaking, I don’t think the term “multichannel” is going away anytime soon. However, I think its definition will shift to more closely match the “omnichannel” concept. Consumers don’t look at a retailer’s website, or Facebook page, or mobile app, and see it is distinct from their brick-and-mortar store. Retailers need to abandon their long-held silo mentality and see all their different channels as a single entity, the way their customers do.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

It’s just a matter of semantics whether “multi-channel” is an outmoded term or not, and frankly irrelevant to the real issue. The most important questions that retailers need to address if they are dealing with multiple business platforms include: The efficiency of both e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar stores (if they operate both); making sure that the marketing approach is seamless between all channels; and, getting ahead of emerging technologies (smartphones, Facebook, etc.) instead of playing catch-up. Effective “multi-channel” retailing isn’t just about playing in different arenas, but having a winning and consistent strategy for all of them.

Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Thanks to Newton we are all conditioned to think and work in segmented ways–call it “silos,” call it “multi-channel,” it’s all the same futile mindset. What we are waking up to is what the universe has been trying to show us since the very beginning, namely: IT’S ALL ONE THING!

We persist in defining all our issues one from the other as though they were distinct and then we prioritize them so they can compete for the necessary but scarce resources. All those agenda items for your meeting on Wednesday? They’re all ONE THING. Your marketing strategy? It’s all one thing too. When we get that truth it is amazing what can be accomplished with exponentially less time, energy and money.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 1 month ago

Yes and the same could be said of advertising or customer support. Selling, advertising and support are no longer defined by the medium being used but by the overarching objective. Reach out to the customers using a multitude of channels and mediums but be sure to adapt the message to each medium for best results.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

As a former executive in shopper marketing strategy and activation on the agency side (18 years) I will say that shopper “touchpoint” planning across the total scope of the path to purchase is not just the wave of the future. It’s in practice today. In my consulting practice, I use the integrated shopper touchpoint strategy as the basis for everything I do.

On the retailer and the manufacturer side of the coin, the problem is still the silo disciplines that each have their own objectives and measurements. It’s time to integrate the planning and measurement around the shopper. The shopper doesn’t break communication programs into separate buckets, neither should we as marketers.

I like the idea of changing roles and giving broader responsibility to fewer people for designing and measuring success against the whole spectrum of shopper touchpoints.

Progressive retailers can lead the way, suppliers will follow.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

We seem to have some definition issues with this discussion. Channel has traditionally related to format and type of products sold. For example no one can confuse a food store with a dress shop. The internet has added another dimension. Consumers can shop in the store (brick and mortar) on online. Most items today can be purchased both online and in a store, but is that multi-channel? I don’t think so. Just like television, radio and mail provide advertising or communication so does the internet, be it web page or mobile phone message. The channels have not changed, what has changed are methods and tools for consumer communication. The fact that someone can purchase through a communication medium is a plus.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

We are kidding ourselves here just a bit. Simply because the world is evolving so quickly, we feel that any industry vernacular that is more than a year old is antiquated. “Stop using the term multi-channel and begin thinking more about consumer touch points.” Are we serious? What are the “channels” if not “touch points”? Let’s worry less about being the consultant who thinks up the new twitter-populated catchphrase, and figure out how to anticipate and fulfill consumer demands and wishes with technology, old-fashioned trucks and our best ingenuity. Quit trying to be so smart with these goofy terms and help solve the real problems: We STILL have 10%+ out of stock conditions!

Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

No matter what we call it, the point is retailers need to be where their customers are. Consumers access information and purchase products in different ways depending on their location and need. It is essential for successful retailers to understand who their customers are and how they choose to interact with their brand and make it easy. Nordstrom is a terrific example of a retailer who understands their customer and gives them access to information, product, and community in a variety of formats. And most important they have constructed their interactions in a way that allows customers to move from one media to another effortlessly and elegantly–the ‘oneline’ approach.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

It doesn’t matter what term is used. The reality is that retailers must approach and interact with consumers simultaneously through multiple touch points. Rather than debating nomenclature, the focus should be on a better customer experience. Those retailers that adapt will survive. Those that don’t will not.

Doug Fleener
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Call it whatever you want, but retailers must now do business with how the consumer wants, when they want, where they want, and in manner that at the minimum meets and hopefully exceeds their expectations.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

“Death to the Channel!”

Seriously, practically every comment and commentator above hit close to the bulls eye in advocating the interdependence of various consumer communication, product presentation and ordering mechanisms. In today’s world, if the “channels” don’t work together to build the brand–then they don’t work period.

The only exception I would personally take with any of the comments today are those arguing that “semantics don’t matter”. I think they do. Primarily because the words we use generally reflect how we think–and therefor act–fairly accurately. I’ve often argued in this forum and others that calling proprietary retailer brands “private label” set back both retailer and manufacturer thinking in the U.S. by twenty years.

Certainly Ralph Jacobson makes a valid point about consultant’s penchant for what my grandfather used to call “twenty-five cent words.” When the purpose of our language is to obfuscate (whoops! there’s one!) rather than clarify, we do all a disservice. But language that clearly reinforces an improper perspective (and I would argue that “multi-channel” does just that) is equally damaging.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

I agree with many who have responded before me. It does not matter what we name the process. What matters is the retailers finding and using all avenues to put themselves in the eye of the consumer. It is no longer “build it and they will come.” It is “build it and send it out to the consumer.”

Chuck Palmer
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
The fact of the matter is that experience with a brand is in the minds of consumers. There are communication channels and transactional channels. Companies are operationally oriented and consumers (uh, humans) are self oriented when it comes to spending money. In "The Principles of Consumer Centricity" I talk about the need to put the consumer at the center of all we do. As we align operations around the best customers and the ideal experience we start to see our brands through the eyes and experiences of our consumers. Now this is easier said than done. More and more, retail and brand organizations are collaborating across functions, but it by no means is perfect. This is an issue that is having more and more practical and pragmatic pressure on how we engage consumers. Does the app have relevance in the store? What other apps are our customers using in our stores and why? How do we use the store to promote ecommerce and stay relevant when our customers are not in our stores? Doe the… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

The consumers never saw the presentation of products and services as anything but ONE presentation from the same company. The retailers who present only ONE presentation of products and services across whatever channels their consumers want to use will be successful. That this is a new idea is surprising to me.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Without adequate vocabulary, some ideas are quite literally unthinkable.

It would be handy indeed to adopt terminology that correctly describes how a retail entity can present a harmonized, integrated set of touch points to shoppers.

In 2000 VStoreNews published a cover story addressing this exact issue, and proposed that we describe such enlightened retailers as “Broadband Merchants.” Perhaps this is worth reconsidering in light of the present discussion.

When it comes to shopper touchpoints, “multiple and disconnected” is no longer an adequate model. All retailing is e-retailing.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 1 month ago
Somewhere, Marshall McLuhan is smiling. I walked by an Apple store yesterday. The place was jammed. It always is. Why? Because they out multi-channel/omnichannel/touchpoint everybody else? No. It’s because they have the most in-demand consumer products on the planet today. Last week, we had a question regarding Gap’s “Name Your Price” promotion. Why are they running that promotion? Because they have not been able to differentiate their khaki’s from everybody else. Their khaki’s once were distinctive; now they’re just another commodity, more stuff. There’s no question that retailers need to reach customers wherever they are. That’s always been the case. But I seriously feel that all of the emphasis on leading edge technology is suggesting that that’s the critical challenge for retailers today. It’s not. The challenge for retailers today is to differentiate and distinguish their products and stores so they can earn full retails. Same as it’s ever been. It’s not as sexy (or as easy) as leading edge technology, but so be it. In retailing, the medium is not the message. Product is.… Read more »
Larry Negrich
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Consumers have evolved as digital has expanded and retail terminology is following. Lesson learned regarding move from Multi- to Omni- should be that retailers need to get ahead of the consumer expectation curve and be ready to deliver on expectations today and have systems and processes in place to be ready for what comes next.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 1 month ago
Those who follow basketball, especially during March (I’m a KU alum, good times), are familiar with on-air color commentators defining a team’s offensive strategy as “inside-out” or “outside-in.” The former describes an offense that begins with the big men inside near the hoop, who then pass outside to the shooters as the defense collapses to the basket. The latter is the opposite, starting with the perimeter shooters, drawing the defense outside, and then passing inside to the big guys. When I read this article excerpt and its following comments, I get a sense of an inside-out marketing strategy. In retail, most of us would call this a “push” strategy, meaning that retailers are jamming sales information “at” consumers in any way they can. Conversely, an outside-in strategy, called a “pull” strategy in marketing circles, is the retail response to consumer desires. Nearly all of us would agree that “pull” strategies work best. Through the years I’ve identified this variously as Customer Defined Marketing (CDM), Customer Managed Marketing (CMM), and Customer Managed Relationships (CMR). To Ben… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 1 month ago

Someone said recently and I agree, that we need to stop thinking about the customer journey in terms of channels of and begin to think in terms of touch points. In other words, there is ONLY one channel, but along the way there are multiple touch points for messaging, dialogue, commerce and ultimately payment. There’s no Multi, there’s no Omni, there’s simply a path to purchase.

Dave Wendland
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Ian Percy is spot on, we should not be addressing each consumer segment or retail “vehicle” separately. Rather there should be one holistic and over-arching mission–regardless of the medium or channel–every place a consumer sees a retail brand the message must be consistent and engaging.

Retailers need to live by the same motto as The Three Musketeers, “All for one and one for all!” It is only through this inseparable thought process across all retail channel strategies that a consumer will establish loyalty to the retail brand.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
10 years 1 month ago

A big part of the challenge here is how to enable an organization to serve customers across multiple touch points. The historic growth around channels and categories in retail has become heavily entrenched in the way they are organized. Similarly they have learned how to drive and measure growth through silo-based financial management. This means it is common to find departments in the business that may have objectives that are at odds with each other when you apply customer thinking (maybe they are called “divisions” for a good reason?). To effectively serve customers in the modern world, businesses are either going to have to specialize/focus so that they have less complexity to deal with, or they need to re-learn how to organize, direct and measure their business around the customer.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
10 years 1 month ago

The term “multi-channel” is certainly a viable term from the perspectives of marketing, merchandising, and supply chain. It is true that the consumer doesn’t think or care about the multiple ways she can interact with a progressive retailer. It should be seamless, or “omni-channel”.

But marketers must think carefully, channel by channel, about their message, their pricing, and their competitive positioning. Their information systems must be able to discretely measure response as well as bring together the entire picture across multiple channels.

Merchants must learn to build compelling assortments for each channel because each is different. This gets to offers, market basket analysis, and the presentation of product information. What works for one channel might not work for the other.

Supply chain considerations require a discrete channel view. Should inventory be reserved and planned by channel? Should demand be forecast by channel? Of course.

Omni-channel works for consumers. Multi-channel is a much better term operationally.

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