Omnichannel Is A Stupid Word — And A Necessity

Sure, the buzzword has fallen out of favor. But building seamless online-to-offline experiences has never been more crucial, execs stressed in an NRF breakout session.

Barnes & Noble's Fred Argir
Barnes & Noble’s Fred Argir

Retail stores haven’t changed much in the last 100 years, but consumers certainly have — and reaching them across all digital touch points, both in and out of stores, is now mandatory, execs stressed in an NRF: Retail’s Big Show breakout session entitled Connected Stores: How to Serve the Digital Consumer.

“Look, omnichannel is a stupid word,” said Fred Argir, Barnes & Noble’s chief digital officer. “But it’s also no longer an option.”

In other words, retailers have gradually come to understand that consumers don’t live their lives — or shop — in silos. But those that don’t put this knowledge into practice by blending online and offline with tactics like in-store pickup, cross-device shopping carts, and more, are destined to lose out on sales.

Below, four key takeaways from the panel about how to create the best omnichannel (or, you know, whatever word you’d prefer) retail experience.

  • Digital ‘extras’ are now the default norm: As a baseline, it’s important to make sure that physical stores — and all shopper experiences — are integrated with the digital. Equipping stores with free wi-fi and enabling customers to access their shopping carts across all devices, for example, are absolute necessities.
  • Understand consumers by challenging the definition of ‘mobility’: Humans are mobile; phones aren’t. This means starting by thinking about how humans actually move through the world — and making that world accessibly interactive at all points. Mobile is huge, and smartphones are a consumers most personal device, but it isn’t ‘just’ about mobile. In-store interaction counts, as does a seamless experience across every device and medium in a customer’s life.
  • Define the end-to-end journey: Mapping the “consumer journey” gets a lot of buzz, and rightly so: Creating a seamless shopping experience across devices and into stores is important. Retailers should begin by studying how consumers are actually shopping — using mobile for research in stores? Starting on desktop but converting on tablet? — and then slowly build technology into that natural journey that makes it more intuitive.
  • Think of that journey — the ‘in-store funnel’ — like a digital funnel: Does “offline” really exist anymore, in an age where over 90 percent of shoppers use their mobile devices while shopping in physical stores? With that in mind, thinking of in-store “sessions” in a similar way to online sessions can be helpful. For example, walking into a store is a bit like when a shopper is on a site’s home screen; the next steps need to be intuitive for the purchase to ever take place. Many customers in physical stores won’t ask for help if they don’t easily see the product that they seek, so this is where digital means can step in to fill this gap — whether that’s beacon-based help on mobile or interactive displays.
About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.