By Jeff Arps
Just last week I woke up after a great night’s sleep. Feeling ambitious, I grabbed my phone from my nightstand and opened up Instagram to see what was going on. Scrolling through I saw one of my favorite retailers posted that a jacket I had my eye on was going on sale for a limited time. I checked my e-mail on my iPhone and sure enough in big bold print “30% Off!” Finally! That jacket had the price tag that I had been waiting for. I checked the website and the closest store had my size available. I headed out of my downtown house, grabbed an Americano at the local coffee shop and walked into the store that the website said had the jacket in my size at the right price. As I walked into the store, I saw unorganized merchandise thrown throughout the store and seemingly no easy path to get to the outerwear section. I miraculously found an associate and asked them where I could find the jacket I was looking for. The frazzled associate said, “Hold on.” She then fast walked to the back and came out of the swinging doors empty handed. “We ran out of that jacket yesterday. It’s really popular. You can go online and they’ll send it to your house, though. You’ll just have to pay for shipping.”
Are you kidding me?!
I know. This may seem petty in grand scheme of things, but this is just one example of the frustrating events that many consumers have to go through on a regular basis with so-called “omni-channel”. Being in the industry, I may be hyper sensitive to how this experience should work. I know that this epidemic started a few years back (sometime between 2007 and 2010 according to multiple sources) when every brand was told they needed to be “omni-channel”. Brands needed to be available for everyone when, where and how they needed them.
I’m aware that every CEO, CMO, COO, CIO, CFO and all the other C_Os around the retail world got the message loud and clear and they got to work. They gave their teams direction to change how things had always been done. We saw websites being updated, mobile apps being developed, social media accounts being created and pop-up shops at every community event and festival. New merchandise was offered to keep up with the ever-changing trends, store remodels and builds were done in order to incorporate tablets to be hung on walls and endcaps that gave the consumer access to the website and marketing materials and so many other initiatives that the biggest brands in the world have been heads down on since the idea of omni-channel was introduced.
Omni-channel was created and all of us shoppers are happy, right?
Sure, I have access to your brand in all of the channels I could ever think of. Thank you.
So, how could I not be happy?! What is going wrong?!
Part of the problem is that all of these executives and leadership teams are going about these initiatives separately. Working in silos instead of working together towards a common goal. A happy customer.
A recent JDA/PwC survey of more than 350 global retailers showed that only 12 percent of those brands offered a seamless shopping experience across channels.
Okay, I get it. In the grand scheme of things, these are first world problems. But I know that good, consistent omni-channel strategy and execution is possible. I know that I can actually get my jacket where, when and how I want it without disruption.
How do I know this? I’ve seen it done by multiple brands in a variety of different ways.
The evolution of omni-channel is happening. Brands like Nike, Adidas, Starbucks and REI are realizing that instead of just omni-channel, they need to act as one consistent channel in order to provide the consumer what they are looking for. When consumers walk into XYZ store, they want to have the same experience and feel as when they go to XYZ website, when they check out the XYZ Instagram account and back around. If there are any inconsistencies, consumers notice. I get that feeling of consistency when I interact with the brands I mention above.
These brands also realize that they do not need to be everywhere for everyone, they just need to be able to offer what their own specific consumer is looking for and, again, consistently across the consumer journey. By figuring out who their actual consumer is, or who they want their actual consumer to be, this allows for them to focus on specific areas of improvement and not try to improve in every area.
How are these realizations and revelations happening? Executives are actually talking to each other outside of the quarterly board meetings. Department leaders are working together to achieve the same goals around customer experience and consumer insights and starting to get the positive feedback they are seeking for all of their efforts. eCommerce, operations, design, web, social and marketing teams are getting together regularly to discuss goals and initiatives they can combine efforts on. The finance groups are beginning to allocate funds towards experience initiatives that involve multiple departments and not just splitting up everyone’s budgets to their own individuals initiatives.
Oh, retail heavens rejoice!
So why am I writing this open letter to the retail industry? Out of excitement and optimism! I know that the industry is making great strides. As more and more brands adapt and departments continue to evolve outside of their own silos, I know that someday soon I will not have that empty feeling that I had when I left that unnamed retailer empty handed. I know that someday soon you will all bring me the great, consistent experience my fellow millennials and I are begging for. Why? Because I know you can.
Your friendly millennial customer,