If you found yourself checking a new piece of clothing at a store, while looking it up on the mobile app on your iPhone, only to purchase it later on the website and have it delivered at the store closest to your home, all the while sharing your experience on Instagram, you are a very desirable “Omni-Channel” customer.
Omni-channel is different from multi-channel. While multi-channel customers were merely able to purchase an item in-store, via mail-order catalogue or online; Omni-channel is defined as a customer-centric experience where different sales channels combine into one unique experience. Customers can decide which media they use to engage, and are free to cross over the different channels without “friction.” They are actively engaged and at the centre of interaction with the brand.
At the very core of the strategy of omni-channel is the customer’s behavioural shift away from classic multi-channel to a fluidly interconnected decisional process. Brands who recognized the shift provide a smoothly consistent interface across the different channels whether digital or “brick and mortar”.
Retailers are already changing their approach in line with increasingly demanding customers.
There are seven key ingredients to truly implement a B2B omni-channel strategy:
1) Formulate and design a coherent customer experience.
The B2B customer expects from the merchant a rich experience similar to the B2C experience to which we are now accustomed. Self-service, products and services comparisons, latest offers and timely stock replenishment ordering tools are some of the features a customer expects from a wholesaler. The extreme example is during Christmas season shopping, where stocks run low and timely delivery is crucial. The customer experience should be highly personalized, attentive and efficient.
2) Understand your global demand across channels.
Real-time stock information, and proactive and periodic calls will make significant improvements to sales numbers. In order to achieve this superior level of customer care, the merchant needs to understand the level and percentage of his customer sales made online, offline, the number of these online sales that are delivered to the store for pick up, what are the typical returns ratios, and what are the trends in each one of these channels. An item may be more popular online than in stores and vice versa.
3) Design a unique cross-channel operational system.
The fundamental enabler of omni-channel B2B is a global enterprise view of data. This view requires a synthesis of legacy and often-piecemeal systems across segregated business units. This is achieved by fluid cross-departmental communications and decision-making controlled by set governance mechanisms. In the past, decisions made by merchants did not directly impact customer support and self-service operations. In the omni-channel world, those that are slow to update their entire back office operation to allow for this cross-channel flexibility will fall behind. In the apparel business for example, Zara is probably the most reactive multi-channel brand, often changing styles mid-season based on individual store managers’ feedback.
4) Break down the inventory walls to create visibility through all the channels and obtain a total view of your inventories.
Better visibility of inventories being held at every level of the supply vertical allows for more efficient and timely delivery as well as the reduction of costs associated with holding too much or too little stock. One of the hurdles, and the true test of the scalability of sales, is the ability to fill orders rapidly. This may sound simple, but as enterprises grow and become more complex, so does enterprise-wide inventory tracking.
5) Streamline and “mobilize” order management.
It may not be obvious to the decision maker how much and when to order new batches. The sales rep often holds the most pertinent information and as such, needs a tool connected to the source of all information relevant to his clients to be able to place an order seamlessly, even while on the road. Thus, mobile order management is an integral part of the omni-channel experience.
6) Turn data into powerful cross-channel sales tools
As with B2C, a large amount of data has to be processed and sense made of it. Cross-channel insight can be extremely helpful to developing predictive sales models. The ideal is to get the right product, on the right shelf at the right moment, at the right price and at the maximum margin for the company: the so-called “Micro Merchandising”. Its success is a direct result of the amount and quality of the data collected and processed. For the brick and mortar store to stand a chance in front of the Amazons and giant e-Tailers of the world, its enterprise processes need to adjust to this new reality.
L’Oréal is a perfect example of an international cosmetics behemoth that recently underwent a five-year overhaul of their supply chain in order to respond to the evolving consumer purchasing behaviour. L’Oréal designed a new data visibility platform across departments, allowing supply chain executives to see the performance on the retail shelves of every item, leading to an overhaul of how sales forecasts were computed. “We are now a real part of the business – before, the sales forecasts were a translation of the general financial trend; now the sales forecast drives our understanding of the financial trend,” Mr Plazol, L’Oréal corporate head of supply chain, explained. Sales forecast accuracy improved from 60% in 2009 to 71% today, while costs declined significantly.
7) Homogenise customer interaction across real and virtual stores, both pre and post-sale.
The store front is as much your store on the street as is your website’s homepage and your mobile app. Building a brand goes as far as using the same fragrance across your store chain for a unified sensory experience. This holds true for your shopping online as well. The look and feel needs to be a mirror of the brand. As businesses grow, consistency of the message delivery is key to avoid losing the very essence of what a brand is all about. The customer experience has to be uniform whether shopping in-store or online, whether you control the distribution or rely on third party wholesalers and distributors. The customer does not care whether your organisation is vertically integrated or not, he expects a certain level of service.
The age of the segmented approach to retail strategy is clearly over. Companies have to adjust their organisation and culture in order to anticipate the customers’ behavioural disruptions brought about by new technologies. The enterprise B2B market is going through its transformative phase as we speak and merchants are at risk of falling behind the curve if they fail to update their approach to their buyers’ expectations. In the omni-channel world, the customer is the focal point, and so the supply chain must adapt. What is certain is that we are at the beginning of a paradigm shift no less significant than the consumer revolution that took place with the Internet and e-commerce.