Omnichannel Nirvana Remains Elusive: Why is the Customer Journey Still So Disjointed?
The desire to unify multiple channels in response to changing customer demands and the emergence of digital technologies, social media and mobile devices isn't new to retail. And yet, delivering an integrated, 360-degree omnichannel experience to customers still appears to be a stretch for many.
Late in 2019, before the coronavirus changed everything, we set out to see how well retailers were delivering omnichannel experiences. To do this, we shopped almost 100 retailers all around the world, including many in the U.S. We browsed. We bought. We ordered. We picked up. We returned. And we documented our journeys.
Spoiler alert: The results were, in a word, surprising. To be sure, most retailers have stores, websites, mobile sites and mobile apps, all supported by a variety of fulfilment options. But what most retailers don’t offer is tight integration between those touchpoints. In fact, only 37 percent of the retailers we shopped offered integrated capabilities we would classify as truly omnichannel.
So, where are retailers struggling, and what can they do?
Calling Out Mobile
From department stores to specialty footwear and everything in between, we found that retailers are united by a common struggle: integrating mobile capabilities, particularly within mobile apps. A consistent pain point was the lack of integration between channels. For example, in many cases, when a basket was started online, it didn’t automatically transfer to the mobile app, putting the sale at risk.
Mobile websites generally fared better, but mobile points of sale in-store were severely lacking — just one in 10 retailers were able to provide this option.
While the need for personalized experiences still dominates consumer expectations, it can often be challenging to deliver even the most basic personalization as shoppers cross channels. Not surprisingly, we found that retailers scored, on average, just 24 percent against our criteria when we measured their personalization across various channels.
Delivering on Fulfilment
Flexible fulfilment capabilities were another area where many retailers were challenged. Our index found that the average score against our fulfilment criteria was 31 percent. Many retailers revealed concerns about their ability to meet same-day delivery requirements, with only 5 percent offering this as a service.
Flexible and timely access to inventory is just as essential to the omnichannel experience as a user-friendly website or an edgy new mobile app. Retailers that are able to leverage real-time inventory to adapt their fulfilment to a demand-led approach and empower integrated planning, allocation and replenishment are more likely to keep pace with customers’ constantly escalating expectations.
Anticipating the Impacts of COVID-19
While it's far too early to predict exactly how consumer expectations and retail offers will change in a post-COVID-19 world, I do think there are a few things we can safely anticipate.
- The urgency to upgrade mobile integration will remain important, but the crisis has revealed yet another pressing need in the digital realm — building communities. With people spending more time online, retailers need to focus on building content programs that foster digital connections and engage online visitors.
- Personalization will remain important, but suddenly much more so for retailers than for shoppers. Every sale is now vitally important, and personalization is a long-proven conversion booster. Every interaction simply must be relevant, timely and personalized in order to maximize the conversion potential of every anxious and financially skittish shopper.
- Flexible fulfilment options will become much more important while shoppers remain wary of sharing confined spaces (e.g., most brick-and-mortar stores) with strangers. Shipping from the store and storefront pickup are surging in popularity now, and I expect that to be the case for the foreseeable future.
Dave Bruno is director of retail market insights at Aptos, a market leader in retail technology solutions, delivers innovative, cloud-native and comprehensive omnichannel solutions to retail brands.