In Omnichannel, Keep Customer Foremost

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In Omnichannel, Keep Customer Foremost


By Pan Demetrakakes

Omnichannel marketing is more a matter of customer experience than of technology.

That was one of the messages from a five-person Thought Leadership Panel that opened the Retail Executive Summit on June 22 at Laguna Beach, Calif. The summit is sponsored by Retail Info Systems News, a sister publication to Retail Leader.

The panel’s topic was “The Impact of Next Gen Technology on the Customer Experience.” Several panelists made the point that the customer’s needs and wants have to drive technology application; it can’t be the other way around.

“To be quite frank about it, I think the information side is less relevant than the latter part of the title of this panel, which is the customer experience,” said Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Digital Business. From retailers’ perspective, the number of choices for reaching consumers has expanded dramatically due to digital technology, but so has competition, Schrage said. The problem is that a lot of companies have personnel with technical capabilities and responsibilities, but there is no internal alignment of these capabilities within the organization.

“Omnichannel is a code word, not for a seamless experience for the user, but for how the heck are we going to get aligned within the organization?” Schrage said.

Another panelist was Josh Sigel, chief operating officer of Innit, a company that specializes in online connection for non-computer household fixtures like appliances. Sigel remarked that his company’s founder had served as CEO of Nestlé France and Unilever North America, where he had the chance to observe the information flow—or lack of it—between food companies and consumers.

“He recognized that a lot of information was being captured in the four walls of these major food factories, but the consumer experience, as it relates to all that information that was being captured—that information wasn’t making it outside those four walls,” Sigel said. “Food manufacturers weren’t really helping people eat healthy, they weren’t helping people cook with ease, and so the whole idea of our company was, how do we unlock that information within food?”

Schrage said that “choice architecture” is the key to understanding consumers, who don’t always make rational decisions. 

“How choice architectures get aligned with IT architectures strikes me as the low-hanging fruit and real high-impact opportunity for how you do user experience design in store and out,” he said.

Brian Kilcourse, a managing partner for RSR Research, said that too many retailers don’t have a clear goal for user experience.

“We ask [retailers] a simple question: What do you want the user experience to be?” Kilcourse said. “You’d be amazed at how much people can’t answer that. It implies that they haven’t thought about it.” Kilcourse said that to arrive at an answer, retailers should ask themselves basic questions like, how can you relate online activity to in-store sales, and how much inventory flows in more than one direction?

Sigel described a test that Innit did with Target Corp. In several Target stores, they offered shoppers a discount for perishable products that have been on the shelf for a certain period of time.

“They learned that there is sensitivity around price versus lifecycle of produce in particular—that if the consumer’s going to be rewarded for buying strawberries that are about to go moldy but aren’t yet, that they’re allowed to pay less for those strawberries, there’s an appetite for that,” he said. “It actually enhances the experience, because you’re now purchasing with a level of visibility that you haven’t had before.”


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