COVID-19 has accelerated omnichannel. But seamless omnichannel is still rare. That is not to say that brands don’t have omnichannel solutions or haven’t tried to implement them. Many have, especially in response to the pandemic.
That is one of the key takeaways from our 2021 Omnichannel Leadership Report. Of the nearly 200 luxury, premium, and lifestyle brands researched for the report, 40% offer buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) compared to 25% in 2019.
Similarly, 44% of brands show store inventory availability online, up from 32% in 2019. These are measurable, year-over-year lifts for capabilities that blend digital and physical. Other features like contactless payments (83% vs. 75% in 2019) and live web chat (63% vs. 38% in 2019) are also on the rise. The growth across the gamut is a clear indication that omnichannel is finally on the agenda.
But that is the crux of the problem. Brands are all working off a bulleted list: store pickup, curbside pickup, store fulfillment, contactless checkout. Even more, they rushed to check every box when the pandemic hit. The result is what I call “papier-mâché omnichannel.” Short-term fixes bound together with some adhesive (in this case, integrations). BOPIS because of health concerns and capacity restrictions, clienteling to boost customer loyalty and retention.
While these may fill specific holes right now, the more point solutions to optimize, the harder it is to innovate in the future. It will become a vicious cycle of wanting to fill more and more holes as customer expectations evolve. Retail brands that take this approach often end up with expensive IT projects and services that customers and store associates don’t like.
We see this presently with many of the quick fixes for things like curbside pickup. Brands of all types and sizes rushed to roll-out or ramp up the service at the start of the pandemic only to have several operational challenges—things like unclear fulfillment processes, busy parking lots, and long phone waits. The result has been poor customer and associate experiences and new time- and money-consuming technology projects to improve them.
Approach omnichannel holistically
The bottom line is you can’t achieve omnichannel piecemeal. This mentality and approach are why so many brands are failing when it comes to seamlessness. Being perfectly consistent—which papier-mâché, with its many pieces and layers, is not—is a required quality of the omnichannel customer journey. Shoppers expect a simple and easy transition from one channel to the next, whether it is digital to physical or mobile to social.
If you look under the hood, many retail and ecommerce teams still operate independently. The silos between these two business groups, while fine before retail’s digital shift, do not work anymore. They perpetuate technology buying that doesn’t support omnichannel.
Our research has revealed this for several years. There are systems in-store and systems online that do the same thing—capture an order—but the data is fragmented. The same customer isn’t recognized by the brand across the two channels because the technology isn’t seamlessly connected. Integration magic won’t do it. You need a solution that can exchange data in real-time and match demand with supply, wherever it may be.
We know that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in retail. At the start of the pandemic, one CEO challenged his company to compress its long-term strategic plan into just a few months of work. Another turned a multi-year project into a half-year sprint. Technology, and omnichannel specifically, is off the backburner. Today, brands are making retail strategy and tech decisions they knew they would eventually need to make.
This doesn’t suggest that you should do things hastily and deploy technology for technology’s sake. It means retail decisions need to be elevated to the chief executive or another senior leader with a holistic understanding of the business. That way, retailers will invest only in solutions that spur innovation and collaboration across departments. They will prioritize only solutions that genuinely integrate online storefronts and physical locations.
To get you started, look at cloud solutions that are flexible and easy to use. According to Forrester in a post with 2021 predictions, when the pandemic hit, “companies that had laid the foundations of cloud and agility and strategic partnerships were ready to respond with digital solutions.” Cloud-based omnichannel systems enable digital transformation and create resilient businesses. Using them is the only way to achieve seamlessness. And it is the only way to win retail.
NewStore offers an omnichannel platform for retailers that provides a cloud-based order management system and mobile point of sale capabilities.