Retailers still slow on multi-channel

Another day, another survey – one that highlights again that it’s still only a selected few retailers that are embracing true “Multi-Channel” behaviour (GSI Commerce Internationab~

This got me thinking – why is it – given all the coverage and the data that indicates surety of success with multi-channel – that so many are not doing it?

Unfortunately, not being the MD/CEO of those retailers not doing it, I don’t really know. However the beauty of the blog (and tabloids) is the ability to speculate wildly.

I like to think, however, that my musings are slightly more well researched than some news publications, especially having worked for a proponent of Multi Channel retail solutions way back in 2000 when the concept was being mooted properly for the first time. What was clear then was that most were reluctant to do it first – and in addition felt it was a huge mountain to climb.

This seemed largely due to some hesitancy about whether or not web sales would take off as predicted (they have) and the fact that many retail web business units acted in a complete silo from the rest of the business.

However, move forward ten years and you have significant growth in online retail (17% year on year growth  – December 2009 – according to the IMRG) and more progress around the integration of web into the retailers mainstream sales and marketing efforts.

What doesn’t seem to happening however (other than a few exceptions, Argos and John Lewis to name 2) is the transformation of customer service principles to embrace the new technological capabilities. This would indicate too that perhaps retailers aren’t using the technology to its full capacity when it comes to multi channel capability.

The technology exists today to full integrate web, in-store and distribution centre processes seamlessly – both for the forward and reverse supply chain. In principle, this should mean that all retailers offer similar levels of service capability for the consumer – the fact that they don’t indicates less about technology than it does about a focus on service and using technology to enable it.

The consumer won’t understand if they can’t return something in store that they bought online – to them the brand is the brand – regardless of where and when they purchased.

Service is not the only trick being missed – marketing departments have an untapped goldmine waiting for them in Multi-Channel. Many customers (all ages) browse online before coming in store – and yet painfully few retailers offer the ability to simply reserve something in store to come in and collect later (whether you pay for it or not). Ignoring the sales benefit of this for a moment – the marketing benefit of collecting data from people whether or not they buy from you is surely reason enough?

I realise I’m simplifying – however if service, and therefore revenue, is not a driver for investing in technology, I’m not sure what is.

About the Author

Charlotte Graham-Cumming

Director, Ice Blue Sky Ltd

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