I will not use the “O” word.
I will not use the “O” word.
After spending last week at eTail West 2014 at the wonderful JW Marriott in the Texas Hill Country just outside of San Antonio I came away really disliking the “O” word. That word is Omnichannel. Darn, I used it.
So many sessions at eTail, as well as other industry events, and vendors use that word, but really it is still just multi-channel. The focus on individual channels such as store, catalog, and internet all require specific training and different approaches. Trying to blend all of those channels into one ubiquitous channel and experience is not only short-sided, but it is also dangerous.
“Omni Channel” Doesn’t Matter. The Customer Experience Does.
Customer experience is the heart of the overall shopping process. Channel does not matter, so there is no need to give it some fancy name. What matters is that a customer gets the best possible service in each channel using the means available to the retailer to provide that service. I will use a specific case I endured recently to show how being too focused on blending the channels can actually create a horrible customer experience.
The company from which I bought my items is well-established and has conducted business across the three major channels – stores, catalog and online for many, many years. They have a strong brand in the United States and can be considered leaders in each respective channel. I am choosing not to name it due to the close-knit nature of this industry, but I am sharing the experience in order to highlight opportunities for a broader set of professionals that want to identify better practices.
I shopped this multi-channel retailer via a laptop/web experience that ultimately transcended to the store for fulfillment (I will share more on that later) and a return process that included a store.
The Transaction, Fulfillment and Delivery
Shopping on the website was relatively easy and straightforward. I was drawn to the site to purchase a gift for a family member that led to finding gifts for three family members thanks to promotions and up-sell/cross-sell options. There was a great selection in a wide variety of patterns and sizes. As I added items to my cart I was reminded that adding $XX.XX could yield the option for free shipping so I felt incentivized to add more. Along the way I noted that I had the option to “pick-up in store” so I knew the company had an integrated inventory system and multi-channel strategy. In the end I added a total of 11 items to my cart, received free shipping, had the taxes correctly calculated and my payment was processed with no issue.
Next up came the fulfillment aspect. This is where I knew that the customer experience was being overlooked for the sake of trying to “seamlessly” integrate multiple channels. As expected, I received an order summary and receipt for my items. No problem there. Next, I began receiving additional order confirmations (eight in all) with varying delivery expectations being set. Keep in mind that I was ordering gifts for a holiday. I placed my order a week before the holiday and well within what the site said should be expected.
A few days passed and I was getting anxious for delivery for the upcoming holiday. On day three I looked out on the porch and a delivery had been made – or should I say deliveries. Six boxes/envelopes were on my porch. Each was from a different store around the country. Obviously this company was utilizing stores as fulfillment centers. Their _____channel approach was certainly being utilized but at the expense of customer experience. And, at the company expense. Six of my eleven items arrived in those six boxes/envelopes (with each box big enough to hold all eleven items). My free shipping was a major cost to this enterprise.
Four more days passed, along with the holiday, and the remaining five items arrived from the internet distribution center – and one of those items was the wrong size (their error). To say I was put out is an understatement.
I ended up returning the wrong sized item to the store. There were no issues and the customer experience was actually quite good. The associate was responsive, respectful and responsible. But for that, I might not consider this retailer as a shopping destination in the future.
What Does All This Say?
I am all for smooth processes that make my life easier. But, when those processes are more geared to fulfilling some corporate directive to integrate channels without regard to the end user experience, the ultimate price will far outweigh the savings. I will admit that customer expectations can be unreasonable at times. When basic expectations are not met (e.g. Too many deliveries for a single order, missing delivery dates, incorrect items) the company needs to re-examine the strategy and the corresponding tactics. Those companies that get this will stay in contention for the customer share of wallet over the long-term.