History of Omni-Channel: The Future

It’s been fun writing this series on the History of Omni-Channel. However, I’ve run out of history, so it’s time to start looking to the future.

Almost three years ago, Brian and I started a project on Omni-Channel Maturity. When we did this, we really thought hard about how to create a maturity model that would stand the test of time. So, in looking to the future of Omni-Channel, I thought a good starting place would be that model.

Here’s a glimpse into what we said a “Differentiating” omni-channel retailer would look like:

  • A customer experience officer sits on the executive team, and has direct responsibility over call center and customer-facing store employees as part of delivering an end-to-end customer experience
  • The retailer offers multiple ways to maintain customer data, including customer transparency and self service. Customer data privacy and security are high priorities.
  • Customer journeys or paths to purchase are regular topics of discussion across functions and across the customer experience, including supply chain. The company regularly reports on the health of strategic customer segments and their customer experiences.
  • Holistic campaigns are executed across the entire path to purchase. (By the way, this one bullet point makes up the entire basis of my new blog on Forbes – I’m not a big fan of shaming retailers, but the continued complete lack of content integration across channels requires more attention than it seems to be getting inside retailers today, so I intend to help that along.)
  • Social media insights are used to understand both initial demand plans as well as in-season plan adjustments.
  • Store employees have a community where they can share their expertise with each other. The retailer has either created a sense of community around its brand or has become a successful, trusted participant of a larger community.
  • The retailer’s mobile app in consumers’ hands is in effect a “remote control” for the store. It can also be used to directly access and participate in a retailer’s social channels.
  • Stores are an equal creator and consumer of digital content. Digital enables context awareness of customer value and objectives within the store.
  • The retailer can no longer effectively measure which channel “sold” a product or service. Revenue must be attributed across all channels and customer touch points. Channels are evaluated against effectiveness in contributing to customer value.

This is not even half of the benchmarks that Brian and I came up with for a very mature omni-channel retailer, and for me, having participated in writing them, when I read them now I feel like the gap between where we are today and where we need to be as an industry is as large as ever.

However, that’s not a fair assessment. Retailers have everything they need today to make these kinds of capabilities possible. They may not have the money or the resources to make it happen as fast as they like, but as they have navigated the past challenges of omni-channel, they have increased their ability to take on the future.

No retailer is “differentiating” when it comes to omni-channel, not yet. But we’ll get there.