The holiday season is the perfect time to illustrate the importance of omni-channel strategy, marketing and analytics for brands and retailers.
The increased adoption of mobile devices for shopping and price-comparison during the holiday season, combined with social media’s ability to quickly spread prices and promotions, has made omni-channel a necessity for brands. And there’s no greater showcase than the lead-up to the holidays, particularly given the increase in both on- and offline traffic. Nailing the experience means customers will come back once the snow has settled.
“At the end of they day it’s really about giving great customer service,” says Kevin Baggs, Omni-channel Manager at MEC. “Members don’t care about the channels, they’re just dealing with a brand.”
Pressure from eCommerce and social media
The omni-channel experience is consumer-centric rather than device-centric because the comparison-shopping power now rests in the hands of the shopper, not the retailer. eCommerce has played a large part in that power shift, thanks to increased consumer “connectedness” , which factors significantly into the omni-channel approach.
Canadians are admittedly discount-focused when they buy online, and mobile devices have given brands more ways to extend relevant offers to customers. Still, shoppers enjoy the thrill of walking out of a store, bag in hand after a satisfying shopping experience. Omni-channel is about effectively bringing together the on- and offline worlds to provide an engaging and consistent customer experience.
“It’s about connecting with consumers, both from a brand and a retail point of view,” says Raffael Sarracini, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing & Commerce, Adidas Canada. “It’s all about the Zero Moment of Truth and making sure that a consumer, whether they’re in our store, one of our partners’ stores, or on our website, has access to the same information, and that we’re serving up aligned messaging.”
Vancouver-based MEC has been a pioneer in Canada when it comes to omni-channel retailing and their trailblazing is the result of a long-time emphasis on great customer/member service, says Baggs.
Anywhere, anytime, any way
“It’s really about making sure that when you’re dealing with the member, it’s [about] dealing with them anywhere, anytime and any way that they want,” says Baggs. “That’s really what omni-channel has become. MEC has a unique advantage in that we know every person that’s made a purchase from us, whether it be in the store or online, because we’re a member-based co-op. For every transaction, they need to give their member number and that ties it back. We’re able to tie all of that together so we can follow the transition and thereby curate some of our content accordingly through digital platforms.”
Each channel plays a part in the other in terms of driving traffic, he adds.
“We look at it from the point of view that everything influences everything else,” says Baggs. “We’re not trying to use digital to drive traffic to the web, or use digital to drive traffic to the store, it’s about driving traffic to the brand.”
Other big retailers like Adidas Canada are following suit, treating the omni-channel approach as a priority for the whole organization going forward. They recognize its importance from a competitive standpoint and that, internally, it has to be embraced at every level.
Selling omni-channel internally
“Omni-channel is one of our top priorities and we believe it’s an organizational thing,” says Sarracini. “Those retailers that embrace omni-channel methodology and tactics will be those that are most successful moving forward and we’re starting to see evidence of that south of the border in the U.S. eCommerce is really what the catalyst was for getting traction for this in Canada… I think it’s crucial to build [the omni-channel] narrative within the organization.”
Sarracini says that, from an internal perspective, employing an omni-channel approach involves breaking down silos and ensuring that the entire organization embraces the right thinking, making sure that decisions are made from a consumer-centric standpoint.
“That’s been a big part of the strategy this year,” he says. “From a bricks-and-mortar retail point of view, and an eCommerce point of view, we are joining a lot of our efforts and forming more of a direct-to-consumer type of approach, which is allowing us to align on marketing, pricing, assortment and all these types of things at retail and our e-commerce shop.”
Bringing omni-channel in-store
Externally, he says, Adidas Canada is working on a number of different consumer-facing projects, the biggest being bringing more of a technological, digital experience to the bricks-and-mortar business. One example of how they’re doing that is a plan that will see tablet devices rolled out in Adidas’ stores.
“The tablets will allow us to do a couple of things,” says Sarracini. “First of all, at the simplest level, they will give full access to our online assortment to in-store consumers, and then also, from a data capture point of view, it will allow us to capture consumer e-mail addresses and then give us a more informed perspective as to how our consumers are shopping across different channels. As we move down this path we’ll get more integrated on the CRM and email marketing side of things, catering our communication to a more personalized way based on channel history and that sort of stuff.”
He says that the plan is currently in the pilot phase and the company is optimistic they’ll have the tablet program up and running by Q1 of 2014.
Of course, first and foremost, enabling any good omni-channel approach involves setting up the right systems that are integrated with sophisticated tech .
“The digital technology side is crucial and it really underpins the omni-channel strategy,” says Sarracini. “I think before moving forward with any plan you need to have a really good understanding of your current state and where your future state needs to be from a systems point of view.”
Bringing it all together
As for Adidas, Sarracini says the holidays are providing the company with an excellent chance to launch new technologies they’ve been testing over the year. It’s also afforded them the chance to launch a channel agnostic “quasi-loyalty program,” called “Members Only.”
Launched on November 25, it allows Adidas customers to go online, create an account and become an Adidas “insider.” The program gives them access to preferential pricing, unique products, free express shipping and early access to special events. They can also use user ID and password to get the same experience in a retail store through their tablets. The program effectively brings the e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar channels together, says Sarracini.
The holidays, he says, are a great time to launch omni-channel programs.
“The holidays, based on the extra scale and opportunity it brings, is something we definitely have planned into our omni-channel strategy this year and will only become a bigger part of our omni-channel strategy moving forward.”