The simple solution for retailers: Be channel agnostic

| by Chris Petersen
The simple solution for retailers: Be channel agnostic

The term omnichannel is becoming ubiquitous. However, it may be one of the most misunderstood terms in retail today. Omnichannel is often equated with retailers using multiple channels to sell to customers. While multiple channels are now a reality for selling, what is driving the disruption is the change in customer behavior. Consumers literally are shopping everywhere, anywhere all the time. This new behavior is often described as the "customer journey." Today's customer's path to purchase is certainly not linear. But, what does this new trending phrase for retailers really mean? Is it a better way to go to market to reach customers? The potential pitfalls of trying to map the "journey" would indicate caution.

Why this is important: Marketers and retailers still struggling on how to reach omnichannel consumers, are turning to mapping the "customer journey." The irony is that the solution may really be much simpler — become channel agnostic.

Omnichannel is all about consumer behavior

I continue to stress this fundamental point in all of my blogs, speeches and meetings: Omnichannel is about the behavior of consumers. Multichannel is about how retailers are going to market to reach the consumer that now shops anytime and everywhere.

The subtle but major difference in omnichannel is that the consumer is no longer bound by the constraints of mainstream media, or the hours of the physical store. Armed with a mobile device, the consumer is free to shop where they want, when they want and how they want. This poses new challenges for retailers and marketers. Traditional media buys and promotions are easily missed or ignored entirely, especially by millennials. Even if the customer goes to the store, they can easily whip out their smartphone in the aisle to check options, or make a purchase online while standing in the retailer's store aisle.

Unprecedented choices leads to different consumer "journeys"

In the "old world" of the 4 Ps (Product, Price, Position and Promotion), the role of marketing was envisioned as guiding the customer through the "purchase funnel." Marketing was designed to create awareness and promos helped create interest and drive customers toward a store, where the sale was converted.

Today's marketing challenge is that consumers have "escaped the purchase funnel." Armed with a smartphone, consumers are free to explore information anywhere online, as well as check on reviews or opinions from friends via social media. Moreover, consumers can now literally skip or ignore TV, radio and print ads. Omnichannel consumers literally control the messaging they receive. The bottom line is that a consumer's path to purchase now looks more like a meandering journey, with many more potential touch points vs. the former linear purchase tunnel.

Mapping the "customer journey"

As the consumer's behavior becomes more diverse and interactive, marketers are scrambling to find new ways to systematically engage. One of the recent trends is focused on mapping the "customer journey." The theory is if consumers are escaping the purchase funnel and paying less attention to traditional advertising, then businesses need to identify and "map" the journey. Marketers are scrambling to identify the journey, so that they can identify critical "touch points" for messaging offers and calls to action.

On the surface, this more "customercentric" approach seems to make a great deal of sense. It should also be more cost effective than paying for mass ads, which can easily be ignored. But, just how many customer journeys are there? Is a customer's journey always the same path? Do you shop for clothes the same way you purchase electronics?

Challenges of mapping customer journeys

Let's assume you are buying someone a gift for a special occasion. Do you start by going on Facebook to find out their interests? Perhaps, if you don't know them well. Do you visit the local store to get ideas, or do you go to a website to check out trends and the top 10 in a category? What if you are pressed for time … do you shop around locally, or just go to Amazon Prime and look for next day delivery?

Our customer journeys are not fixed. They are heavily influenced by the nature of the product, season and individual time constraints. Customers don't look at an organization "asking for a moment of engagement." They don't just shop online sites that provide text messages within 60 seconds of placing an order. Nor do they always make a trip to their favorite store if they see something interesting in a pop up store or site. In short, neither you nor I go shopping at a retailer because they are the best "omnichannel" option that matches our customer journey.

Pitfalls of being omnichannel by mapping customer journeys

Sadly, many retailers are trying to approach omnichannel in the same ways that they have gone to market in the past. Boardrooms are filled with PowerPoints, charts and sketches of the omnichannel customer journey. Their mantra seems to be that we if can map the journey and define the customer experience, we can then design the marketing and messaging to persuade the customer to come to us and make their purchase.

The reality is that the journey is defined by customers, not business marketers.

There are major pitfalls of defining marketing strategy based upon customer journeys:

  •     Assuming that customers are the same, or fall in to distinct "segments"
  •     Assuming that all customers in a segment are on the "same journey"
  •     Believing that the customer journey is the static, and does not change
  •     Few account for seasonal differences that stress and compress timelines
  •     Assuming that if there are a billion plus on Facebook, we must reach that journey
  •     Most companies define customer journeys only in terms of their own channels and how they will engage on their terms
  •     Consumers are less loyal, so we need to invest heavily loyalty programs to incent them to come back to us … "preventing" them from going somewhere else

The solutions are really simple: Be channel and journey agnostic

Today's consumers literally have unlimited choices and flexibility to discover, shop, and purchase products and services the ways they like, when they like and how they like.

Success is not about more marketing programs, sophistication, or finding "greater reach." Omnichannel requires framing the customer experience in human customer terms, not in technology or messages. A real key is to leave behind the historical baggage of marketing in the traditional sense, and become channel agnostic. Admittedly, not an easy task! But, instead of building to an ideal "customer journey," it simply means:

  •     Eliminate as many pain points as possible
  •     Give consumers as much control and access as possible
  •     Rather than messaging to sell, help customers to buy
  •     Let them buy where, when and how they want
  •     Follow-up whenever, however possible
  •     It's not about today's sale, but connecting to build a relationship

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Trends / Statistics



Chris Petersen
Chris H. Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail, leadership, marketing, and measurement. He has built a legacy through working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships. Chris is the founder of IMS Retail University, a series of strategic workshops focusing on the critical elements of competing profitably in the increasingly complex retail marketplace. wwwView Chris Petersen's profile on LinkedIn

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