Why Omnichannel Still Remains More Vision Than Reality for Retail – pymnts.com

“In stock.” Just two little words, and yet, a huge harbinger of customer joy these days as increasingly savvy digital consumers scour the web to find better prices, faster delivery or simply checking on inventory.
The frustration of thinking something is available when it’s not — even in our highly digitized, artificial intelligence-capable world where it should be easy to tell this information instantly — is alive and well.
As much as omnichannel retail is predicated on the notion of better service and convenience, gaps still exist and what is supposed to be a unified shopping experience can often feel frustrating.
As former Saks Fifth Avenue CEO and Senior Mastercard Advisor Steve Sadove told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, delivering a good, omnichannel consumer experience — where in-store and online work cohesively — is a complicated and still-nascent skill.
“It gets into lots of pieces,” Sadove said. “It’s not just how long’s my wait time? It’s about availability. Is the product available? Do they have the sizes, do they have the styles?” he said, noting the problems that arise when retailers allocate all their inventory to online and don’t allocate enough to their stores.
“Then all they can do is say ‘We just don’t have it,’ or ‘Go to our website and you can find it,’” he said. “That’s not going to get you excited about going into the store,” he added, while stressing that is what will ultimately separate the omnichannel winners and losers.
To be sure, omnichannel retail makes it easy for consumers to flip from one company interaction to the next, but if done poorly, can easily become a wedge that openly reveals disorganization and turns shoppers away.
Credit Unions Make Interaction All-in-One 
For instance, retailers would be well-served to consider the way credit unions have been blending a consumer’s in-branch experience with targeted digital tools. This means if a customer first enters a physical branch and starts an interaction there but then later decides to finish a transaction online from their phone at home, the crossover between mediums is unbroken.
“Whether it’s digital, online, in-person, in-branch, it doesn’t matter — that experience, that omnichannel experience, is the same,” Brian Scott, PSCU vice president and growth chief officer, told PYMNTS. This experience — at least in the credit union space, that is — often has many touchpoints, as most members interact around 100 times monthly with their credit union, he said.
Instead of loan applications or bill payments, retailers simply need to envision their customers browsing and buying sweaters and shoes instead.
It’s not just department stores that need to improve their channel cohesion, other retail sectors, such as grocers, have generally been slower to innovate on the omnichannel front too.
Read more: Omnichannel Grocery
But this is changing, as much progress has been made and more conversations are taking place on how to bring a true omnichannel experience to the supermarket of the future.
eCommerce’s Foray Into the Omnichannel 
It’s hard to discuss omnichannel without mentioning direct-to-consumer companies.
“Despite its omnipresence, some think direct-to-consumer brands have potential beyond major eCommerce sites they started out on — and it’s untapped to a surprising extent,” wrote PYMNTS last fall.
Take Amazon, which announced plans last August to open physical retail stores and other stores that mirror department stores in terms of look and feel. This way, consumers have a physical spot to drop off returns and pick up packages.
Innovations like these alleviate consumer pressure points and make each interaction more purposeful versus wasteful.
Convenience Stores Seek to Become More Convenient 
Another retailer getting into the omnichannel space is the corner convenience store, with such stores now looking to bring items to consumers instead of having consumers come to them.
Pharmacies are another. CVS, for example, is diving into the omnichannel, creating new store formats that engage consumers in new ways. This includes making CVS stores like a community health destination with primary care services, wellness services, chronic condition management help, and so on. This example perhaps represents the ultimate omnichannel experience — one where consumers can have various needs met all at the same place and different kinds of information about them (health, pharmacy, wellness, and the like) integrated together, as well as the option to shop online and get items delivered.
Of course, the point of all of this is customer retention and loyalty.
“The goal is not to win consumers’ digital spending, but rather their omnichannel loyalty,” wrote PYMNTS.
In short, to make consumers choose one offering first, before others.
“You’ve got to be able to take the friction out of the overarching customer experience, and it doesn’t matter whether they drive up and go into the store as they have for 30 years, whether they insert their card, earn points in the store, earn points at the pump or pay with their mobile devices,” as Bobby Koscheski, head of omni commerce, fuel and convenience store solutions at ACI Worldwide, told PYMNTS. “[Consumers] just want convenience.”

About:More than half of U.S. consumers think biometric authentication methods are faster, more convenient and more trustworthy than passwords or PINs — so why are less than 10% using them? PYMNTS, in collaboration with Mitek, surveyed more than 2,200 consumers to better define this perception versus use gap and identify ways businesses can boost usage.
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