The year 2012 went down as the year of omni-channel strategy. Nearly every brief we received last year included an objective to implement an omni-channel strategy. The challenge with most retailers was that they were still thinking in terms of multi-channel strategies. What’s the difference and why was this a challenge?
Multi-channel retail emerged a decade ago in response to online competitors competing in a traditionally offline space. It was a tactical move to protect market share. The strategy was essentially about adding to the business’s existing channels to ensure brand saturation was maintained. Omni-channel strategy however has emerged in response to changes in human behaviour, specifically the adoption of digital channels for every communication need. Consumers are dictating the speed and efficiency with which retailers must meet their needs, because their overall behaviour has transcended how retailers play the game.
So how do we respond to the challenge of building omni-channel strategy into customer experience? For starters we don’t talk about channel at all in the beginning of a project. A strange phenomenon if you think about the fact that 90% of clients come to us to design a store. We start the conversation with ‘what is your customer experience strategy?’. Of course this opens up a can of worms but it needs to if we are going to design next generation stores. Until the customer experience proposition is articulated, how can you shape service, channels, training, IT and store design?
2013 will be a lot more of the omni-channel brief as retailers and service providers work to catch up to the consumer, but I also think it will be about authentic experience design. The brief will evolve from ‘design me a store’ to ‘create an experience strategy that brings my brand to life’. The implications of this brief are significantly different and exciting for all working in this space.