By Rob Garf in Chicago last week proved that omni-channel is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather a requirement in our new retail reality. That said, I met with many retailers and partners over the course of three days, and while omni-channel was echoed countless times, it was clear that the retail industry is still in a nascent stage of maturity.

Here are 5 omni-channel themes from

  1. The whole notion of omni-channel strategy is still relatively new. Retail is still shifting from product-centric to consumer-centric operations, so organizations need a solid roadmap that clearly communicates objectives, roles and goals, both up and down the organization. I meet more and more executives with omni-channel or customer experience in their title. These executives, who act much like a mayor across functions, are necessary to define what “good” looks like and drive omni-channel initiatives with all stakeholders in the company.
  2. Consumers now dictate and control the shopping process, but existing architecture, applications and vendor relationships aren’t keeping pace. This is not a surprise. Loosely coupled legacy systems were implemented to solve a specific problem for a specific channel, and software vendors are incented to sell new and disparate applications. This has caused siloed systems that stifle operations, redundant data that increase costs and complex integrations that slow innovation. Omni-channel strategies cannot be effectively executed in this complex environment, which leads to dissatisfied customers and lost revenue. This new retail reality requires a singular platform at the center of the consumer shopping experience. Demandware’s Digital Store solution was well-received because it extends our singular platform into the store via an intuitive and purpose-built application for store associates.
  3. The buyer’s journey, and the need for personalization, was top of mind with several retailers. While there is an aspiration to better understand consumer behavior, profiles and preferences, few have the technology – or more importantly the organizational structure – to analyze and operationalize these insights. Retailers must ask themselves, how do we get visibility into this information? What data needs to be captured and analyzed? How do we hand this data over to consumers and store associates? One Demandware client has created a center-of-excellence to help various functions – merchandising, marketing, ecommerce – digest and leverage the volumes of data generated in the virtual and physical worlds.
  4. Organizational barriers between IT and commerce still remain. Functions must be aligned across the board to successfully execute omni-channel initiatives. While a divide may exist, both groups should agree that they must move faster in this hyper-competitive environment.
  5. Social is alive and well and plays a key role across channels, whether word of mouth, customer advocacy or social media. Beyond just the number of followers, retailers must make social media and intelligence part of their overall consumer engagement strategy and determine how consumers are engaged and influenced. We learned the importance of social from University of Arizona’s Digital Diva research, where this valuable, social and connected segment influences 49 percent of fashion spend annually.

The time for rhetoric is over. To successfully engage consumers and provide the best shopping experience across all channels, retailers must address these issues and also incorporate omni-channel into their overall business operations.