Leading in omnichannel retail
Many years ago, when I was a buyer for a prominent national catalog retailer, I was fascinated by an emerging new retailing format of selling online by way of a website on the World Wide Web. I was intrigued by the potential of this new channel for serving consumers and was on the outlook for a role I could play in this new retailing concept.
After some time, I was fortunate to land a role as a category manager for Walmart Online, the forebearer of what we today know as Walmart.com. When I informed my employer that I was leaving to join Walmart, our CEO invited me to his office for a meeting. He asked me why I was leaving and about my new role.
After I explained my new role and the reasons for leaving, he said, “Scott, you know this whole internet thing is a ‘fad,’ right?”
Fast forward to now, and I think all of us in the retailing community can say, with confidence, that e-commerce has turned out not to be a “fad” at all. However, in the following years, e-commerce retailing grew up in separate, specialized siloes, where specialists focused exclusively on growing an online business.
In contrast, their counterparts in the legacy brick-and-mortar side of the business continued with more traditional retail pursuits. More recently, we’ve seen the emergence of a commitment from both retailers and consumer brands to omnichannel retailing, or a strategy in which retailers and brands engage customers through multiple digital and physical touchpoints.
I’ve noted in recent years an honest commitment on the part of brands and retailers to the concept of omnichannel, but executing this commitment seems more complicated than many have expected in the retail community. My observation is that the root cause of this difficulty in implementing a new vision for the future of retailing might lie in a lack of understanding of what retail elements remain evergreen or unchanged. In contrast, other new aspects of the business process are installed to serve a changing ecosystem of consumer needs and business requirements.
Any discussion on this topic begins with the aspects of retail that do not change. Whether your role is on the consumer brand side or as a retailer, command of the market and industry data informs your perspective on what businesses are growing and what business channels are critical for success. In addition, consumer insights on whom the core shopper is for a given category, what drives their decision-making, and what demographic groups are growing or declining are also critical data points, as are macroeconomic factors that impact purchasing behavior in a given product category.
The “newer” digital retail elements begin with item-level content strategies that present themselves on the product detail page (PDP). Item titles, descriptions, images, attributes and rich media elements combine with user-generated content such as ratings and reviews to provide consumers with all the data points needed to make a purchase decision. Those critical digital elements, in turn, form organic search and discover success for both the brand and the retailer. In turn, they form the foundation for paid digital media strategies that drive relevant traffic to a purchase that might begin online and end up being fulfilled in a physical store.
All told, the days of siloed and highly specialized management of a retail business channel are quickly giving way to retail leaders across the broader ecosystem of our industry who understand all the elements of omnichannel success and are driving their organizations forward in a rapidly changing business environment.
Sadly, however, some leaders in our industry still think, like my former catalog retail CEO, that this whole omnichannel retail thing is still just a fad.
Scott Benedict is vice president of partnerships at WhyteSpyder, a Rogers-based member of the Ascential Digital Commerce Group focused on helping brands sell more on Walmart.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.