Digital Transformation In the Age Of Omni-Channel Retailing

Shoppers have permanently altered their shopping behavior by shopping more online and expecting a seamless omni-channel experience regardless of their preferred platform or method of shopping

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E-commerce has come of age in the past two years. Growth that would normally have taken five years has been condensed into one-and-a-half as Indian consumers reoriented their lives to accommodate a pandemic. As we approach the end of 2021, it is becoming clear these changes are not temporary. Shoppers have permanently altered their shopping behavior by shopping more online and expecting a seamless omni-channel experience regardless of their preferred platform or method of shopping. Even now e-commerce continues to advance past its previous highs despite lower COVID case rates. In essence, COVID accelerated the adoption curve of online retail. Organizations that have not made internal shifts that acknowledge this new reality are at risk of being left behind.

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At the same time, the elevated status of e-commerce has meant that direct to consumer (D2C) brands can threaten retailers and suppliers alike by appealing directly to consumers without the need for an intermediate retailer. The Thrasio model has further enabled this phenomenon by providing particularly compelling startups with greater reach and resources.

Today’s brands and supplier organizations cannot afford to use yesterday’s strategies to keep pace with these changes. The acceleration of e-commerce growth, the nature of its evolution, and heightened shopper expectations around the ease of omnichannel retail require change from all involved. Here are three ways today brands can evolve to succeed in the future:

Put the shopper first

Today’s vendors need to be wherever the shopper wants to be, whether that’s in-store, at home, or on a mobile device. Assortment, pricing, and operational strategies need to be aligned across platforms where a change on any platform is accounted for by all the others to produce a seamless shopper experience. Shoppers do not think in terms of channels and platforms, they think in terms of getting tasks done as efficiently (or enjoyably) as possible. Ensure they are aware of your offer and promotions both before and after trips. To enable ongoing engagement, leverage beacon technology with mobile devices to provide offers that are personalized, timely, and consider past purchasing behavior.

Convenience and speed need to be prioritized with ongoing investments. Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS) operations need to be integrated alongside in-store shopping when determining how to stock items and dedicate store labor. Additionally, the role of stores as dark fulfilment centers for e-commerce deliveries must also be considered. Brands should increasingly treat stores as multifaceted fulfilment destinations that cater to multiple platforms.

Align organizational structures

COVID gave e-commerce players an especially difficult challenge as sales surged far faster than they did at physical stores. To align for sustainable growth long term, it is imperative that organizations not be concerned with whether brick & mortar or e-commerce teams get credit for a sale as both contribute to the growth of the company. Successful omnichannel organizations will have clear lines of communication between in-store and online teams that encourage collaboration rather than counter-productive competition. Consider implementing unified merchandising, marketing and supply chain teams across channels so that resources are shared as needed. At the very least, success needs to be evaluated as a partnership between operational divisions in the company with shared goals.

Automating routine tasks

When compared to physical retail in isolation, e-commerce has exponentially increased the amount of decision-making required of brands and retailers. Traditional brick and mortar methods of periodic assortment resets and sporadic price changes simply cannot be translated effectively into an always-on and dynamic online environment. Advertising, pricing, and even assortments need to be capable of responding to changing market conditions on an intra-day basis. Manual and people-based processes simply cannot keep up with the constant changes that e-commerce requires. By using algorithms that govern e-commerce and omnichannel operations and can appropriately respond to new information, team members can be freed to focus on achieving more strategic goals.

While shoppers’ response to COVID continues to evolve, there will be no going back to an ‘old normal.’ The challenges posed by technology also require technology to solve. Tomorrow’s omnichannel organizations need to act as a single organism dedicated to a seamless shopping experience. It must be willing to redefine its operational goals and processes from the ground up. Anything less risks obsolescence.