Omni-channel conundrum

omnichannel-retail

One of the key priorities I hear when talking to or advising brands and retailers is what to consider and how to approach building an omni-channel strategy. It’s a telling sign that many are struggling to connect with modern consumers.

Inventory is an expensive investment and it’s incredibly challenging to know what to produce and where to put that inventory. If a brand does that right, sales and margins are strong. If a brand or retailer does that wrong, sales suffer and margins tank.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that virtually no brand or retailer is getting this right in the fashion apparel and footwear industry right now. Let’s face it–everyone is suffering, and this always leads into a conversation about what is omni-channel? How is it different from Direct-To-Consumer (DTC)? What is DTC? Is it retail stores and online? What about mobile? Social media? And what do we do with the wholesale channel? How do we exit it or manage it since in many cases it was or could be a significant contributor of sales and profits?

Why are so many brands and retailers struggling with these efforts and business in general? Maybe none of the above questions really matter. After all if you’re the leader of a brand or retailer, your main concern is likely “why am I having such a hard time driving growth?” Typically the answer lies in that fact that you cannot have growth without innovation–they go hand in hand. A CEO’s chief priority is focusing on growth and innovation. After all, if you want to be better than everyone else, you have to do things everyone else is not already doing.

So how should brands and retailers be approaching strategies to improve business through omni-channel efforts? Often the best advice is to look at a brand that has done an excellent job. A brand that is the best-in-class. Naturally the brand that comes to mind instantly is Apple. They’ve done an excellent job to date. Apple has had great products and amazing execution all around.

But let’s think about what Apple has really done. In my opinion, I think that what they’ve done really well is to figure out the complete life-cycle of its consumer. Apple understands that a consumer’s journey starts with buzz. They want to know what’s going on. From there Apple does amazing little things to begin crowd-sourcing new products. Months before the delivery of the Apple Watch, iPhone users got an app on their phones for the Apple Watch. That was a form of crowd-sourcing. On that app, Apple could tag and track everything its early adopters looked at, spent time on, and shared with peers. That insight is tremendous. It’s a powerful tool for a brand to have when deciding how much, when, and where products should go.

Think of it like this: buzz generates conversation, conversation creates products, products engage consumers, consumers give insights, insights deliver success. Apple used buzz and engagement with fans to execute one of the greatest product launches ever. The Apple Watch didn’t just show up in stores one day. It was in the making for years and part of the consumer’s journey for many, many months.

From the early insights gained, the teams at Apple could effectively market, produce, distribute, plan, place, support, and reinforce repurchase throughout the entire consumer journey. Fashion businesses have a much higher SKU count than Apple does, but that journey to purchase still holds true. A brand’s success is completely dependent upon how well it executes along the entire consumer path to purchase. Miss one step, and you’re stunting your potential and frustrating your audience.

My suggestion to brands and retailers struggling to find footing with the modern consumers is to ask themselves if they’ve innovated into the consumer’s journey. It’s important to think about what “could” be done rather than what “should” be done. No omni-channel strategy will work if you can’t connect with your audience much earlier in the process. We built PreeLine to be that little tool at the beginning of the journey, like the Apple Watch app, to let fans engage with products before they are bought, produced, shipped, and sold.

Innovative brands will do innovative things. A sense of curiosity and desire to experiment are critical to building any great business. Ultimately, without engagement and insight from your consumers, there is no omni-channel strategy. No growth with no innovation.

Like Apple did with the Apple Watch, the answer to finding your omni-channel path is engaging much earlier with your fans and building longer-lasting relationships that resonate with modern consumers. The current process many brands and retailers use is essentially this: design it, produce it, deliver it, and then pray that it sells. Think about that. Is that what your brand is essentially doing? Best to get out of that box if it is.

We know that this process of “make and pray” doesn’t work. There’s much better technology available. We should be using data to inform our decisions. And most importantly, modern consumers are smart and they want to be engaged in the experience.

So let’s get innovative and think about how to engage with consumers. And yes you should be using PreeLine, but if not, go build your own crowd-engagement platform. Just do it and do it well. It’s a big step towards driving growth and innovation.

Image from TotalRetail

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