While the business pages buzz with glowing reports of climbing revenue driven by a unified consumer experience – now even seamlessly integrated with the customer’s daily life, many retailers just need to know where to start.

Behind the single brand your customers see there can still be a big divide between store and digital, constrained by legacy infrastructure and a cultural resistance to embracing change.

Here in Australia, we read about omnichannel success stories in the US - like Macy’s revelation last year that its customers who shop across channels are eight times more valuable than single channel shoppers.

These rewards don’t come easily:

Macy’s underwent a major journey of organisational change to become deeply customer-centric and support this new world of ‘micro-moment’ shopping.

There are local heroes too. Myer’s latest results show its online business delivering revenue increases of 70%. The rise in profitability, outstripping sales growth, was attributed by CEO and MD Richard Umbers to Myer’s recent omnichannel efforts, in particular expanding instore iPad services and investing in click and collect capabilities.

In 2015, more than two-thirds of retailers from over 45 countries surveyed by the global National Retail Federation expected to increase revenue, margins and brand value thanks to omnichannel.

Yet it is no surprise at all that the road to customer centricity has twists, turns and potholes. According to a November 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal, half of all consumers picking up in store had problems collecting.

And the logistics only get more interesting when you venture into more ambitious omnichannel territory like real-time inventory checks and cross-channel returns and promotions.

So how best to avoid costly pitfalls, and the corresponding negative business fallout? Australian retailers of all sizes are examining their organisational structures and working to establish internal commitment to improving the consumer experience – and ultimately, to place the customer at the heart of operations

Becoming truly customer-centric often starts with the purchase. Technology is a key enabler, allowing Sportscraft, Saba and JAG customers to click and collect, browsing and purchasing online at leisure but still taking home must-have new releases the same day.

Mecca and Michael Hill first established accurate real-time inventory visibility (so consumers can find items in stock at nearby stores). Over time, they added technology to make social content shoppable.

Linking to photos shared by consumers on social media builds customer engagement, and embedding product data and purchase capabilities into social content opens up a brand new channel for purchase .

The best advice is to move at your own pace. Useful things to consider at the start are:

  • Map the ideal customer journey and interaction points for your brand – make the ideal state your roadmap.

  • Execute incremental changes: start small, use pilot trials, measure success and engage with stakeholders across the business to deliver real results.

  • Start by providing real-time inventory visibility to enable your customers to buy across different channels.

  • Investigate click and collect and shipping from store to add flexibility in purchase and fulfillment.

It takes commitment to build the cultural change required, but the rewards justify the effort.

L2Inc data published in 2015 contrasted net sales for ecommerce pureplays (77 cents on the dollar) with omnichannel players offering online purchase and in-store return: 95 cents on the dollar, replacing lost revenue with incremental in-store spend during the return process.

Offering both in-store pick-up and in-store returns delivered even greater value as shoppers exchange and add to their purchase.

The omnichannel buzz isn’t dying down, but it is changing, with talk about moving beyond channel concepts altogether into an uber-unified customer-centric world of ‘digical’ or ‘phygital.

There are plentiful opportunities for Australian retailers to leverage emerging technology to serve the customer better, faster and more efficiently.

Originally posted at http://www.ragtrader.com.au/advisors/unlocking-new-channels

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