Omni Channel: A Necessity in Today’s Canadian Retail Landscape

By Todd Trombley

The Good Old Days: The emergence of the internet and the worldwide web changed everything about consumers and the retailers who serve them.  Before this change retailing was pretty simple. You were either a brick and mortar retailer or you were one of a few mail order catalogue based retailers.  If you were a brick and mortar store you offered service to your consumer that ranged from full service to very little service to no service. From about 1962 until about 2005 the idea of service level and how service level impacted the merchandise you carried along with the number and the nature of staff were major preoccupations of retailers.

Back when retail was primarily product and service. Photo:

Back when retail was primarily product and service. Photo:

And Then Retailing Went Boom: At some point; and it is impossible to precisely determine this exact point in time, the realities of the internet and worldwide web changed consumers’ behaviours.  People became addicted to the information that could be found through the internet. People began to realize that they could stay connected to others; friends and complete strangers, via the web.  We’ve all pretty much always been sponges for information and creatures that thrive on social connections, it is how we attempt to navigate and live in our little worlds.  It’s just that pre-internet this acquisition of knowledge, the pursuit of information and maintenance our social networks took a lot of time and effort. So, now we as consumers had these really easy to use tools that provided us information; pretty much at our finger tips and we had a means of maintaining our social networks without even having to directly connect with the people in the networks. Do you still wonder why people seem so hooked on the devices that enable them to stay connected to this gusher of information and connectedness?  You can’t walk down a sidewalk, drive a street, ride an elevator or stand in line today without seeing someone head down, fingers and thumbs pecking at keys getting this seemingly insatiable addiction satisfied.

Build It and They Will Come: So now given this reality, you better have a robust and deep presence on the web so that this hooked on info consumer can jones out on what you carry (website: CHECK).  Since you have to build this web presence anyway, to provide information to the information junkies, you might as well go all the way and allow them to actually buy product through this online avenue (online store: CHECK). While you’re making that happen you might as well build your online site and store so that they are used and seen optimally on the device most frequently used by today’s consumer, the ubiquitous smart phone, (handheld optimized online site: CHECK).  Just to complete your purchasing relationship with your consumers why not build a special app and give it your best customers so that they can be forever connected to you via an invisible electronic tether (digital app: CHECK).

Now that you’ve done all this to address the “information” and “transaction control” desires of your customers you need to address their ever expanding needs pertaining to their social networks. You see consumers now seem to have a greater than ever need to feel they belong to some group. In fact the groups they belong to; or “follow”, seem to define them and give them some sort of virtual yet very tangible identity.  This need is so great and so identity affirming that an ever expanding number of consumer want to “share” and announce to the world; or at least their network of people connected to them, exactly who it is that they find of interest.  Hello social media sites where your customers can connect to and follow you and stay updated on all the really cool stuff that you are doing to make their relationship with you all that it possibly can be and where they can then announce their affiliation with you and push your communication directed to them out to their own social connection network (Facebook: check; Twitter: CHECK; Instagram: CHECK; LinkedIn:CHECK).

Stick to Your Knitting: But hey, while you’re doing all of these super important things that are required of you in today’s retail cosmos don’t neglect the things that have traditionally meant winning or losing in retail.  Great merchandise, compelling displays of that merchandise, the best service offering regardless of your service level type, personnel that can engage with and establish a relationship with your customers and a strategy that causes consumers to beat a path directly to your door. These realities; along with a few more that are just beginning to gain traction, are the realities that make Omni Channel a vital necessity today and in the future.

Todd Trombley is a principal at Performance Improvement International (PII), a training, coaching and consulting company that works across a variety of industries developing executive and senior leadership’s ability to gain greater productivity from the teams and functional areas they lead. PII is based in Oakville Ontario and Detroit Michigan and works withclients throughout North America. The firm was founded in 1997.

Todd has worked with a number ofCanada’s leading retail organizations. This work usually finds him working within the Store Operations function improving revenue production by enhancing the skill-sets of sellers and managers and by bringing the resources of other functional areas of these firms more forcefully to bear within Operations.

When not at his clients Todd can often be found golfing; poorly, or riding one of his motorcycles; happily.

Today's Retail News From Around The Web: November 28, 2014