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What role does mobile play in omnichannel retailing?


As consumers increasingly use all channels available to them to interact with the brands and merchants they are interested in, retailers are focusing on ways to provide a seamless omnichannel shopping experience, with mobile often playing a starring role.

 Omnichannel retail is an evolution of multichannel retailing, with more of a focus on creating consistent experiences across all retail channels. Since consumers do not buy from channels but from brands and stores, the idea is that mobile – as the device that is always handy and increasingly used to access the Internet – is key to delivering the omnichannel shopping experience.

“Mobile is omnichannel retailing,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston. “Mobile means retailers can deliver an instant online connection via their retail stores, printed catalogs, advertising, and other traditional points of sale,” he said.

“No longer is a physical store limited by stock on hand,” he said. “No longer does pricing need to be impersonal and locked down. No longer do consumers need to fumble with plastic loyalty punch cards or paper coupons.  

“Smart retailers and brands can deliver personalized calls-to-action at the exact time and place that a consumer is most likely to act upon that message, and this most often occurs in a retail store, while consumers are shopping.”

Seamless experiences
Savvy merchants realize they need to need to make the shopping experience as seamless as possible – including insure that customers can purchase what they want when they want from the channel they want or else risk losing a sale.

This is why creating one source of product information that can be used by all channels is important for omnichannel retailing.

But, omnichannel is not just about inventory. Promotions and other marketing activities should also be consistent across all channels.

Mobile tactics such as QR codes are one way retailers are leveraging to start down the path toward omnichannel retailing.


Macy’s has named a chief omnichannel officer.

“QR codes might be a little clumsy still, but this is a low cost, high reward way that any retailer can test the omnichannel waters and engage mobile shoppers via “trigger point” marketing,” Mr. Kerr said.

“In the Unbound Commerce platform, for example, at the touch of a button, our retailers can generate a QR code for any page in their mobile commerce site, thus linking consumers to the specific mobile-optimized page where a product can be bought, from any physical place, at any time,” he said.

“And everything is tracked. In this way, literally, any consumer touch point becomes an omnichannel commerce-enabled “store”, and the only cost is the ink to print the QR code.”

Chief omnichannel officer
Retailers are getting serious about taking an omnichannel approach. Macy’s Inc. recently created the position of chief omnichannel officer tasked with overseeing how the store, online and mobile channels work together.

Filling the role is Robert B. Harrison, who will focus on the technology, logistics and related operations used to manage Macy’s strategy across channels.

The examples are growing of how retailers are using mobile to create a compelling omnichannel shopping experience for customers. Starbucks with its in-store network, mobile payments and mobile account management for loyalty members is one.

Another is Neiman Marcus with its app that recognizes opted-in customers and enables sales associates to be alerted to their presence and preferences as well to send them offers.

However, the examples are not numerous so far, pointing to the challenges that retailers are having integrating mobile into an overall strategy.

“I would say that most retailers understand the concept and that it is shaping a significant part of retail strategy going forward,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research. “As far as how to respond to that force and how their own business ought to look in order to survive omnichannel upheaval, I would say retailers have a much murkier picture.

“Our research on mobile’s impact on retail found that 88 percent of retailers in our survey said that responding to consumers’ increasing use of mobile is a top-3 business challenge for them,” she said. However, when you get into tactics, it gets strange – 52 percent of the same survey respondents report that they think that mobile influences 25 percent or less of retail sales, which seems really low.

“Conceptually retailers understand. What to do about it? A much harder question.”

Thinking beyond technology
The trick for many retailers is going to truly understand that if their store experience is simply about acquiring merchandise, then they are already behind the curve.

Customers are getting more and more sophisticated with their shopping behaviors and they want the digital advantages of broad selection, rich product information and in-depth decision support coupled with the advantages of the physical store such as personal service, the ability to touch, try on and the overall sensory experience that in-store shopping provides.

However, the answer also is not technology simply for technology’s sake.

“Retailers are going to need to identify the unique characteristics, the defining traits of their brands and think very strategically about what the right digital tools and experiences are to enhance those strengths and to provide meaningful and relevant experiences for a retailer’s customers is key,” said Christopher Barcelona, executive creative director at Resource.

“Adding features to an app or arming sales associates with iPads without a well thought out strategy behind why/how your customers will benefit just becomes tech for tech’s sake,” he said.

“Retailers have a chance to deliver marketing to customers with an unprecedented level of precision and accuracy – said simpler, we’re closer to being able to deliver true 1:1 marketing than we’ve ever really been before.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York