Why Retailers Should Embrace Channels and Complexity

When examining the current state of the retail industry, omnichannel experts boldly assert that “channels are dead” and “consumers are in control,” while retailers confidently claim that they’re providing “seamless shopping experiences.” But a report released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in February of this year showed that consumer satisfaction with retail is down for the first time in four years.

The findings of the ACSI study proves there is a clear disconnect between consumer expectations and the experiences retailers are facilitating. The reality is that channel-specific execution by retailers is more important than ever, shoppers are frustrated at how little control they have over their own information,  and the shopping experience at most retailers is far from seamless.

There are a number of retailers who recognize this friction in the customer journey, but they struggle to find technology and content partners who can enable personalized, channel-specific offers in a complex, noisy consumer marketplace. In their frustration, some hope that migrating their ERP system onto a new data base or investing in a cloud CRM system will address these challenges (such systems tend to limit a retailer’s options for differentiation since the systems are one size fits all for subscribers. But neither of these solutions will actually help retailers re-engineer channels or provide a single source of customer insights that’s necessary for targeted personalization.

The alternative, simplistic solution by many commentators is “eliminate silos”.  However, since this requires a massive overhaul of organization structures, operating models, and has a ripple effect on other related systems, it isn’t realistic.  So how can retailers meet their customers’ continuously changing needs?

Long Live Channels

To live up to consumer expectations and function efficiently in an omnichannel world, retailers must instead embrace channels and complexity. They need to create compelling experiences to stand out among competitors and ensure that those experiences are provided uniquely to each channel and in a personalized way that leverages complex data streams.

Specifically, retailers should:

  • Prepare for change and adopt a flexible data and content architecture. Ensure that the software can dynamically update data and content models to fit your ever-changing business model. Technology will change, your business will evolve, and new competitors will emerge. Most legacy and traditional systems rely on fixed data structures; consequently, they face severe limitations in supporting the real-time and rapid response needed to deliver effective omnichannel experiences.  A dynamic data and content platform can keep your business running without needing to rip and replace existing systems, delivers value more quickly and at lower cost, and requires less training and implementation time.
  • Tailor content strategy for different customer segments. You’re most likely aware that your manufacturing partners have different needs than your retail customers. But are you making the mistake of supply both audiences with the same content? This strategy isn’t effective, and it’s likely to cause friction in your customer relationships. Different business users should have different views of the content they need to accomplish their respective goals, and those views should cater to how your individual customers prefer to receive content.
  • Maintain a single view of content and a central data source. A single view of content will help eliminate the negative effects of silos without changing your organizational structure. Maintaining one source of data, content and images that can feed into separate channels will keep messaging consistent and ensure accuracy across channels. With a central source for master data, you can converge product, customer, location and online/offline information in a single view of content across your organization that everyone – including your supply and demand chain partners – can access and enrich.

Instead of disappearing, there is a greater likelihood we will see more retail channels as new technologies and touch points emerge; hence, the shopping journey will continue evolving and become even more complex to serve in a channel-specific way. To meet the needs of today’s omnichannel shoppers, retailers should embrace channels and complexity while enabling rich, personalized content for any channel through which their customers engage.

Rick Chavie is the CEO of Enterworks