Why retailers are struggling to bridge the omnichannel gap

The last decade has seen a huge shift in the retail industry with perpetual change and monumental technological advancements leaving behind an incredibly fast-paced, hypercompetitive environment.

The modern customer now expects a quick, convenient and seamless experience, regardless of how or where they choose to purchase products. They expect merchants to both know them and provide a positive and personalised cross-platform shopping experience. Customers will look elsewhere if their wishes are not fulfilled.

The changes and opportunities that have arisen from this drastic transformation has left merchants with a conundrum – balancing the cost of technology adoption while trying to best serve the increasingly demanding modern customer with the seamless omnichannel shopping experience they expect.

Finding a catch-all solution for these difficult questions is hard to do, but a general consensus of how retailers should move forward is slowly starting to emerge.

Our recent study of 350 leading global retailers demonstrates their belief that omnichannel strategy is the answer to their problem. The research shows that over 90% of retailers and brands have an omnichannel plan in place or are looking to invest in one soon, and 87% regard omnichannel as important, if not critical to their business.

However, even as merchants overwhelmingly identifying omnichannel as integral to their business success, only 8% believe they have actually mastered their omnichannel approach.

With so much at stake, businesses cannot expect to implement omnichannel strategies as a quick fix. Merchants must take full responsibility for the technological commitment necessary if they wish to fully reap the rewards from their investment.

So, the question remains: why is the omnichannel gap so large?

1. Upfront technology costs

There are clear advantages for retailers who integrating various sales channels into one single, consolidated platform. It gives them the opportunity to significantly enhance operations through capturing and analysing data and learning deep insights about customers. This in turn leads to merchants using the information acquired to make quicker and more informed business decisions.

However, the initial start up costs associated with implementing omnichannel technologies into a business can often prove a barrier to merchants. While the software required to maximise use of omnichannel strategies can be costly, to proceed without it because of this is short sighted. Siloed data, disparate, expensive legacy systems, and an over-reliance on time consuming processes will prove costlier in the long-term and eventually damage the bottom line of a business.

The cost barrier could explain the omnichannel chasm between retailers who have simply formulated an omnichannel plan and those who are using an effective technology platform to execute their strategy with success.

2. Understanding of value

Legacy retailers who have had long-standing bricks and mortar success on the British high street can often be slow to embrace new technologies as an integral component in building the company’s future.

After having achieved success prior to the explosion of multichannel retailing, it is easy for these merchants to disregard such technology as a non-essential addition to the business. However, dismissing the importance of omnichannel strategies is to misunderstand the modern shopper climate, with retailers missing out on the plenitude of benefits that come with adopting the technology.

Satisfying modern customer demands for instant gratification and a higher level of personalisation is made infinitely more difficult when merchants spend precious time on cost-consuming backend processes while using multiple avenues to engage customers. Instead, technology that automates back office processes such as order fulfillment and integrated purchase ordering can drive back office efficiencies – freeing retailers to focus more time on creating positive and consistent customer experiences across all platforms.

The retail industry shows no sign of slowing and merchants hoping to keep pace should be looking at putting proper innovation at the top of their list of priorities in order to become a true omnichannel business.

3. No time to waste

As the entire retail industry is undergoing perpetual change and thorough transformation, businesses no longer have the luxury of time to fully get to grips with new technologies.

Businesses that fail to anticipate trends run the risk of becoming irrelevant. An example of this is Blockbuster.

The company did not predict the online relocation of their industry and went into administration as a result. Had they been more invested in new technologies and applied this to their business model, they could have pre-empted the switch and, who knows, they may have been an early pioneer in online streaming services.

Retail technology will continue to evolve, with the face of the sector shifting after each new development. If retailers do not anticipate change, they will be unable to sufficiently respond to it. Failing to understand the value of the opportunities in front of them means merchants will face being left behind.

4. Trust

Trust is always a thorny subject when it comes to technology, with the fear that over-reliance will irreparably change the face of the company. However, merchants hoping to stay competitive cannot waste time attempting to reconcile their former practises with the new, quicker and more effective way of operating within retail.

Retailers executing highly successful omnichannel strategies are accepting of technology’s now integral role in their business and are using it to form the bedrock of their omnichannel strategy. As a consequence, they are much better placed to deliver authentic omnichannel experiences for customers.

5. Lack of real commitment

Retailers looking to bridge the divide between basic implementation and successful execution of an omnichannel strategy must dedicate significant time and resources to their plan.

It is not enough to simply adopt the technology. Delivering the rapid choice, convenience and seamless cross-channel experience that customers now demand requires merchants to devote time and resources to their omnichannel strategies, right from the outset.

To bridge the chasm between omnichannel adoption and execution and unify multiple cross-channel sales systems, an agile technology solution that frees merchants to better serve customers and provide a barrier-free shopping experience is required.

The power of omnichannel is undeniable. Companies that are committed to using the necessary technology as part of their omnichannel strategies will be those who reap the full reward, setting themselves apart in the process.

The time will soon be upon us when authentic omnichannel experiences will be seen as a standard within retail. Businesses need to ensure they have the right systems and technology in place for when that day comes or risk becoming extinct.

Derek O’Carroll is the CEO of Brightpearl, responsible for the overall company strategy and for delivering on Brightpearl’s mission to automate retail.

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