Creating a seamless omnichannel experience

John Stelzer, worldwide industry leader, retail smarter commerce, IBM, led a panel of retail executives that offered an inside look into what omnichannel means for today's brands.

Painting the picture of two omnichannel players were Tony Brown, executive VP, e-commerce and omnichannel, Zumiez, and Ratnakar Lavu, executive VP, digital innovation, Kohl's.

Stelzer opened the discussion with some data showing how quickly the consumer mindset is changing. In a poll taken two years ago, 85 percent of consumers believed it was important for a retailer to be seamless across channels, and 81 percent expected their shopping experience with a brand to be consistent every time. Today, those numbers are up with 92 percent of consumers thinking seamlessness is important and 82 percent wanting consistency every time.

In addition, shoppers were asked which capabilities were most important when picking a retailer and the No. 1 answer was pricing consistency between online and offline.

Stelzer stressed that in an omnichannel retail environment, the brand needs to support the consumer at every touch point from pre-purchase to post purchase, since there are more opportunities than ever to damage a relationship. At the same time, 52 percent of consumers said they could recover from a bad sales experience if they end a transaction with a good post purchase experience.

"There is not one starting point or evolutionary path that's right for every company," said Stelzer. "View the brand experience (at every touch point) through the eyes of the consumer."

Brown echoed this philosophy of a seamless integration when he spoke of Zumiez's multichannel commerce.

"We are building a channel-less retail experience for our customers," he said. "This is a never-ending job because the customers are in charge, and they have the power in today's world. We need to go where they want to go, however they want to do it, we're going to be there to serve them. We don't know exactly what that will look like. We think we are in the early stages of this transition not the latter stages."

Zumiez focuses on three aspects for creating a great experience across all touch points: an intimate understanding of the customer; a clearly defined brand; and a store built around a culture.

Ratnakar spoke of Kohl's dedication to both its online store and 1,160 physical stores. Culture was also important, as he stressed Kohl's goal to become the "most engaging retailer in America" and "to inspire and empower families to lead fulfilled lives."

Retailers can drive customer engagement in all channels through personalization and loyalty. "Generic experiences aren't going to fly," Ratnakar said, noting Kohl's plans to keep testing personal emails and a new loyalty program, which will soon be launching nationwide.

See all of FierceRetail's 2014 coverage here.

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