Macy's Policy Statement Reveals Merged Channel Fears

Most major retail chains today talk very persuasively about their fondness for merged channel. It's the final chapter of the channel-integration trilogy, which moves from multi-channel to cross-channel to merged-channel. But executives' true feelings about these efforts come through in policy announcements, typically the fine print. How do the rules, the details, differ from one channel to another? Macy's provided a great example of this Tuesday (Jan. 25), when it announced a new free shipping policy.

For years, Macy's has had an in-store policy of free shipping for anything costing more than $50 (with the standard list of exceptions). That might apply to a customer who wants an item that isn't in that store's inventory but does exist in the inventory of online or another Macy's location. Sometimes it might even be a customer convenience, such as if the customer doesn't want to carry all of those heavy purchases home. In some cities, subways make transportation of some items impractical. But the magic price number has been $50.

On January 25, the chain announced with much flourish that it will now offer free shipping (with a somewhat lengthier list of exceptions, some impressively vague) for online customers if they spend more than $100. No acknowledgment that Macy's has decided online customers must pony up twice as much money before they merit the free shipping offered to in-store customers.

Indeed, to stress the point, one of the exemptions to the $100 online free shipping program is "purchases in Macy's stores." To be fair, exemptions generally come from Legal, and the department is simply making the point that online policies do not impact the distinct in-store operations.

But what message does this send to customers? Perhaps that Macy's still sees itself as a physical-store chain, with online shoppers being half as valuable?

Unlike some chains, the products offered by and Macy's stores are overwhelmingly the same. And the customers, with small exceptions, are also the same. Costco, on the other hand, offers very different merchandise in-store versus online (no produce online, for instance), and its channels see very different audiences. Therefore, Costco could have such different policies without customers feeling slighted. But not so with Macy's.

Part of the merged-channel strategy is looking at your customer touchpoints (be they physical, mobile, desktop, social or call center) the same way your customers do. That means having a goal of shared CRM databases and all other data points. Heck, a few stores even jot down notes from customer conversations so they can be shared with other associates at that same store, not to mention throughout the rest of the chain.

Having the same rules (logistics permitting) is a good place to start.