Omnichannel. Multi-channel. Cross-channel... To the average man or woman in the high street or browsing online, these words don't mean anything at all. To them it's just 'shopping'. Because whether they're buying via tablet, mobile or in-store, they're simply out to make a purchase. How they do it — or what 'channel' they use — is, to them, neither here nor there.

“If you asked a customer coming out of a store: 'How was your omnichannel experience?' they'd look at you oddly,” says Tony Bryant, Strategic Business Development Director of retail technology provider, k3retail. “The industry has created a lot of confusion with these terms, so we need to simplify things."


A connected shopper journey


For instance, says Tony, if you make a purchase with an online retailer in the morning, and then go into that retailer's bricks and mortar store in the afternoon, would the staff know about the product you bought hours earlier on their website? And if the next day, you phone the retailer's customer service line, would they be aware of your purchase and in-store visit? If they are, that's a truly connected customer journey.

"Retailers shouldn't be thinking about 'omnichannel' or 'multi-channel'. They should be thinking about the customer's journey, instead.”

- Tony Bryant

The raison d'être of brands, is to recruit and retain customers. But if a link in the retail chain is weak — causing an individual's shopping experience to break down at any stage — customers will quickly look elsewhere for their goods or services. What's required, therefore, is consistency across all channels: reduced queues, easy ordering, a range of ways to buy and return goods and engaging post-purchase contact.

In order for this connected journey to be effective, however, all systems of a retail operation need to work together perfectly. That's the challenge for retailers — and where technology comes in. Using the right tech can give a significant joined up business advantage.


The fundamental change required in the industry


“Essentially, wherever and whenever the consumer engages with a brand, they want to have the same experience,” says Bryant. “For example, it's annoying if a customer's in-store experience is bad but their online experience is good, or vice versa. To meet customer demands, a retailer needs joined up thinking. They need to always put the customer first. To that end, a fundamental change within the industry is that retailers are beginning to employ tech which is consumer-driven — not retail driven.”

Part of k3retail's offer is to support its global clients — which include everyone from Charles Tyrwhitt and The White Company to Ryman, Hobbycraft and Ted Baker — with cutting edge Business Intelligence solutions, including data warehousing and reporting and analytics. In terms of tech, says Bryant, Cortana Analytics, Machine Learning and the Internet of Things (such as intelligent fitting rooms and interactive mirrors) are the tools that retailers are using to manage their stock and gain a deeper insight on how to model customer journeys.


Intelligent insight into customer behaviour


But having customer data is one thing: applying that insight intelligently is quite another. “For example, the ultimate experience would be for a customer to walk into a store with their mobile phone,” says Bryant. “The store recognises them because of the item they bought there last week. The customers opts in to the brand via their phone, which tells them that there is an item they might want that will be coming in-store in two weeks' time — and would they like to be one of the first people to buy it? And that's happening instantaneously.” Live, immediate information also gives retailers the ability to react accordingly and make sure that products are available to consumers.

“Retailers need to understand data about 'customer', 'transaction' and 'product' to have a holistic view of a total customer journey”

- Tony Bryant

It's important to map technologies, like analytics and machine learning, across a business — from the front end (in-store, online, mobile) to the head office, into finance operations and the supply chain. “That comes back to the importance of joined up thinking,” says Bryant. “But a retailer always has to start with the customer. That has to be their fundamental principle. If tech can help them offer better service and  standards, then their brand will give greater customer satisfaction — and receive greater customer advocacy in return.”