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New Year Thoughts

Posted by tbrouill Dec 31, 2013

Its that time again where everyone starts thinking about two things; predictions and resolutions for the new year.  It seems to me that these two things are complementary to each other, you need resolutions in order to help your prediction to come true.  There are many types of predictions that you will see over the next week or two related to all areas of your professional and personal life.  There are predictions related to your communication tools like smart phones and smart phone peripherals.  There are predictions related to your computing hardware and which operating systems are cresting and declining.  There are predictions related to your business practices and why various business practices will increase in importance.  I prefer to focus on conceptual predictions that impact and guide your personal and professional life.  To that end I think that we are coming into a period of increased convergence and this will impact your personal, professional, software and hardware interaction and dependencies.

Convergence is very simple and yet can be very complex at the same time.  I will focus on the simple aspect for my prediction. The convergence that I am speaking of is bringing together and blurring the line between personal, professional, software and hardware interaction and dependencies.  This convergence is being driven by the discontinuous change that has been increasing each year.  We have seen that the increase and speed of the discontinuous change experienced across the various aspects of your life have been driving to one conclusion; blurring the lines between the different aspects of your life and the tools that you utilize to support your actions.  As an example of convergence I recently upgrade my smart phone and also purchased one of the Samsung Gear watches.  With this hardware I am able to combine both professional and personal communications into the one smart phone.  In addition, the Gear watch allows me to simplify the use of the smartphone in one aspect by providing notification of events and communication from the watch so I don’t have to pick up and look at the phone for each communication event, like email, text or phone call.  I see this convergence of interaction across personal, professional, hardware and software aspects of daily life increasing. 

To compliment this prediction, I personally resolve to increase the level and types of collaboration in my personal and professional interactions.  Collaboration is the hot topic in professional and personal circles for a good reason, the convergence of interaction across personal, professional, hardware and software aspects of your daily life increases the need to needs for collaboration to help to make this convergence work work you.  Collaboration is the secret sauce that will increase the value of this convergence.  I’ve previously discussed the importance and the power of collaboration across your personal and professional aspects of daily life.  I see this as the single largest factor in the continued success of your activities and I also see this as the single largest influence in the future convergence that will continue to increase and expand across your personal and professional interactions.

Happy New Year!

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What are your professional resolutions for the new year?  Where do you see the convergence between personal and professional aspects of your life progressing?  Have you resolved to increase collaboration across your practices in the coming year?  How do you see the relationship between convergence and collaboration?

The proof of concept method, or process, is a great way to quickly validate assumptions and value forecasts for an initiative.  This method can be especially beneficial to cut through the analysis paralysis that can often occur during the discovery phase of an initiative.  This is also especially helpful in the omni-channel commerce market space because it also reduces the overall delivery time frame and allows for quick identification of improvements in your initiative.  You may suggest that this is simply another description for Agile Development Methodology and in the academic sense I agree that you would be correct.  I am very hesitant, however, in suggesting Agile Development Methodology because I have seen that this can simply be used as an excuse to eliminate project execution best practices.  This is a discussion on validating assumptions and value forecasts though and not a discussion on methodology.     

The proof of concept will require an additional investment up front in your initiative in order to build out the basic service.  This practice is in essence a variation on the continuous improvement process; you would build and deliver a first proof in order to confirm the basic process, or framework.   Once you have validated the framework, you can then improve and extend the framework as you identify new improvements.  This continuous improvement method will allow you to quickly and efficiently build out and extend your omni-channel capabilities. 

You can also see how well this method of quickly developing and delivering the proof of concept also supports the discontinuous change that is being driven by the  consumers.  Omni-channel commerce is the intersection of channels consumers have used to purchase from retailers.  This intersection has been developing over the years and is now reaching a level of critical mass.  This is based on the demands of the consumers as they experiment with methods to interact with retailers.  The mantra of shop any time, any where is very compelling for the consumer and the retailer must be flexible in order to meet these demands.  In a very real sense I think that consumers are searching for a retail outlet that will collaborate to meet their demands.  The consumer is not looking for a retailer to ‘offer’ them something, the consumer is looking for a retailer to meet their demands. 

It is now the retailers’ responsibility to develop a flexible framework and the flexible business practices based on this flexible framework.  This now brings me back to my suggestion to implement a proof of concept process, or more accurately a continuous improvement process to support your omni-channel commerce activities.  I think the days are gone when an organization can engage in a long cycle improvement initiative without a series of interim releases along the way.  The long range plan is no more than a suggestion, or a proposal in these times of discontinuous change.  In this environment, the continuous improvement program, or the proof of concept program is the most effective method to meet the demands of the consumer.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of loyalty programs have you put into place?  Have you incorporated a proof of concept step into your methodology?

A value definition exercise supporting omni-channel commerce can be a very challenging exercise to identify compelling value.  This challenge comes from the difficulty in segmenting the value, or return on investment, that is only related to the omni-channel commerce capabilities or improvements.  In addition, another challenge is the potential for omni-channel commerce to cannibalize the sales from other channels, specifically the brick and mortar storefront.  Either one of these challenges can be very difficult to overcome and when you combine and then as so often happens in real life you begin to mix the types and impact levels you can be very quickly lost in a battle to justify your efforts.  This battle to justify your efforts is one of the strongest status quo influences to try to overcome in a large organization.  As the old saying goes, size does matter, and especially in this case size can be one of the single most difficult factors to overcome in your value definition and initiative justification process.

There are certainly methods to overcome these challenges and these methods have been utilized and improved over time.  It seems to me though that we have entered into a time where these methods to overcome the challenges are ineffective.  Let me provide an example of a method that in the past was very successful at overcoming the value definition justification hurdles.  One of the most effective means of overcoming the value definition challenge was the skunkworks team.  As I’m sure you all are aware, the skunkworks was a team or effort to develop or prove value without formal approval of the efforts.  What made this so successful was the team’s ability to develop a proof of concept in a small and very cost effective manner to prove the value of the larger concept.  This allowed a visionary to gather the statistics to prove their assumptions at an unnoticeable cost.  Google and Xerox encouraged this practice because they realized that these experiments were the foundation to inventions and new products. 

I think that this method has been turned on its head in today’s marketplace because of the speed of discontinuous change.  I think that this has been replaced with a need for the entire organization to be developed into groupings of skunkworks teams.  However, since these teams would be openly funded and encouraged we need to change the name from skunkworks to something like conceptual teams.  These teams can be extremely valuable to the organization and especially the large organization as a means to prove out the value prior to large investments in new initiatives and especially in new technology.  These teams would be critical to financial valuation calculations.  With the increase in the velocity of discontinuous change, and considering there is no sign of decreasing this velocity, it becomes a logical conclusion that organizations must increase the speed of the proof of value definitions. 

Part of the challenge, and one of the status quo challenges to overcome, is that no one wants to bet on the wrong initiative.  There are two less than optimum ways to address this hesitation, one is to get lost in the analysis paralysis exercise and the second way is to follow the leader.  A third way to address the hesitation is to institutionalize the proof of concept exercise.  A quick exercise to validate assumptions can be completed efficiently and quickly prior to taking the next step providing confirmation and comfort when fighting the statu quo.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of loyalty programs have you put into place?  Have you incorporated a proof of concept step into your methodology?

There is a drag created in the business world by the status quo that must be overcome in order to progress.  This drag can and does hold back the progress of omni-channel commerce in the marketplace and especially in large organizations.  Everyone has experienced this drag in various forms such as ‘that’s the way we’ve always done this’.  A key status quo drag within a larger organization is the legacy technology and software that must be overcome.  It is one thing to overcome an attitude that is placing a drag on your progress and it is quite another, and much more difficult, to overcome the drag caused by legacy technology. 

This effort to overcome the legacy technology drag is especially frustrating because the tools to overcome have been available in various forms and capabilities for years.  Even more important, the concepts have been discussed since before the turn of the century!  These concepts started with the concepts of object oriented concepts and have improved over time through new Internet and collaboration technology.  I see two conflicting factors and major contributors to omni-channel commerce progress;

  • First is the drag that is caused by the status quo thinking of ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’. Adding to and increasing the drag of the status quo is the drag of legacy applications and systems. 
  • The desires of the consumer are struggling to offset and overcome the drag of the status quo above.

This conflict is where the size of the organization comes into play.  The depth and strength of the status quo drag is directly related to the size of an organization; the larger the organization, the more ingrained in the practices and the more difficult the status quo drag to overcome.  The size of an organization also adds another ingredient to the equation and that additional ingredient is the cost to overcome the drag of the status quo on the organization.  I suppose that the cost factor is probably greatest hurdle to overcome in this effort.  The reason for this is the number of projects and strategic objectives that are fighting for a limited pool of funding.  The challenge is defining the value of the efforts to overcome the status quo drag. 

Unfortunately, this value definition more often than not becomes the graveyard of many great projects.  In my experience, the key factor that kills these types of initiatives, and I include omni-channel commerce in this type of initiatives, is trying to place a figure on the value of the customer experience and also to try to quantify the potential sales improvements.  These calculations are more of an educated guess than a science and so when they are compared against projects that will reduce operating costs for instance the

operating costs reductions projects will generally win.  So, how do you overcome this hurdle?  This is where the demands of the consumer and the influence of smaller and more nimble organizations come into play.  These outside factors will come together to force the larger organization to take on these initiatives in order to survive. 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of loyalty programs have you put into place?  Have you begun to extend these loyalty programs into other areas to create a social presence in addition to the commercial presence?

A reader of my last discussion made a comment regarding the challenges facing omni-channel retailing and progress.  The comment was that progress is challenged because of old school practices and mind set. First, I must say that I completely agree with this comment, and not only is are the limitations related to mind set, they are also related to the legacy framework architecture of the larger organizations.  Second, I must add that I find these old school practice limitations fascinating because of the manner in which these limitations in viewing and addressing these new and exciting challenges are influenced by a commerce view that will probably become extinct within two to three years!  As I’ve discussed in the past, change comes when someone asks ‘why not?’.

I think that especially in this example, the phrase ‘old school thinking’ is appropriate and frames the challenge in an appropriate light.  The challenge comes from trying to overcome the roadblocks and hurdles that are placed in your way as a result of the old school thinking.  We’ve all heard examples of old school thinking that is encapsulated in the phrase ‘that’s the way we’ve always done this’.  These views are protected to a large extent by many common practices, laws, technology and entropy in general, which all serve to support and protect the status quo.  The status quo may be the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the old school hurdle challenge.  This is probably the key reason that revolutionary change is more often than not driven by small and new groups that are not encumbered by the status quo.

This is where I see the third party services and solution providers will play a key role in supporting and driving the progress and improvements that will build out the omni-channel framework.  I see this push coming in the form of new social methods and connections that will drive the methods forward.  This push will come in the form of increased collaboration among the consumer.  This collaboration will be manifested in the form of communities that will support the interests of the community.  These communities will grow, and change, many will disappear or be consumed into other communities and new communities will come about based on the needs and desires of the consumers within the communities. 

The key point is that the old school status quo will be broken by the changes driven by these small communities.  The available technology and the steady improvements in this technology put the tools in the hands of the communities that can adapt and create new methods to utilize the technology.  Omni-channel commerce is the logical mash up of social and commerce technologies to support the needs of the social community.  The interesting thing is that commerce has always been a type of social interaction and now this is being impacted and redirected based on the new social communities being developed through technology. 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of loyalty programs have you put into place?  Have you begun to extend these loyalty programs into other areas to create a social presence in addition to the commercial presence?

The next logical step in the progression of the technology, social networks and omni-channel commerce is the mashup to offer new capabilities.  Fortunately social networks and omni-channel commerce have been progressing in this direction.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier discussion, you can get a glimpse of the future by watching and discussing teen ager practices in these areas.  In fact, though, you should take into account all of your customer and social interactions with your commerce solutions.  This is being done on a more frequent basis now with various types of contest incentives.  The objective these efforts is to create a commerce ‘stew’ of services, offerings and methods to shop that will bundle capabilities based on the customer, the method of interaction, the event and the type of product. 

Many pure play ecommerce companies understand this logic and have been building solutions to take this into account.  In addition, we are seeing extended television and video cross-over media offerings that are blending the delivery methods.  This is very smart because more and more customers are blending their entertainment and viewing methods across TV, video and Internet services to put together their own multi-media and video offerings that meet their own individual tastes and methods of consumption.  Now I am starting to see the same trends in commerce beginning to surface.  This, I think, is one of the most exciting trends and I can also see that this can create a great upheaval in the commerce marketplace as the lines blur more.

Another type of program that is starting to be extended across the lines in the loyalty program.  These programs have been around for a long time and if you’re anything like me you have a pile of these cards attached to your key ring.  Grocers may have had a jump on this tool and now many retailers are using these programs to extend and create social communities along with the original savings programs.  For instance, Lowe's, the home improvement retailer created a program that will store the details of your purchase such as paint so that you can use the information in future purchases. will store all of your special events in a calendar for reminders and will allow you to store all of your delivery addresses to use at a moments notice, they also send timely reminders based on these calendar events. 

These are just a couple of early examples that provide some suggestions as far as direction in these efforts.  In addition to these retailer type options there are additional third party offerings that are providing the ability to combine your loyalty program information into an electronic locker.  A number of these third party providers are also combining payments into that convenient locker experience to further simplify, and protect your purchases.  The current, and key, challenge that I see at this point for the larger retailers is not the program or the service, it is how do they expose these robust internal legacy services to quickly and efficiently take advantage of these programs.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of loyalty programs have you put into place?  Have you begun to extend these loyalty programs into other areas to create a social presence in addition to the commercial presence?

There is a great example of the direction that omni-channel retailing.  This example however is in reality only a single channel.  Google’s Play Store is this example that I see providing real time, and real world, examples of the future direction of omni-channel retailing.  To be fair, Apple provides another very good example and the Apple example is also an omni-channel example.  To be frank, I will focus on the Google version simply because I am more familiar with this example.  The power that I see in the Google offerings is the concept of a complete ecosystem supporting their offerings.  This ecosystem brings the entire offering together into one cohesive view of all aspects, you can search for a products, or information, across the ecosystem to obtain research, pricing and also other offers and then select the means of delivery that meets your needs. 

Retailers can take guidance from this example in order to drive their omni-channel offering.  The key aspect I am suggesting here is that  the omi-channel retailer should developing a shopping ecosystem.  The retailer should be providing a home where the consumer can be comfortable enhancing their shopping experience through personalized technology and the physical shopping experience.  The challenge with developing an ecosystem, as I’ve mentioned previously, is the level of effort and cost to build the ecosystem infrastructure.  This is not unattainable and it does not need to be overly complicated.  The basis of this framework is an integration layer that supports a standard pipe between your applications.  This integration layer will provide the structure and forms to support a type of ‘plug and play’ integration across applications and will allow extending your legacy applications to support new offerings without a major overhaul or replacement of your legacy applications.  The technology challenges are overcomable and you in all likelihood have begun to overcome these challenges.  The simple fact of the matter is that you would be foolish if you haven’t begun these initiatives. 

I see the key challenges to the success of your omni-channel ecosystem to be cultural with a strong dose of competitive practices in your organization.  In order to build your shopping ecosystem you must build on the trust and loyalty of your customers, in other words your shopping ecosystem must be a mash-up of the consumer and the social technologies.  In my opinion this means that you must provide an ecosystem that supports and encourages the open exchange of information and recommendations from other consumers and even the retailer to inform the shopping experience.  This means that you must have the courage to publish the good, the bad and the ugly of your shopping ecosystem.  This also means that you must show a steady desire to improve your shopping ecosystem.  This means that you must have the courage to occasionally publish a recommendation for a competitors product or price, especially when it is provided from a consumer. 

In order to beat a price war you must build a relationship and a community as an ecosystem that enhances your customers’ shopping experience.  You must not only allow your customers to shop any where and any time, you must allow your customers to recommend the competition.  Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that you must take these recommendations lying down.  No, this means that you must monitor your ecosystem for these recommendations and monitor your competitions ecosystems in order to overcome the challenges that are driving the recommendations.  

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you make shopping experience decisions?  How do you take into account your own experience?  Have you thought about how your shopping experience supports your organization’s mission and objectives?

Omni-Channel retail is a reflection of the changes along with the speed and this discontinuous nature of the changes that consumers are both experiencing in their personal life and then driving into their shopping practices.  There are many factors that feed into and then drive the changes in the consumers’ habits.  Technology is one of the greatest factors and then I would suggest that consumer imagination is the second largest factors.  Considering the fact that the rate of change in technology will not slow down and consumers imagination will not suddenly slow I think it is safe to say that the level and rate of change will not slow down and will in fact probably speed up.  I think its safe to say that his environments puts the retailer in a challenging position; they can’t put their head in the sand and hope it will pass and the cost of maintaining this rate of change and be challenging in itself.  This is where the independent and small retailers are at an advantage.

As you can imagine, my previous suggestions regarding implementation of an integration layer type of technology can be expensive depending on the number and level of complexity of these underlying systems.  It goes without saying that the larger the retailer, the more complex the framework of systems and the more difficult and expensive the initiative to resolve will become.  This is where the smaller retailer can take advantage of their lack of ‘sophistication’ and complexity to implement a sophisticated solution that can be provided through a combination of VAR and web service providers. 

The one thing that the retailer, large or small, cannot afford in this environment is to ignore the changes and put off these improvements.  This can be a very difficult realization because it requires that the merchant accept the reality that to a very large extent the consumer is making the decisions in the relationship related to the methods and practices that they purchase from the retailer.  The greatest challenge with maintaining your position is in fact understanding your position and how the shopping practices are changing.  Most retailers have developed a on the social networks like Facebook to provide a to communicate with the consumer and provide a means for the customer to communicate with the retailer.  These social networks and resulting interaction provide another marketing channel for the retailers.  In addition, retailers are also using these social outlets to develop an improved relationship with their customers.  This is all well and good and is the next wave of marketing to the consumer, however, it is still for the most part marketing to the consumer.

The problem is that consumers aren’t happy with developing a relationship, they want to improved methods to consummate the relationship!  This consummation is the second major wave that the retailer must embrace or be left behind.  In order to embrace this second wave the retailer must focus on developing a flexible, extendable and robust platform that can quickly adjust to and even take advantage of changes in consumer practices.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you make shopping experience decisions?  How do you take into account your own experience?  Have you thought about how your shopping experience supports your organization’s mission and objectives?

I will cover some of my thoughts or suggestions on areas of opportunities in the omni-channel retailing.  These areas are focused on my shopping experiences and opinions and I think would provide valuable opportunities to the retailer and value to their customers.  These are initial steps that provide an entry and also a basis for additional improvements through the continuous improvement process that I recommended in my last discussion.  I have one caveat that I must mention before making my suggestions and this is really the basis of my suggestions;  you must first implement a flexible, robust and extendable framework as a foundation to your omni-channel retailing efforts.  Without this framework up front all of  your efforts will be difficult and take much more effort to deliver.

My first suggestion would seem to be very straight forward although the challenge would be with the technology and the tools available.  My suggestion is to provide additional mobile checkout abilities using tablet technology.  As a initially alluded, while this sounds like a simple opportunity I understand that it can be very costly.  The challenge with this opportunity is related to the retailer’s point of sale (POS) system.  The POS is a critical foundation to the retail channel and in addition it can be one of the most costly to replace.  The challenge with the POS for the large chain is in the number of stores where the system must   be deployed.  In fact many large chain retailers have been nursing along the same legacy POS for years because of the cost and there is always another more pressing requirement.  In my experience and opinion, this type of initiative must be part of a strategic improvement because the cost will be so hard to justify.

My second selection again would seem to be very straight forward and again the challenge would be with the technology and the tools available.  My suggestion is to provide home delivery service at the checkout and this home delivery service would be filled by the retailers online channel.  This could be an extremely valuable opportunity for the retailer from two perspectives, the value to the customer of not having to carry all of the bags around while shopping, and a great improvement in inventory efficiencies and a reduction in inventory and overstock.  The challenge of this opportunity is two fold; the integration requirements to the retailer’s direct-to-consumer online channel and the transition into the new inventory model.  There would be a transition to the new inventory model while determining the volume of customers that would take advantage of this offering.  However, the value gained from the inventory efficiency improvements would more than compensate for the cost of the systems integration.  The additional customer benefit to this capability is that the retailer would be encouraging the customer to ‘window shop’ and then complete their purchase in the store to be shipped to their home.

These two suggestions provide a good example of the hurdles that must be overcome in the omni-channel marketplace.  Simple suggestions that you would think should be simple to implement can require costly systems framework changes to implement.  This is why I suggest your first step to building an omni-channel architecture is implementing a robust integration framework.  

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you make shopping experience decisions?  How do you take into account your own experience?  Have you thought about how your shopping experience supports your organization’s mission and objectives?

Omni-channel retail is absolutely the next generation of the retail marketplace.  The interesting thing is that this concept is being driven by the customer, with the retailer trying to identify what it is that the customer values.  This obviously is the critical question, and its also critical that you do not stop in your search for improvements.  I am a big believer in the power of seeing and touching the process in action so I can see how things work together.  Every design looks good on a piece of paper, however every design does not produce the results in real life.  It is critical to focus on flexibility and extendability because the pace of discontinuous change in the retail marketplace is staggering. 

This is where the continuous improvement practice will pay off.  This is a common theme for me because I firmly believe that every aspect of an organization could see dramatic improvements.  This is also because I see the continuous improvement program as a great opportunity to take advantage of changes in the market or the business.  A third reason that I feel a continuous improvement program is especially critical in the omni-channel retail market is the level and speed of the discontinuous change in the retail marketplace.  I think that the critical first step to omni-channel retail capabilities is developing robust, flexible and extendable framework to provide the foundation that can support the level of change required.

This year on Thanksgiving my family and I went shopping at the mall.  This was a great opportunity to see the retail stores in a high volume environment and identify potential omni-channel opportunities.  There were a few things that I noticed during this outing that I think would be a great opportunity for omni-channel retail.  The first thing that I noticed that can be addressed immediately is that the vast majority of stores and especially the big box department stores did not offer wifi access to connect your smartphone.  How can you extend and expand your omni-channel experience if you don’t offer your customers the opportunity for stable high speed access in your stores?  The interesting point is that as I walked through the stores I noticed wifi access points throughout the store.  This is why I say that providing high speed wifi access in these stores should be done immediately.

The other points that struck me was the amount of packages or bags that people were carrying and the long lines at the register to pay for items.  The amount of bags that people carry in these shopping sprees is important to me because I do my fare share of carrying.  I would like to see a way to eliminate carrying all of these packages around.  The long lines at the register should be a concern also for the retailer in addition to the shopper.  One thing that I found especially interesting is that no one provided sales clerks with tablets to help shoppers in checking out.  This is an area where I think the retailer can really set themselves apart by offering an option to shop in the store and ship the purchase to their home. 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you make shopping experience decisions?  How do you take into account your own experience?  Have you thought about how your shopping experience supports your organization’s mission and objectives?

Retailers have followed their standard initial response to the new consumer shopping practice of ‘window shopping’, namely they complained and fought it.  I can understand the reaction although understanding does not justify the reaction.  In fact I think the reaction is a bit like whistling past the graveyard.  Consumers will always find a way to improve and simplify their shopping experience and just because it might not follow your current methods and procedures does not mean that you should fight it. 

I believe that many retailers have since realized this fact and are now bending and taking the steps necessary to support this trend.  They have been supporting this trend through robust price match practices in order to capture the sale in the brick and mortar outlet.  This is a great initial step to address the leakage in sales.  There are additional steps that can be taken in order to extend this support and these are the steps that retailers must begin to identify and embrace in order to maintain their sales and their place in the market.  The simple reality of the matter is that everyone is a consumer.  Retailers must brainstorm to identify different methods to support consumer shopping practices based on their own experience and desires to simplify the process.

This approach to supporting the consumer shopping desires must take two directions; the first being a keep up with the competition practice and the second being a practice of leapfrogging the competition to develop your mark on the experience.  I will not expand on the keep up with the competition practice for the simple fact that everyone is doing it.  The keep up with the competition follows your competitions’ new practices and simply allows you to maintain your position.  This is a very dangerous practice to depend on because by the very nature of the practice you will never a leader and the leaders are the ones that create the market.  There is one additional point that you should evaluate and that is - do you want to be a leader?  This is a critical decision that will guide your actions.  There is really no reason that you should try to be a leader, the reality of the situation is that there is plenty of room for the followers and the leadership role is very expensive to maintain.

Let’s take the path now of developing and maintaining a leadership position.  So, how do you create the new methods and practices that will allow you to be a leader?  The simple answer here is it depends.  It depends on your focus and your business.  It is critical at this point that you take into account your organization’s mission and objectives.  It is important to take this into account because this decision will drive the direction of your analysis and new methods development.  This decision should be guided and supportive of your organization mission and objectives.  This decision should be made to provide another tool in your tool belt to support your organization.  As an example of the importance and impact of this decision your organization mission can call for leadership in service or it could call for leadership in product capabilities. I’m sure that you can understand that while these objectives can support each other, their implementation does not really require one or the other.  I am suggesting that there is evaluation involved prior to making a decision on your direction and you must perform this evaluation in a thoughtful process in order to be successful.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you make shopping experience decisions?  How do you take into account your own experience?  Have you thought about how your shopping experience supports your organization’s mission and objectives?

The consumer shopping experience is constantly evolving based on internal and external that grow and change based on the influences of society and changes in lifestyles.  Omni-Channel shopping is both an influencing factor and a result of the changing shopping experience.  Omni-Channel shopping currently influences chiefly through two means; the social media outlet providing the communication link with the customer and the sales that are the result of the shopping activity.  Now the introduction of the smart phone is changing the omni-channel shopping experience and providing more opportunities to cross over between the social and the shopping activities.

Sometimes I view the shopping experience as a struggle between two factors; the retailer and the consumer.  The objectives of the retailer are to offer the products that the consumer wishes to purchase and to increase the time the consumer spends at their particular outlets.  The objectives of the consumer are to find the product they desire in an outlet that best supports their personal needs and at the best price.  These two sets of objectives both support and influence each other and they provide a means and the reason to evolve the shopping experience.  You can see how these factors and objectives are influenced by society and technology by reviewing the early days of the Internet in the 1990’s.  In this time the Internet was just exploding on society and retailers saw this as a tool to extend the consumer shopping opportunity.  At the same time, consumers looked at this tool as a means to extend the shopping research for the best price. 

Now fast forward to the current environment in which the retailers have entered into the social media realm to extend their influence and marketing efforts to attract the consumer and also to provide a means to develop a connection to the consumer.  The objective is to develop and strengthen the connection to the consumer and develop a sense of community made up of all of the consumers shopping with the retailer.  There are two types of communities that have developed though in the social community; the retailer defined and the consumer defined.  These communities support different objectives; the retailer community is developed to provide an outlet to the retailer to provide targeted information and allow the consumer community to share their experiences, the consumer defined community is developed to provide an outlet to the consumers to share their shopping experiences along with savings such as coupons or special incentives. 

The objectives of the retailers in this arrangement is to develop a positive relationship with the consumer and in order to maintain this positive relationship the retailer must respond to the consumers’ needs more efficiently and in a positive manner.  This relationship provides a powerful influence for the consumer and the consumer communities understand this power and use their communities to improve the shopping experience in the consumers’ favor.  One example of this influence and power is Angie’s List, this site provides a type of consumer report developed and maintained by the consumer. 

The next step in the shopping evolution is the ‘window shopping’ trend.  This is where the consumer researches products online and then goes to the retail store outlet to touch and feel the product in complete their decision process.  The challenge for the retailer in this trend is that many, if not most times, the consumer would make their product decision and then complete the purchase online because of the cost.  Retailers have been fighting this trend through different efforts and I suggest that they should use their technology and social community to embrace this trend to their advantage.  I will use this series of discussions to cover my suggestions regarding these evolutionary shopping trends.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What is your most annoying shopping pet peeve?  What is your experience with omni-channel shopping?


Omni Channel Thoughts

Posted by tbrouill Dec 5, 2013

Omni-channel shopping seems to be a very popular topic in discussions and trade literature.  Unfortunately this concept has been just missing the mark for a couple of years now.  This year was a strong showing for online retailing and especially the smart phone capabilities.  I’ve seen reports of dramatic increases in online sales over the Black Friday weekend and into the Cyber Monday sales events.  There is still one factor that in my opinion clouds the good news forecast for online sales and that is the missing connection that will blur the line between the in-person and online retailing.  It seems to me that in order to realize the potential there must be a dramatic shift in the use and relationship of online and in-store shopping.

It seems to me that the trend in so many areas of personal life is to integrate the online experience and the increased pervasiveness of the smartphone in everyone’s life.  The trend in technology now is the integration of technology to improve and simplify your life for instance, not sure where to eat?  You can find any type of restaurant that you may want within a 5 mile radius of your current location.  Looking for the cheapest gas?  You can find the price of gas at all the gas stations within a 5 mile radius of your location.  I know there are similar types of capabilities for shopping online that will allow you to search for prices and where to find products.  This is all great for your online shopping and in fact everyone has seen the commercials for Amazon and that promote the ease of online shopping.

I would readily agree with the proposal that multi-channel retailers have taken advantage of the online shopping capabilities, such as special orders, free shipping and returns, special offers based on location and overstock liquidation sites.  It seems to me though that most of the focus has been on how to replace the in person experience with the online experience.  What about using online capabilities and tools to enhance the in person shopping experience? 

Consumers are developing these capabilities themselves by mashing online tools together with the in person retail benefits to develop their own new shopping experience.  You see the results of this in the ‘window shopping’ practices people are introducing in large ticket purchases such as electronics.  The ‘window shopping’ practice is where people search for features and price online, and then go to the retail store to touch and try out the product before ordering online, many times from another retailer.  Brick and mortar retailers have been struggling with this practice for years now.  The struggle has focused on methods to overcome or stop the practice 

I suggest turning the tables on this and encourage the practice as a means to draw customers into your store.  I know that many retailers are already starting this practice.  This however is just the beginning though in expanding the shopping experience.  Why not turn the entire retail store into a ‘window shopping’ environment?  Why not allow your customers to shop for size, color and features and then ship their purchases directly to them?  

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What is your most annoying shopping pet peeve?  What is your experience with omni-channel shopping?


Black Friday 2013

Posted by tbrouill Dec 1, 2013

Each year retailers introduce new ‘features’ and ‘opportunities’ for Black Friday and this year was no different.  This year the retailers pushed the opening time up yet again to Thanksgiving evening because, quite simply, they ran out of time to open earlier on Black Friday.  So now we can finish our Thanksgiving dinner and work off the meal with a family outing to the mall for a round of shopping and taking advantage of the deals offered to early shoppers.  My family turns this into a family outing and this change in time allows us to take our outing without requiring a midnight run.  So this year we joined the crowds to work off our Thanksgiving dinner at one of our local malls.  Waiting in the clothing stores for my family to try on clothes gave me the opportunity to watch the other shoppers’ practices and also the long lines at the register.  I had plenty of time to contemplate the omni-channel retailing promise.

Omni channel shopping is an interesting concept but hasn't quite made it to prime time yet. I think the challenge is the connectivity. I noticed an interesting phenomenon related to connectivity, almost every major retailer did not offer open WIFI access, while many of the smaller or stand-alone retailers did offer open access.  This in and of itself is not earth shattering although it does provide some interesting background information.  Omni-channel retailing can provide dramatic improvements in the customers’ experience and this in turn will provide increased sales and even increased customer loyalty to the retailers that crack the code.  Until every retail outlet provides high speed access Omni channel shopping will not reach its potential. When that happens there will truly be a revolution in the shopping experience.  The ultimate goal of Omni channel shopping must be to eliminate waits and provide more shopping time.  The retailer that realizes this goal will achieve a truly game changing customer experience and redefine the Omni Channel shopping experience.

Omni channel shopping will reach an apex when retailers stop fighting the 'window shopping' that customers perform and embrace it for the new opportunities that it can provide to improve the customers’ shopping experience. This window shopping provides the customer with the opportunity to touch and try the product to make a decision before they purchase.  The fear of many retailers is that  after this window shopping the customer orders the product online from another retailer that offers a lower price.. 

I suggest that the game changing achievement will be realized when a retailer focuses on the positive customer experience rather than just increased sales.  I am suggesting that the retailer take the long term view of developing the customer relationship to provide long term and steady sales and sales growth.  This is where omni-channel retailing can enable these opportunities.  Why not offer the customer the opportunity to order and pay for their purchase in the store and then why not offer free shipping for these online purchases in your store?  This would truly be a game changing shopping experience that provides benefits to both customers and the retailers.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

At this point the vast majority of shoppers have purchased online.  Have you ever ‘window shopped’ where you went to a store to try a product and then ordered online?  Would you purchase that product from the retail store if you were offered a price match at the time?  Would you purchase from this retail outlet at their price if they offered to ship the product to your home for free?