As social networking concepts influence and integrate with omni channel retailing practices and the omni channel retail market these concepts will change the channel to a true omni channel retail experience.  Social network practices are influencing all aspects of interaction to humanize the technology and allow the integration of human of interaction and omni channel retailing is not immune to this influence.  The challenge for retailers in this future is to embrace the social networking concepts and release their current practice of trying to control the market place.  Consumers are beginning to exert their influence in the shopping method and history has shown that fighting this movement only ends in failure.  Technology has opened a Pandora’s box of influence on the retail market and the omni channel shopping practice is the beginning of convergence between social networking and eCommerce retailing.

The early winners in this changing market will be the retailers that eliminate friction between the purchase and the delivery and acceptance of the product by the consumer.  What I mean by this is that the retailers that make it easy to not only purchase, any time and any place, but also make it easy to return unwanted purchases will be the retailers that retain and even grow their customer base.  A great example of a retailer focused on removing the friction is Amazon and the Prime service that they offer.  Amazon already provides a great return policy and the addition of the Prime service eliminates a key hurdle to eCommerce, namely the shipping charges.  In addition the implementation of the Prime service with the annual fee also increases the likelihood that the customer will return over and over for purchases to increase the overall value of the customer.

I think the greatest hurdle for retailers to accept is the concept of window shopping, where the consumer goes to a brick and mortar store to touch and try products and then orders online.  This is viewed by most retailers as a potential lost sale to a competitor.  This practice has been fought by the retailers by offering to match the cost.  I think this is the wrong approach and should be addressed from two perspectives; the cost and the convenience of immediate purchase.  A cost war between pure eCommerce and omni channel retailers is a bad idea for the omni channel retailers because of their operating cost model.  The omni channel retailers can however combat the advantages with service. 

The future of the shopping experience will require focus on the consumer needs and desires rather than the consumers adjusting to the methods and practices that benefit the retailer.  Consumers have reached a level of technical capabilities that will drive the future of shopping and the retailer must embrace these methods to succeed in this environment. Consumers will be driving and even developing these capabilities through their acceptance and experimentation with new technology.  To be successful this means that the retailer must continuously re-invent their own practices and capabilities.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of cross channel services and offerings would you like to see to enhance your shopping experience?  Retailers are focused on maintaining sales volumes through reductions in pricing rather than expansion of sales, or even maintaining sales through creative utilization of eCommerce services. Did you shop over the Gray Thursday / Black Friday period?  What was your experience in stores and malls?