Retailers Embrace the Need for Omnichannel Communications and Innovation

Jan 18, 2013

Sometimes conferences like the one I just attended, the National Retail Federation Annual Convention and Expo, are over-hyped and under-delivered. We’ve all been there.

Fortunately the event, NRF’s “the Big Show,” a gathering of C-level, senior executive and regional retail managers from across the country, more than came through. Omnichannel, and the need for seamless customer communication across all channels was on nearly everyone’s lips and addressed during several presentations.

Business 2 Community reported that one attendee even called the laser-like focus on mobile, Big Data, Web layout and better understanding of customer wants and needs “crazy. Every single panel this year involves something digital…it wasn’t like this last year,” she said.

Having attended last year’s conference, I have to agree. This year’s NRF was exciting because many of the presenters who reinforced Kobie’s position. And as 2013 gets underway, it seems our proselytizing is paying off. Our recently published omnichannel loyalty infographic explains how analysis of Big Data can help retail loyalty program managers, marketers and brands gain valuable insights into customer behavior, promoting real-time incremental rewards across the purchasing cycle.

Call it cliché, but knowledge is power. Deloitte Vice Chairman and U.S. Retail & Distribution Leader Alison Kenney Paul, a keynote speaker at NRF, recently told the Wall Street Journal that “it is becoming increasingly common for customers to enter stores knowing more about the products than the store associates themselves.” That’s why speakers addressed omnichannel loyalty not just in program-specific ways but in broad terms. With the implications of Paul’s quote ingrained in retailers’ and marketers’ minds, how can businesses capitalize on this “empowered consumer?”

Here’s a snapshot:

Retailers Must Embrace the Three Ps: People, Place and Platform

  • Dwayne Chambers and Jeff Fromm of Krispy Kreme and Barkley, respectively, discussed engaging Millennials. The Millennial Moment of Truth highlighted the need for greater brand transparency and authenticity – i.e., the need to shatter points-for-rewards stereotypes with genuine experiences.
  • Consumer behaviorist Kevin Kelley of Shook Kelley addressed in-store aesthetics and the subconscious consumer mindset. His talk showed how yesterday’s product displays and customer communications may no longer work in today’s digitally-engaged world. This type of loyalty boost reminds us that in the emerging omnichannel world, the “omni” includes traditional in-store engagement.
  • Bob Friday, of Cisco Systems’ Networking Business Unit, stressed that retailers must provide free Wi-Fi to beat the competition this year. Look for new Wi-Fi applications to take hold in the coming months.

A New Year Means New Engagement Opportunities for Retailers

Whether it’s through mobile, email, social media, augmented reality, mobile payments, NFC or QR codes, brand loyalty will remain one of the most important aspects of cross-channel customer engagement. Why? Because while the US may have avoided the fiscal cliff, continued global economic pressures mean any recent upticks in consumer confidence and spending forecasts could evaporate fast.

Case in point: the NRF remains optimistic that holiday season sales (November-December) netted $586.1 billion, up 4% from 2011.

As seen throughout the NRF event, omnichannel marketing and omnichannel loyalty have entered the mainstream – no matter on what channel a consumer prefers to engage. It comes down to what Brooks Brothers said in its presentation: listen to your customers. When Brooks Brothers was founded in 1818, the channels available for engagement were few. Today they, as all retailers and their customers, live and breathe in an omnichannel world. Upgrading your brand’s existing communications and engagement capabilities are a must if you want to attract new customers and retain existing ones.

While some are referring to “omnichannel” as a buzzword – a term of the moment, there is nothing short-lived about this groundbreaking channel and communications convergence. What will be short-lived is the loyalty program that doesn’t embrace an omnichannel approach to their communications and engagement strategies right now.