The pandemic’s disruption of the retail industry has driven a lot of change over the past 15 months, from an increase in online shopping to the rapid adoption of omnichannel fulfillment options. And despite U.S. consumers’ tremendous enthusiasm to get back to in-person shopping and experiences, notably with a 44% increase in foot traffic to stores, restaurants and entertainment venues since the start of 2021, that doesn’t mean they are going to leave behind all the omni habits they adopted during the crisis.
Why? Because for consumers, omnichannel shopping is insanely convenient.
The actualization of being able to buy, receive and return goods from virtually anywhere is now moving at warp speed. The pandemic-induced lockdowns resulted in the industry hitting the accelerator on omnichannel transformation — and now that retail has reopened, retailers can’t afford to look in the rear view mirror.
Omnichannel proficiency is no longer just nice to have — it’s a requirement for retail survival. There’s no quick fix to transform your enterprise for the omnichannel 2.0 era, but based on my work with retailers, here are five common missteps you should avoid.
1. Trying to Shoehorn Legacy Processes and Systems into the Omnichannel World
You can’t eat soup with a fork. Likewise, it’s a bad idea to try to manage the complexity of omnichannel retail using processes, systems and strategies that were built for the pre-omnichannel world.
Technology isn’t a solution in and of itself. It’s not enough to invest in state-of-the-art tech and call it a day. If you don’t have measurable goals for your omnichannel strategy, even the most powerful technology will result in wasted time and money.
Long before you consider technology, your first order of business should be to clearly define your strategic omnichannel goals. Only then can you identify any gaps and shortcomings in your current processes, technologies, workforce skills and overall approach. These insights will inform the technology investments and process changes you will need to make as an organization.
2. Your Omnichannel Strategy Is Happening in a Silo
At the outset of your omnichannel strategy development, you’ll need buy-in from your senior executive team. You’ll also need organization-wide teamwork, communication and training to unify your end-to-end operations, from the IT specialists who implement and manage the systems to the store associates who will be instrumental in delivering the best possible customer experiences.
Many retailers neglect the store-level part of the equation, which is a huge mistake. Every store and every store associate is a vital part of your omnichannel success. After all, they will be the ones to bring to life in-store pickup, ship-from-store fulfillment, the endless aisle and other omnichannel experiences. Set yourself up for success by incentivizing stores and store employees to embrace your omnichannel vision. Make sure to give store employees credit where it’s due. Celebration is just as important as communication.
3. Failing to Measure Omnichannel Profitability (or Lack Thereof)
A surprising number of retailers are unable to answer a simple question: “Is our omnichannel strategy profitable?” They may do all the appropriate groundwork in terms of strategy development and complete a successful technology implementation, but they are left with question marks at the end of it. It’s critical to measure the financial performance of your omnichannel strategy in order to quantify increases in profitability, identify opportunities for improvement, and pinpoint “silent killers” that are draining profits.
Every retailer needs an accurate real-time view of omnichannel sales margins. The best place to start is with omnichannel profit-and-loss statements that detail incremental costs related to omnichannel sales. It’s also important to examine reject rates for ship-from-store and buy online, pick up in-store purchases. High reject rates would suggest that your inventory processes aren’t built for the omnichannel world — and you may be losing customers as a result.
4. You’re Losing Money on Every Order Due to High Shipping Costs
If your average item sells for $3 but costs $5 to ship, that’s a big problem. If a single online multiproduct order is being split into 10 different shipments, that’s another big problem. Inefficient shipping strategies can cost you millions of dollars, and it’s important to optimize those strategies.
For example, you may want to make sure that online orders are being shipped from a store location near the customer instead of from a faraway distribution center. You will also want to customize the fulfillment rules in your order management system to prevent one order being split into multiple shipments. The sweet spot will be delivering the best possible customer experience at the right cost.
5. You Don’t Know When Items are Out of Stock
Being able to discern if and where a particular item is in stock is absolutely mission-critical. But with so many purchasing and fulfillment channels feeding into a single store, inventory accuracy is a monumental challenge in the world of omnichannel retail.
One major retailer I worked with found this out after “successfully” deploying ship-from-store services. The costly mistake was that they didn’t optimize their inventory management system to account for ship-from-store orders. As a result, their store associates spent countless hours searching for out-of-stock products, and they experienced a 90% reject rate for online orders.
The solution? Invest in systems that provide a complete real-time view of inventory across all stores and channels. But don’t stop there; you must also make sure those systems are optimized, updated and customized for your unique omnichannel offerings.
Retail is Evolving in Real Time
Do these omnichannel issues sound familiar to you? Maybe there are additional challenges you’re struggling to overcome. In any event, now is the time to start optimizing your strategy, systems and processes for long-term omnichannel success. The retailers that have already done so are dominating the market, and they’re widening their lead with every omnichannel sale.
Steve Ross is the Omnichannel Solution Principal at Aptos, an enterprise retail solutions provider for over 1,000 retail brands globally.