‘Omnichannel’ may be the trend at World Retail Congress but retailers must remember that the customer is key

First published by Retail Week 8 October, 2013 | By Simon Hathaway

‘Omnichannel’ is the phrase du jour, certainly on the first day of the World Retail Congress 2013 in Paris.

The word has been littering every presentation, meeting and breakout session I’ve attended, including my own panel on business transformation, leadership and organisational change.While it was relevant when we first adopted it for retail, it’s now starting to lose some of its currency. To a degree, it seems to have become shorthand for driving transformational change, the go-to phraseology for retail big wigs wanting to demonstrate just how abreast they are with the phenomenal technological evolution affecting our businesses today.

But it’s vital to remember that this is a retailer vernacular; it’s language that means little to people beyond the boardroom, and while I’m not advocating that it should be struck from the retail lexicon, I am saying that the cavalier use of omnichannel as a means to describe how retail models are changing can serve to isolate rather than unite people behind a common cause.

Many retailers are currently going through what Carrefour’s Georges Plassat described as a mid-life crisis. The same sentiment was echoed by Mothercare’s Simon Calver but tellingly, customers were mentioned only twice in my session (which also included Shop Direct’s Mark Newton-Jones, Giordanao’s Dr Peter Lau and Blue Inc’s Steven Cohen).

WRC

In this landscape, retail leaders need to understand that they have to create followers, both customers as well as staff.

Shoppers should be at the core of every transformation. Today, people expect a relationship with retail that is everywhere, instant, and importantly, personal. Great relationships with customers will stand the test of transformation and deliver profit through on-going loyalty.

As Mark Lewis, online director at John Lewis puts it, success lies in a delivering a customer-centric strategy delivered through a seamless blend of all channels – instore, online and mobile.

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