Let’s Get Personal: Why We Should Stop Thinking about Channels and Start Thinking About Customers

A few weeks ago at the National Retail Federation Big Show in New York, I heard a definitive statement that in my mind, signifies the end of an interesting era in retail. Sir Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of John Lewis Partnership, a multi-billion dollar business operating John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, said, “The age of multichannel is over.”

The Evolution of Channels in Retail

When I entered the retail technology landscape over a decade ago, vendors and retailers were discussing channels. The buzz phrase during the early 2000s was “channel blurring.” The motivation behind channel blurring was to take advantage of the intersect of consumer convenience and intensifying competition. In other words, if the consumer was already in your store, it made sense to offer them a product offering that prevented them from spending their dollars elsewhere. The blurring of channels led to mega-store footprints, where grocers and hypermarkets expanded to increase core assortments in hopes of increasing the size of shopper baskets.

Then  e-commerce came onto the scene. In response, retailers laid the foundation of their digital organizations, which operated independently from the store channel. Our industry lexicon evolved from “channel blurring” to “multi-channel.” In this world of multiple channels, a retailer would seek to engage with a shopper on many fronts, from web store through in-store.

Channel proliferation led to complexity in the eyes of the consumer. Shoppers complained about different pricing for the same SKU across channels and were infuriated when they could purchase an item online but couldn’t find the item on display in the stores. An over-complicated returns process created a bafflingly negative customer experience.

Right about this time the consumer became hyperconnected. She purchased a smartphone and devoted increasing amounts of her time online. She started showrooming and webrooming. She raved and ranted about brands via a variety of social media channels. If she encountered a disconnected experience, she broadcasted her disappointment to the world.

She could find the products she wanted - anywhere. If a product was out of stock, she couldn’t understand why the store couldn’t arrange to ship the product direct to her home. Then retailers and vendors started talking about cross-channel and how to manage the fulfillment of product across customer channels.

This was the point in time where the shopper became more sophisticated than the retailer. And over the past few years, the evolving shopper has impacted the retail industry in a major way. Traditional retail formats, unable to keep up with digital consumers, shuttered storefronts.

Then the industry started to hum about omnichannel and how to provide a single, cohesive brand experience.

The Customer is the Channel

But let’s be frank: omnichannel is not enough. To win back the hearts and minds of the shopper, it’s not just about creating a united front across channels.  It’s time to surprise and delight them. Meeting shopper expectations is now merely table stakes in the game of retail. Today, the #1 brand differentiator is no longer price or products - it’s the customer experience.

Retail winners will decode the customer experience puzzle by providing the right offer at the right place and time, which requires an understanding of the customer and the customer’s context at any given point in time. In other words, the keys to the retail kingdom will go to the brands that perfect the execution of personalized retail to enhance the shopper experience.

When we’re talking about personalization, the customer is the only channel that matters. When the customer is the channel, having a complete view of the customer- from their opt-in preferences, habits and dictate the manner of consumer-retail interactions.

Personalize in Every Channel and Every Step of of the Journey

Exceeding shopper expectations requires impeccable customer service across every channel that touches the customer. To learn more about evolving shopper preferences and how brands can deliver a better retail experience, Salesforce Research surveyed 2,000 consumers in its inaugural Connected Shoppers Survey. Download this report to access essential consumer insights now. You can also check out how retail customers are changing how you can use customer service by downloading the whitepaper.