Servicing customers via an array of channels may represent the future of e-commerce, but an omni-channel approach poses several major challenges. To meet the needs of tomorrow's customers, investments in service design and the development of more agile organisations are required, according to Agnes Lundin and Sebastian Berlin at PA Consulting.
Across Sweden and beyond, the rise of digital was predicted to be the death knell for traditional commerce. But while the number of stores decreases, we believe this change will bring a wealth of opportunities. It will create jobs to support e-commerce, enable physical stores to play an even more important role in the omni-channel experience, and help organisations optimise their distribution mix of stores and retain their competitiveness.
To seize the opportunities, retailers need to constantly evaluate each sales channel's strengths and weaknesses, with each one playing to its respective strengths. They must also invest in both service design and in the development of more agile organisations, where channels and offers for physical and digital sales are constantly adapted to new buying patterns and customer needs.
The strength of the omni-channel experience lies in the fact that different channels meet different needs, and all channels are needed to shape the experience before, during and after the customer's buying process. But the omni-channel environment is complex – partly because of fast mobility, great competition and many stakeholders, but also as a result of placing high demands on the organisation itself.
One prerequisite for success is understanding what technology and changes are required to take the meet customer needs. A well-developed service design offers tools and methods for understanding the customer and the outside world, and for building customer offerings in a way that creates maximum value for both the customer and the organisation. To offer the greatest possible value while maintaining good margins, these solutions need to be incorporated into organisational design and culture, and into the tools the retailer uses to understand its customers.
But it doesn't stop there. The omni-channel environment is anything but static. As the retail market matures, so do its customers. They have become more discerning and digitally experienced. The best customer experiences are etched in the memory and become a role model for how services should generally look and function, regardless of industry and platform. Considerable attention must be given to changing customer needs and buying patterns in the market.
Rather than signalling the death of traditional commerce, digitisation creates an opportunity for stores to play an even more important role in the continued development of retailers and meeting customer needs.