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Anyone following trends in the retail industry will be aware that retailers from large to small are trying to integrate their online and store-based customer shopping experiences. Described as an ‘omni-channel’ approach to shopping, this form of integration is increasingly seen as essential to compete in today’s market.

"We believe that to be successful, retailers must ensure that their business is 100% focused on their customers. As a result, deep insight into the customer has to become a strategic priority and retailers who put the customer at the heart of their business will win in the dynamic and competitive market-place of the future."

Until now, efforts have centred on the IT investment needed to allow new online customer-facing technology to work with established ‘back-end’ systems. Our recent experience, however, highlights that addressing technology alone is not enough to get real value from omni-channel. Retailers need
to put the customer at the heart of their operations if they are to operate omni-channel at scale, profitably and deliver on their promises to customers.

Shoppers demand the ability to browse, compare, purchase and collect or receive product through any combination of different channels offered by a retailer. Coupled with the increasing influence of social media on decision-making, this necessitates a new approach to customer engagement that is consumer-driven, available 24-7 and international.

This presents a string of cost and operational challenges. Our answer is not to start with the technology. Although investing in IT is a necessity, alone it is not enough. It is better to start an omni-channel journey with an assessment of the business model that will be required and a critical review of the changes needed to ensure the business is set up operationally and organisationally to be effective. Without a rethink of how the business works, the danger is that investment in IT will not yield the results sought. The lessons from our recent experiences are simple: transforming the existing operating model and organisation structure is an essential precursor to driving business in an omni-channel market.

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Author: James Ball, Partner