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How to Implement Omnichannel the Right Way

Put plainly, omnichannel is retail today—it isn’t where retail is headed, what some consumers sort of want or a concept fun to bat around at board meetings—it is the way today’s shoppers want to shop, and retailers would be best advised to accommodate.

In a blunt but invigorating talk on tapping into the omnichannel trend at Sourcing at MAGIC Tuesday, Rue 21’s senior vice president of digital retail Brett Trent said omnichannel is universal and it means putting the customer first.

“We must let go of the increasingly quaint notion that we [retailers] are still in charge,” he said. “We are not in charge anymore.”

If you want to have fun, Trent joked, try asking the executives at your next meeting to define omnichannel.

Most can’t put the complex concept into words, but fast fashion junior retailer Rue 21 puts it like this: To empower our customer to ship where they want, when they want and how they want, ensuring that all elements essential to the brand are consistent across all channels.

And it isn’t that each channel’s experience should mirror the other’s, but the underlying brand value should be similarly present in each platform.

“If your brand is known for fantastic customer service, then fantastic customer service should be a part of each platform,” Trent said. “I don’t want an omnichannel experience that is contradictory to my brand value.”

But the trouble brands have is settling on that brand value and vision from the outset—and according to Trent, agreeing on that vision is the root of, and the key to, omnichannel success.

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What is your brand about? What is the one thing you want your brand to convey to consumers? What is your brand known for? These are the types of questions to consider in deciding what that brand vision is, Trent said.

The next step in building the right omnichannel is experience is picking a strategy that’s right. Not one that has worked for other brands’ omnichannel implementations or that works for other brands’ consumers, but one that jives with your brand vision and aligns with what your customer needs.

“It’s not about what you can do or what you can afford to do, it’s about what you should do,” Trent said.

Agreeing on tactics, how to get the implementation underway and who will help with it, comes next.

The mistake many brands make is wanting to dive straight into tactics before determining whether they work with the brand’s established vision, Trent said.

Execution follows putting tactics into practice, and if all of that goes right, profit should come next.

Simple enough, right?

“Omnichannel is about connecting things together,” Trent said. “And it is complex, but it doesn’t need to be needlessly complex.”

Today’s shopper is always connected and mobile is starting to play an increasingly important role on retail sales. At Rue 21, 52 percent of the brand’s online sales come from mobile.

The data on mobile has begged the question for many brands about whether to build an app or if a mobile-optimized site will suffice.

Rue 21 doesn’t have an app because they haven’t found a need for one, and according to Trent, brands have to have a reason for having an app.

“I don’t think apps generally increase conversion, but I do think they increase engagement,” Trent said, adding that managing a loyalty program is one of only a handful of ways he thinks apps win over mobile sites.

Either way, each element of omnichannel really must be tailored to the brand and the needs of its customer base.

Same-day delivery, for one, has taken off in terms of popularity and many brands are chasing the trend, though some don’t realize they don’t have a need for it because they don’t have a customer who cares about it.

At Rue 21, Trent explained, a shipping service that might cost the customer $5 will hardly be chosen over a free ship to store option say, because of the perceived value—$5 buys a sweater at the junior store, so that shopper isn’t likely to find value in spending the same money on shipping.

Same day delivery, ship to store, buy online pick up in store (BOPUS) and reserve in store (ROPUS) are all offerings in omnichannel retailing, the key consideration for which is inventory accuracy.

“If you’re going to tell a customer the unit is three blocks away, the unit better damn well be three blocks away,” Trent said. “You better have very high inventory accuracy or you’ll be like a cattle driver driving customers off the disappointment cliff.”

Omnichannel is a new space and it’s an aggressive one, according to Trent. But it’s one brands that want to stay in the business are going to have to embrace.

“If you’re not playing in this space aggressively, if you don’t exist in this space,” he said, “To these people, [today’s connected consumer] you don’t exist.”