Business, Design

Retail path dream state: Leadership, design, and an iterative approach to omnichannel

It’s easy to find all kinds of definitions for omnichannel retail. When reading about it, it seems that there is often a layer of ambiguity attached to the term. Also, feels like it’s lost some of its buzz. (Although Google Trends disagrees).

For a high level view, and to make a point, here’s how we’re going to simplify it for the duration of this article:

  • Omnichannel is about the best possible service, with a modern ecosystem of touchpoints
  • Touchpoints are locations where customers interact with your business
  • Locations are both digital and physical (increasingly in that order)
  • Anything can happen at a location
  • The goal of every action is to provide humans with differentiating customer experiences, through purposeful action

Feel free to disagree. It’s just a coffee shop “why, how, and what” philosophy for looking at modern service ecosystems through the lens of design. Like a simple framework for impact-creation.

A broad simplification could be something like: Omnichannel is the entire existence of your business, service, and brand.

 

The retail path of your product manifesting in your customer’s life is a heat map of opportunity. Differentiation through excellence is possible throughout it.

The channels are separate. You need to make them one.

Modern retail is a symphony to be orchestrated. That’s what makes a collection of touch points omni. Every one of them is an opportunity, like an instrument capable of doing something special in complementing to the harmony.  

That’s the baseline for differentiation: Doing something special.  

Differentiating ahead of the competition contains the biggest promise of growth for a retailer. That, in a nutshell, is the value of omnichannel in a complex, multi-faceted retail universe. Through the greatest service, effort and investments will be rewarded.

Consumers have all the power in the world and only respond to exceptional experiences. If you look at companies native to digital environments, they have more or less always created unfair advantages through serving exceptionally well. The most clever ones have completely reinvented what it means to do business, in just about every industry. But it hasn’t come easy for them.

Even for a non-traditional organization, doing something special requires going out of way to be innovative. You’ll probably never beat Amazon, but you have to increasingly meet new standards set by them, and others in your competitive landscape.

And, if you do it well enough, they’ll buy from you instead of whatever Amazon-like thing is dominant in your market. That is the true power of omnichannel: Control over the retail of your product.

So, instead of looking for the perfect feature you should be looking at the retail path as an entirety and strategically make sure all parts of the engine are high-performing. For a company seeking growth, it’s not optional. It’s do or fail.

Some of the questions to ask yourselves right now are: Are we modern and appropriate in our way of interacting with customers? As good as we can be? Where and how do we interact with consumers? What are the make-or-break touch points in terms of our business? What is our dream state?

Design has reached the corner office for a reason

Continuous improvement in aspects like quality of service, attractiveness/relatability, range of choices, communication, convenience, timing, and seizing opportunities is difficult. It requires looking at your business through a creative lens. That is why design is a key enabler for differentiation and competitive advantage. But it’s not the first one.

The first one is aligned leadership.

Strategic design, being aligned to business goals, is today’s aspiration for companies, for a reason. However, beginning to solution with an idealistic designer’s mindstate often tends to reveal hindrances. Organizational silos, technological limitations, gaps in consumer understanding, outdated brand assets… blockers of realizing the dream state.

It will be clear that going for your retail dream state will require courage and the mindset of a reformist. It’s good to keep in mind that change is the key to a meaningful shift. The goal is to achieve a tactical and pragmatic way of leveraging creativity for improved business results.

Here’s a few questions that will give you an idea of what it might mean in practice, to chase that goal:

If you analyzed your retail path, what would be the easiest location to exceed expectations, to differentiate? Where along the path is the touchpoint where innovation’s cost vs. reward can be optimal? What if you started there and then did the rest of them, in the order of similar prioritization?  How hard would it be?

This is where we get to iterative

 

Strategic design, empowered by aligned leadership, working closely with execution is what enables omnichannel retail. Adapting lean principles and iterative ways of working will unleash the kind of creativity that differentiates. The outcome? An accelerated cycle of reinvention of your digital business.

 

At the end of the day, omnichannel (like pretty much everything on this material plane) is about successful execution. This very challenge is why leaders sometimes only lend a cynical ear to design: There have been visions before, but they didn’t manifest.

It’s important for design to have the right perspective. Perspectives, actually. A strategic business POV will never be realized without solving every single practical problem in the everyday. It’s often forgotten that design has the ability to be a change agent from the bottom up, too.

That’s why delivering successful innovation requires an iterative approach of multidisciplinary collaboration. On a day to day level, it’s about effective and smart decision-making, and productivity. In the larger scheme of things, it’s a culture of refinement for the entire organization.

At Reaktor, we’ve long since learnt an iterative approach is also the only reasonable way to achieve excellence in service execution (we owe this knowledge to our agile roots). From digital shopping cart load times to a well functioning tracking feature of your Thai food order, preciseness of service has become a requirement to compete. And not just in digital locations.

The mindset of iteration is also a highly liberating modus operandi for anyone dealing with a complex ecosystem of anything. It means improvement in clear steps. To us at least, the very thought of working through a strategically composed to-do list makes omnichannel much less of an ambiguous labyrinth.

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