As it stands right now in mid 2019, the customer value journey is highly fragmented. People see ads on social media and websites that are bought through complex webs of ad servers and publishers. People seek out product or service information on your website or at a reseller’s site. People come to a store to test a product, and then buy it online. Or they buy it online to pick up in the store.

Every time that a customer has a contact with your brand at a different place, the tracking of the value journey can get lost. In some cases, like with a Facebook pixel, different steps can be linked together. But when switching between devices, like from mobile to desktop; or when switching from digital to physical, the record of that journey is completely broken.

Just look at the difficulty in weighing the efficiency of digital advertising. There is a constant battle between last touch and first touch attribution, with all of the steps in between clamoring to prove that they were also responsible for triggering a transaction. When you add in things like visits to your website and going to the store, the question gets even murkier.

All of this means that in today’s world we rely on numerous, overlapping technology solutions to try to enable a journey to purchase. How then can we reconstruct the full customer value journey? Is it even possible to enact an omnichannel solution in today’s world?

What is Omnichannel?

L2 defines omnichannel as “purposeful, mutually-orchestrated engagements that drive towards fulfillment.” Fulfillment is any sort of transaction. Omnichannel can refer to two different angles that I believe are really grouped into one overarching theme. Omnichannel marketing is orchestrating your campaigns and content in order to drive people towards your product or service across different and disparate touchpoints. Omnichannel purchasing means letting your customers buy your products the way that they want, by eliminating barriers and offering ways to buy in places where they are already.

When we tie these two together, it’s really just creating customer paths that can hop between platforms and solutions as seamlessly as possible – without losing track of the customer. A lot of this is common sense. When I click on an ad in Facebook to see your product, I expect to go directly to that product and see its specs and price immediately, not go to a landing page where I have to navigate and search again for a product. If I type in your website directly into my browser, I expect to get to a landing page that is easy to navigate and gets me to what I’m looking for quickly. Those experiences have the same end result – me putting an item into a basket and checking out – but the way they fit into separate customer journeys is where the omnichannel comes into play. And it adds levels of increasing complexity when I want to have a product shipped to my office or I want to pick it up from a store.

Ah, if it were only that simple

Since the real challenge of omnichannel is undestanding what is happening to the same person on different channels (and many channels that you don’t own or have limited visibility into) the tendency is to create a full customer journey on your owned channels so that you can control and optimize each step.

“We’re going to run ads on FB and Insta, we’re going to drive to our product pages, and we’re going to ship through our e-commerce. No more guessing, no more broken journeys. Who’s with me?”

It’s very tempting in theory, and for a lot of pure player brands, this formula works. But most of the brands in the world are not so easily reduced. Many brands have physical stores, resellers, availabilities in certain countries, laws about customs and importation, impractical sizes to be shipped, or a need to touch or smell the product before making a purchase. The physical and retailing world still generates much more revenue than e-commerce, so the biggest fault line today of omnichannel resides in between digital and physical.

The importance of stores cannot be overstated. Naysayers and e-commerce evangelists are incessant about the fall of retail, and while e-commerce is rising, shopping in stores still remains the primary driver for business. Shops are closing down in America’s strip malls, but that’s because no one liked going to those places. Cities are concentrating wealth and as a result are leading the transformation in the store experience. Look at Hudson Yards in NYC – it’s a megaplex designed to lure people in with art installations and luxury homes, then hit their wallets with each store shining more brightly than the next.

Physical stores have a lot of advantages over e-commerce sites. You can control the ambiance with odors and music. You can display products in the most captivating way – not just pack shot pngs on a white background. You have salespeople who can seal the deal by playing to egos and pleasantly surprising customers with high quality service.

Getting people to a store should still be a top priority for brands. This drive-to-store-from-digital challenge is notoriously difficult. You can captivate attention online, give them an incentive to come, but tracking this sort of operation is nearly impossible. A lot of location-based services can trigger ads when people are in proximity to a store, offering a limited-time promotion. Or you can create an online booking portal to reserve time slots with a salesperson at your preferred store.

Even someone targeted with these types of offers is still unknown the moment they walk into the store. I think the key here to truly creating omnichannel is through loyalty programs. Imagine downloading an app for a brand, an app where you can consult information about products, declare purchases, and see what rewards you’ve earned. On the digital side this is easy to make.

But I dream of the day when those customers can walk through the doors of a store and the app synchs with the store. A salesperson comes up, welcomes me by my name, and asks what I thought of the last product that I bought. No awkward small talk, a direct relationship, and a chance to rectify if anything wasn’t 100% with my last purchase. Then, of course, the salesperson can point me in the direction of a new product recommendation based on what I’ve already bought. I feel welcomed, cared about, and addressed with only relevant information.

Of course this would only work for declarative data, but we’re getting there. It could also save my preferences for which type of pick up I want, be it in-store at the moment of purhcase or delivered to my door the next day so I can keep shopping without carrying bags around all day.

You’re not alone

These types of fulfillment options are becoming a necessity since more and more brands are offering more and more ways for customers to get their goods. While this is good for consumer choice, in many cases it’s bad for brands since it creates very high expectations.

Look at the Amazon effect. If I want to order something directly from a manufacturer, I can order through their site but I will have no idea how long it might take. Do I have to pay extra for three-day shipping? I won’t find out until the very last step of the purchasing process. On the other hand, in one search on Amazon I know the price and if it’s available for Prime shipping so I will get it the next day.

I judge other services by how quickly they ship, and in many cases decide which products to buy based on that. This is where the argument to open an e-commerce site for your brand gets turned on its head. You want to control the customer experience to be able to optimize it, but if you can’t assure a customer experience on par with your best competitors, you won’t have much to optimize.

The key then is to add additional functionalities to your current fulfillment services. Adding things like store locators to product pages to immediately show people how far they are from a product, or adding a pick up in store option to your website instead of going all the way to a full e-commerce model. These incremental steps build upon existing distribution while making it easier for customers to convert.

The takeaway

Instead of building bridges to cross the omnichannel, consider taking away barriers to customer journeys, the way towards increasing fulfillment takes many paths.

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