We’ve gone too far with the “next best marketing craze” buzzwords. From SoLoMo (the Convergence of Social, Local and Mobile) to my new favorite, omni-channel retailing. While I am all for innovation, I think many retailers are getting distracted by the “next best marketing craze” buzzwords.

Below I’ll tackle omni-channel retailing, what it is and how marketers can kick-start their omni-channel plans.

1. Back to Basics

Wikipedia defines omni-channel retailing as basically a better version of its brother, multi-channel retailing.  Both basically mean reaching consumers through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, catalog, etc.

In response to this trend, many retailers have taken the approach of interrupting consumers from every angle – infiltrating Facebook updates, pushing constant Twitter feed updates – all driving consumers to different points of engagement: ecommerce sites, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, etc.  Some are doing this out of desperation – trying the latest marketing tactic to revive their brand , while others are spending so much time trying to mitigate the “showrooming”’ trend (yet another contender on the 2012 Top 10 Buzzword charts that is threatening big box retailers), that they are losing focus on what really matters – the one-on-one connection with customers.

2. Focus on Soul

Soul is all about building a brand consumers cannot live without.  It’s Trader Joe’s, who has created a brand that people fanatically love with a high quality product mix that you can’t find elsewhere and a commitment to going above and beyond for customers.   It’s lululemon, who has focused on building a community around a lifestyle and their magical, butt-enhancing yoga pants that have reached cult status.  Both brands deliver soul by starting with an amazing product and then delivering in-store and through their employee advocates.

3.  If You’re Going Omni-Channel, Make it “Omni-Personal”

8.15blog-omnichannelimage-smBefore you even think about channels, ask yourself, ‘why would anyone care to listen?’  Let’s take Groupon as an example. On an annual basis, members receive daily blasts featuring multiple offers. Blasting out cellulite-reduction and storage unit rental offers to your entire member base isn’t the most personal approach, and the conversion rates show it. Instead, try and distribute your offers in a way that shows you know your customers, returning to the one-on-one engagement of the brick-and-mortar days. Although you might not “see” them, you can tailor your interactions based on profile data or spending behavior.

4. Focus on “Checking Out” vs. “Checking In”

From Path to Shopkick to Foursquare, social engagement start-ups have lured brands with the promise of mobile consumer engagement, but the verdict is still out on their ability to drive loyalty, brand connection or revenue.  As smartphone usage continues to rise, companies that prioritize mobile, or close the redemption loop from online and mobile exposure to in-store results, will be the true omni-channel champions. Crate and Barrel recently launched a wedding registry app that replaces the scan guns in store, and lets you manage your registry on the go.  This captures mobile users, but also fills a real need.  Another example: the Neiman Marcus NM Service app allows shoppers to create a ‘one-to-one’ in-store experience that is the antithesis of ‘showrooming,” enhancing the personalized experience.

5. Strive for Simple

Retail isn’t a game. Anything that adds work on the consumer side – from scanning QR codes, to filling out mobile sweepstakes forms to printing coupons – sounds good on paper, but today’s deal-driven consumer quickly tires of novelty, especially when it requires a lot of effort.  If you are looking for innovative ways to engage shoppers, focus on making it easy rather than “fun.”  If you’re a parent who’s attempted to shop with young kids, fun is often not on your list.  The abandonment rates of services that make you work too hard reinforce this, and have catalyzed the emergence of more “passive” platforms that focus on the value rather than the game.

Competition across online and offline retail is so fierce, and customers are a lot less forgiving. To have any chance to survive, let alone flourish in this omni-channel/multi-channel/integrated retail world; you need to do a little soul searching.

What are your thoughts?

Jeff Fagel, Former VP Marketing

Jeff Fagel was formerly edo Vice President, Marketing and Brand Development.

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