NRF Panel: Retailers Embrace the Omnichannel Challenge

Have you ever been in the market for something, say a particular pair of Nike running shoes, and you do an Internet search for them? You buy a pair, either in a store or online, and then you think you are finished with that particular transaction. But no. Every web site you visit is now showing you a picture of those shoes, sometimes with a new discount.

And you are thinking, "I already bought them!" If we are so advanced and analytics are so good, then why are we seeing these same shoes still? That was one of the questions asked by an audience member during the panel discussion, Omnichannel Analytics, Unlocking the Optimal Customer Experience, at the NRF(National Retail Federation) Convention and Expo in New York this week. The panel featured Eileen Rizzo, senior vice president of Omnichannel Process and Systems at Macy's Inc. and Chris McCann, president and CEO of, both SAS customers, and was moderated by Lori Schafer, executive advisor of Global Retail at SAS. (SAS is the sponsor of this site.)

The answer: Panelists Rizzo and McCann indicated that there's still work to be done in terms of integration of data and speeding up the process.

(Image: Kzenon/Shutterstock)

(Image: Kzenon/Shutterstock)

Rizzo said that to improve this issue organizations need to implement real-time data feeds, refresh data management systems, and reoptimize in real time.

"The data is there," she said. "The process is to get it in real time and processed."

While you may have bought those shoes already, your purchase hasn't been synced back to the marketing department. Improving the real-time nature of some of these systems lies ahead as one of the challenges omnichannel retailers face in the months and years ahead.

Rizzo and McCann's companies are both about six years into their journeys to create an omnichannel experience for customers, meaning one that provides a holistic view of the customer and the customer's behavior across the channels of physical stores, online commerce sites, mobile apps, catalogs, and more. That's a shift from how the data used to be organized, which was by those discrete channels.

"Omnichannel means understanding the customer and where she is regardless of whether she is mobile or what device she is using," Rizzo said.

It's not an easy journey to achieve omnichannel understanding. Just because a sale comes through on one channel doesn't mean that's where the demand originally came from, according to Rizzo.

McCann's company faces similar challenges across the company's many acquired brands, including Fannie May Confections, Harry & David, The Popcorn Factory, and several others. The goal is to integrate customer data across those brands and ultimately encourage workers to cross promote across these many gifting brands. The technology, as always, is the easy part.

"People are the biggest challenge," McCann said. "It's frustrating to me because I see it so clearly."

McCann and Rizzo also talked about appealing to millennial customers.

"We have many in-house and we try to tap into their preferences, too," Rizzo said. But McCann said millennials aren't so different from other customers.

"Millennials want what everyone wants," he said. "Give me a product that is relevant in a place where I spend time."

But another shift that his company has made to appeal to millennials is a shift in price points.

"Millennials tell us it's about the price point," he said. So McCann's company created a single edible cookie that can be delivered with a custom message for a total of $6.

"Aren't you better off sending someone a cookie than a greeting card?"

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps, Informationweek

Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, predictive analytics, and big data for smarter business and a better world. In her spare time she enjoys playing Minecraft and other video games with her sons. She's also a student and performer of improvisational comedy. Follow her on Twitter: @jessicadavis.

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The Business and Customer - DIfferent End Points?
  • 1/30/2017 3:11:45 PM

@Jessica, What jumps out at me on this topic is perhaps the unexpressed assumption that the endpoint for the business is the endpoint for the customer. Specifically, for the business, once your payment has been processed, then what happens immediately after that has no business impact. The transaction is the endpoint for the business. However, as I look at the vernacular of the customer - experierence, journey, etc., there seems to be a different set of expectations regarding the encounter with the business. I sense an expectation that the business 'will remember your name'/display evidence that it remembers that the customer just made a purchase. Hence the endpoint for the customer does not end at the transaction, but is in fact an episode of a vendor/customer relationship.

If I may wax sociological for a moment, could the expectations of the software be based on whether one is a buyer vs. a shopper? A buyer typically buys what s/he wants and then does not care what happens afterwards. But a shopper is engaged in th whole experience; it's not just the purchase, but the whole experience.

In short, I am asking if you think that the need for the Omnichannel approach is just about syncing data bases or designing software that is more sensitive to shoppers vis-a-vis buyers? Do you think that the businesses are looking at transactions through the prisms of the customers or the shareholders?  And which party should have more weight?  If a sale has been made, then should the business care that an advertisement is repeating what was just sold? Or how would it increase share holder value to do the database syncing that you mentioned?

Not refuting the point of the blog, but my read on this is that there are different sets of expectations, as reflected in the functionality of the transactions, about when a business encounter is over - the endpoint.

Re: Realizing the promise
  • 1/24/2017 9:16:54 AM

And how about retailers who still want their coupons to be printed out and taken to the store? One of the most convenient of the retailers I use is Dollar General who has online coupons that only require punching in your phone number at the checkout counter after having clicked online on the coupons you want.

Re: Realizing the promise
  • 1/22/2017 6:54:13 PM

@ impactnow - I also think retailers haven't found a way to use omni-channel marketing in a way that isn't highly annoying.  For example it bugs the hell out of me in the grocery store to see those mobile only coupons where I have to log on to a site a download a coupon on to a mobile phone.  I don't want to work that much.  

Re: Realizing the promise
  • 1/22/2017 9:13:22 AM

The risk you run in pushing ads on the public that aren't optimal is that you turn people off. So when you finally improve them --- and can ask, do you no longer need to see this ad? --- they aren't even listening anynore at all. We are at that point already.

Re: Realizing the promise
  • 1/20/2017 4:48:26 PM

Too often we're re-fighting the last war.

Most internet ads are designed as if buyer and seller are using old-fashioned media. With print, TV, etc., there was no ability to instantly and individually provide feedback. So everyone saw the cat food ads, even the people who never owned a cat.

Some new ads offer the ability for the viewer to provide some feedback: Here is a cat food ad, is this a good ad for you?

It will take time before people routinely provide this feedback.

And perhaps more time before one of the questions is: Are you still in the market for this, or did you already buy?

Realizing the promise
  • 1/19/2017 6:03:58 PM

Much has been written about Omnichannel retail but it si still largely unrealized for most consumers. I still get the same disjoointed marketing from retailers and there are still so many issues with syncing the online and offline expereince. Until retailers get an identifier for their consumers and use it across platforms, we will still see this disparity. The only stores I have recently seen using some omnichannel are Macys and Nordstrom and they are still in their infancy.

Re: Omnichannel
  • 1/19/2017 2:39:12 PM

@tomsg, seeing an ad for the product you've already purchased takes away any sense that the deliverer is talking to you on an individual level, which I believe is the intention. Overtime it deminishes in appeal and effectiveness, becomes background noise.

Re: Omnichannel
  • 1/19/2017 7:21:09 AM

I think we touched on this a little bit in another thread, but yes you have layers of marketing.  Let's say it's Google serving up ads and the company you happened to buy the shoes from has purchased ad time with Google.  The disconnect between the shoe store, Google's ad services and the store's marketing makes it very hard to know when it's time to stop advertising those shoes to you.  Google passes the information along saying "hey he's looking at these shoes" the store's marketing plan says "show him this ad"  and that's what Google does. It will be interesting to see how the ad services combat this given the number of online stores out there that you could possibly purchase your shoes from. 

Re: Omnichannel
  • 1/18/2017 2:19:29 PM

I agree that this data, shared between retailers, would be a scary intrusion...with enough of these tiny bits and bytes of data about purchases a pretty clear picture of an individual consumer can be painted.  Now that is the direction that consumers are saying they want (the true "omni-channel" experience), but stil...

Re: Omnichannel
  • 1/18/2017 8:00:42 AM

@Seth. Some is, in effect, "sharing" your data by serving up ads from all those retailers that you didn't buy from. It's Google. When you search for new shoes, Google doesn't care when you buy them, it will just keeping delivering ads.

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