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I had the pleasure of participating in the Cross Channel Retail Executive Summit held last week in San Antonio, Texas.  The sponsor, RIS News/Edgell Communications did a first class job of bringing content, format and delivery to a useful and compelling conference.

One of the first topics brought up was the continuing debate of the meaning of multi-, cross-, omni-, uni-  channel.  This is something I address daily in my engagements with Retailers and I’ve not only learned that every organization has their own definition for this concept but that the English language has an endless amount of prefixes to attach to the word “channel”.

The point the presenter made was that no matter what you want to name it and how you want to define it, it’s all about the commerce that ensues. No wonder then that “Commerce” and “Communication” have the same etymological origins (from Latin “communis“, meaning to share). When you think of it in this way it’s obvious that certain rules should be observed. Just as communications have certain rules.

Here is what I have learned about commerce in the age of internet.

Work from the Truth – This would seem to be the easy one, you would think, but can be the most vexing. If I was speaking to you about Volkswagens and you were thinking Jettas and I was meaning Beetles, well, we wouldn’t necessarily understand one another.  The way to solve this is by establishing one version of the information that everyone works with, i.e. one version of the truth. Does your internet retail site have its own version of data separate from the store or call center? There is a good chance of not having the correct information. Sharing the same data with everyone, be it customer, product, pricing or availability data … is critical to successful commerce.

Operate in Real Time – By 2012 I thought I would no longer be bringing this up but, ahem, it’s still an issue. When business processes require crossing different systems or there is an absence of automation, commerce can fail. Sometimes it means going back to the drawing board and ensuring that the business process is defined end to end but simultaneously that systems talk to one another and operate in the now. Anything less can be expected to fail. This is where “Cross-“ gets tricky. Want to buy online and pickup in the store? Make sure your order management system and your supply chain system are friendly and talk to each other. (Don’t forget to include your web, POS, Call Center, Mobile and Social Media platform in this equation).

Deliver Consistency – Customer Expereince is a common theme for much of the current thinking in how Retailers relate to shoppers. This means that design becomes a language in the act of commerce. It encompasses not just the items I mentioned above but also takes into consideration that when consumers are driven to a brand, they want similar visual cues, look and feel, typography, color profiles. Retailers have they challenge oif asking themselves; “Does my store reinforce my web site, which reinforces my catalog which reinforces my mobile app.” If no,t customers will wander away for the lack of psychological homogeneity towards which humans naturally gravitate.

Commerce is a Cycle – Just like speaking with someone, there are 3 distinct aspects, start, change and stop. The retailer, no matter what channel used, has an obligation to ensure that all these phases are correctly delivered upon. Where I find most operational weakness is in the last phase. After delivering a product or service, it’s a great time to not only thank the customer but also ask them how about their experience was, because it creates the ability to either repeat this event or correct something that did not go right and in doing stay engaged with the customer to get it right.

These rules can readily make or break the success of the commerce experience. Getting it right is possible if driven by the simple premise that observing the rules for great communication can make the rules for your {insert prefix} Commerce successful.

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