Omni-Channel Retailing

Paul Richer, 30 Apr 2013 12:07

A week or two ago Harriet Green, CEO of Thomas Cook, outlined her new strategy for the business.  She said that, under the new strategy, British brands will be simplified to “five omni-channel B2C brands.”  This struck a chord with me as 12 years ago, in 2001, I organised a conference for Travel Technology Initiative called ‘Firing on all Channels.’  Even though it was so long ago, the objective was just the same.

Omni-Channel Retailing is the latest buzz phrase for what I then coined as Multi-Channel Retail.  Wikipedia describes it as “very similar to and an evolution of, multi-channel retailing, but concentrated more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels.  What I wrote in the conference leaflet at the time is still completely relevant today.  Here is a précis of what I said:

“The name of the game is multi-channel distribution, but it has arrived at a price. Customers identify with a brand regardless of channel of delivery. They believe an organisation to be a single entity. They have been surprised to find that this may not be so. An enquiry or booking made with a travel company via one channel is not always recognised by another channel. Some have found that prices and availability might vary between channels.

Travel companies are aware of this and now realise that they need to be firing on all channels in a cohesive manner, providing one view of products, gaining one view of customers. To achieve this requires a considerable degree of systems re-engineering, possibly abandoning early generation e-commerce and back office systems to obtain the high degree of integration necessary.”

One channel that was only considered to a small extent back in 2001 was mobile.  In the past I have been critical of Thomas Cook’s presence on this channel.  In fact, if you have got time for some mobile surfing you will see that Thomas Cook is now setting a high standard.  The organisation’s new mobile site is a model of good design, only slipping back to the PC website when you reach the booking form; quite a transformation, so 10 out of 10.

I am not sure how wide and deep omni-channel retailing pervades across Thomas Cook’s technology and business processes but, certainly, Harriet Green understands how consumers shop.  They may start their holiday research on their mobile handsets whilst having a few minutes to spare at a bus stop or in the morning Costa Queue.  They may take to their PCs in the office at lunch hour and continue their research at home on tablets or laptops.  As the purchase decision gets nearer they may prefer to make a telephone call or pop into a retail shop.  The important aspect to remember is that the consumer is considering your business as one entity, however they are interacting with it at the time. 

Systems need to access the same product availability and pricing, allowing the same products to be booked at the same prices regardless of channel.  Organisationally, staff incentives need to be set so that a customer enquiring about a web booking with a retail outlet or call centre will be treated with the same courtesy and given the same amount of time as if making the booking in person.  If you are running a travel company, you might like to think about how your customers reach you.  Are they getting a consistent experience across all channels?  Do you need to think more about omni-channel retailing?  It is certainly the way of the future.

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