The roadmap to omni-channel


If we are being perfectly honest, no one beyond a few fashion and consumer tech brands is really nailing omnichannel. Some CPG brands are doing much better with direct-to-consumer (DTC) while others still have a strong presence in traditional retail channels. But it’s fairly rare to see one doing well in both—not to mention

For all the talk of unified customer journeys, omnichannel is tougher than it sounds. The tools, skillsets, and even lexicon for different channels are completely different. An obvious example is product codes (the unique number used to identify a product in a retail channel), which are different on Amazon from what they are at Target. But that’s an easy solve. What’s harder is that everything always needs to be learned and relearned from one channel to the next.

Personally, I wouldn’t even advise most companies to attempt omnichannel until they have $5 million in monthly revenue. Admittedly, that’s a ballpark figure, and it’s highly margin dependent, but unless you have a certain kind of scale, you’re not going to have gorgeous Apple stores, on-brand Apple kiosks at Best Buy, and a great ecommerce presence too.

So, what do you do? I’d suggest a four-step process to guide omnichannel efforts for both growing and already established companies:

Step one. Make customer experience central to what you do. I know you hear this everywhere, but just because it’s become a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying again.

Step two. Understand how your customers shop. The mistake many brands make with omnichannel is that they assume all channels are equal. Shoppers have preferences, ideal ways they like to buy certain products. They may like Amazon for convenience, but it’s not where they’re going to try out a new fragrance. So, figure out if you have primarily online buyers, in-store, upscale, or discount. What are their preferred channels for your product? Then, you can prioritize your efforts to meet their needs and provide the support they need.

Step three. Divide and conquer. If you’re a smaller, growing brand, or even a big one, you can’t do omnichannel at once. Build your experience one or at most two channels at a time. If you’re starting out primarily online, nail and your own DTC site. Then, take a plunge into physical stores, one retailer at a time. Enter each new channel deliberately, ensuring you have a well-trained staff and a good understanding of the lexicon and processes required.

Step four. Listen to your KPIs. As you’re moving into multiple channels, you need a data-driven way to assess what’s working and what adjustments need to be made—in a way that gives your team a clear understanding of what’s happening and why. Remember that you’re not playing a dispassionate game of chess. Changes in focus and investment affect your team’s jobs and lives, and clear transparency is necessary to keep everyone in alignment and on track.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Omnichannel is a lot harder than most people in retail are willing to admit. Getting there needs to be a slow, deliberate process that builds from strength to strength. It’s best to think of it not as a strategy in itself, but an ongoing effort to be more convenient and present in consumers’ lives, while supporting them in the ways they like to shop.