If you were to dip into any management conversation at any high street retailer in the past few years you’d hear them talking about ‘Omnichannel’ strategies. If you google ‘retail and omnichannel’ you get 1.2 million results.
Omnichannel is a horrible word. It’s one of those monikers so impersonal that it sits comfortably next to the names of faceless corporations that oversee dystopian nightmares in Hollywood films – like Skynet or Cyberdyne.
It refers to the use of digital technology to give shoppers a seamless experience, from the high street store to their Apple Watch. To do that retailers collect huge amounts of data on their customers – from the things they buy to the things they like on Facebook.
All of this data theoretically gives retailers the ability to deliver a really personal experience for customers.
But it doesn’t supplant genuine personal contact.
Closing stores on the high street in favour of ‘virtual retail space’ might be good for the numbers, but that removes a large chunk of the customer experience.
To make up for that, retailers have turned to social media to try and build communities, learn customers’ interests and target people with advertising.
But according to research from Brandwatch earlier this year, 9 in 10 customer comments on a retailer’s social media page will go unanswered.
Some retailers have created a much better customer experience with digital, like Domino’s and Topshop. But the more commercial opportunities omnichannel offers retailers the more they are in danger of diminishing their relationships with their customers, despite knowing more and more about them.
I’m far too young to remember this, but apparently you used to be able to walk into a shop and have a good old chat. Applying a bit of old-fashioned shop-keeping to omnichannel strategies might not be a bad thing.
Having their data can be powerful. But truly knowing your customers…well that’s about more than just the algorithms.