Retail leaders and Maplin’s CEO speak out about the difficulties of becoming truly omnichannel.

At its CES breakfast in Las Vegas, two retail CEOs presented their view of omnichannel transformation in Europe, and Context delivered the highlights of the Omnichannel Retail Survey it conducted in December 2016.

The responses from 31 European technology retailers, two-thirds of them in the c-suite, illustrate dramatically the transformation of retail to omnichannel.

While the focus in Las Vegas was on new products, Context hosted a CES breakfast on selling technology products in an omnichannel world.

Omnichannel’s importance

Retailers clearly recognise the critical importance of omnichannel transformation – 90% of responses to the Context survey said that omnichannel is critical or very important to their business, but 40% also said that they are not yet getting an ROI.

“Consumers are already omnichannel, but very few retailers are, because it is really hard and expensive to become truly omnichannel,” said Oliver Meakin, CEO of Maplin, as he opened the session.

“Service and advice will be the key areas of differentiation in technology retailing in the future, coupled with good old retail-tainment – people like going shopping and, therefore, omnichannel – rather than pure clicks – will ultimately win through.”

“Consumers are already omnichannel, but very few retailers are, because it is really hard and expensive to become truly omnichannel”

Oliver Meakin, CEO, Maplin

While the investments are substantial, they appear to be worthwhile. Retailers responded that they know they have to do it. In fact, 97% responded that they are transforming themselves to adapt to customer behaviour.

Profit doubts

The expectation is that omnichannel customers will engage more often, purchase more, and potentially add more items to their market basket.

And yet, when Context asked the top tech retailers if omnichannel customers were more profitable, the verdict was not clear:

  • 40% of tech retailers said yes, omnichannel customers are more profitable
  • 30% said no, omnichannel customers are not more profitable
  • 30% said they do not know

This mixed set of responses is indicative of two factors. Major omnichannel investments are relatively recent, so perhaps there has not been time to measure results.

Additionally, it can be challenging for retailers to measure total customer relationships across time and channels.

It is significant that 19% said that they are well prepared for omnichannel, 74% said that they are making considerable progress and only 6% owned up to being not ready.

Clearly, other than sales from social media, the majority of retailers are now offering enormous variety in how they fulfil customer orders, whatever this may cost them.