11 September 2019 12:09:13 IST

Long way to go for seamless omnichannel shopping experience

The ease of ‘buy anywhere, fulfill anywhere and return/replace anywhere’ is yet to gain ground

Omnichannel is the next big step in the evolution of retail and is focused on a seamless shopping experience. The term “omni” means being present in all forms and places. Omnichannel is defined by the term Bafara, an acronym for buy anywhere, fulfill anywhere and return/replace anywhere.

But, Bafara is easier said than done, and omnichannel ends up being a nice buzzword that is often misused as a marketing gimmick.

Take the case of a retailer who recently released full-page advertisements claiming to be an omnichannel retailer. When I looked up their site, and the terms and conditions, it mentioned that only a few stores offer online purchase and pick-up facilities.

To understand the fallacy of this term that is often misused by retailers, let’s take an example:

I am rushing to the airport in a city and realise that I have forgotten to purchase something. I place an order on the respective app on my smartphone. Instead of choosing delivery, I opt to pick up from a store en route the airport. Once, I reach the airport, I check the bag and realise that a wrong product or variant has been included. Obviously, I want it replaced. However, the flight is boarding and I don’t have time to do anything. Once I reach the destination, I log into the site of that retailer and request a replacement. This could be at a hotel I am staying at or at my home. The retailer then sends across the correct product and replaces the same immediately, or at the time of my choice.

This is an optimal omnichannel experience.

Influencing shopper behaviour

Most retailers who claim to be omnichannel tend to do only Bafa. Although, this is a commendable first step, they cannot claim to be a true omnichannel until they offer Bafara.

The question now arises as to why this is difficult. The main challenge lies in forecasting demand and, therefore, managing inventory, as also tracking the same. It is not easy to manage the requisite inventory levels to offer a true omnichannel experience. A leading online retailer has developed an algorithm called predictive picking. What this means is that the product purchase is being predicted by the site or an app when the shopper has logged in and started to browse. The ultimate objective of this would be to drastically reduce the delivery time.

However, this has a downside. As the algorithm starts to understand the browsing and selection patterns of the shopper, there is an increasing risk that the site or the app would influence the shopper’s purchase. The question then arises as to where the shopper’s independent choice stops and influence over their thinking starts. It sounds scary and, in a way, is already happening.

Is it possible?

Getting back to omnichannel, can shoppers hope to experience this in its truest form in the near future? Of course, they can. Especially if the predictive picking algorithm is fine-tuned and starts to influence the shopping behaviour, omnichannel will become relatively easier as shopper behaviour would then be easier to predict. As an outcome, maintaining the appropriate levels of inventory would be possible at suitable locations.

However, it would take a lot of analytics and predictive data to forecast shopper behaviour and to offer Bafara. Needless to say, it would require enormous investments in logistics. One of the reasons why mobile apps are aggressively promoted and shopping sites encourage you to save payment mechanisms and remain logged in is to generate and collate behavioural data.

So, as a shopper, are you ready to pay for this ultimate convenience of seamless shopping, both in terms of money and trading your privacy?

Till then, any brand’s claim of being an omnichannel retailer needs to be taken with a load of salt.