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The Pressure Is on for Retailers to Go Omnichannel

Changing consumer buying habits complicate efforts

February 7, 2017

Omnichannel retail is getting a lot of attention in 2017, due to a growing focus on the discipline by top players like Amazon and Walmart. But for many other retailers, the challenge of balancing and streamlining their physical and digital commerce operations continues to be a challenge.

External Factors that Will Affect Their Business According to Retailers and Suppliers* Worldwide**, 2015 & 2016 (% of respondents)

Data from Retail Systems Research (RSR) looked at a number of external factors that will put more pressure on retailers and suppliers over the next five years. At first glance, it might appear that worries about omnichannel retailing is lessening; the number of respondents concerned about the category decreased from 39% to 30% between 2015 and 2016.

Implementation of Omnichannel Commerce Capabilities According Retail Executives in North America, April 2016 (% of respondents)

But this is misleading, RSR emphasized in its report. In fact, consumer buying preferences increased as a factor that could affect retailers and suppliers’ business, jumping from 61% to 74% during the same period.

These consumer expectations will have an important impact on retailers’ omnichannel efforts. Shifting buying preferences are making it harder for retailers to develop a consistent, unified experience across their physical and digital operations. The same RSR study found that consumers’ buying decisions were based around factors like pricing (cited by 68%), product availability (54%), product assortment (36%) and free shipping (27%).

Yet retailers hoping to meet consumer expectations related to these priorities often face a complicated logistical path. A survey by Boston Retail Partners, which examined the implementation of various omnichannel commerce capabilities, indicated that no more than 25% of retail executives felt that their omnichannel capabilities in areas like product assortment, consistent pricing or inventory visibility were “implemented and working well.”

Indeed, much of the work related to these areas remains incomplete, they’re either in the early phases of rollout or plan to be incorporated in the next few years. Even as the omnichannel revolution moves ahead for big retail firms, other retail players are finding that the challenge of meeting omnichannel expectations is easier said than done.

—Jeremy Kressmann

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