2018: The Year of Omnichannel

on 19 January, 2018

Steve Halford, Group Managing Director of Crystal, looks at the disruptive effects online technology is having on traditional industries, and how merchants need to adapt to thrive in this new environment

Many bricks and mortar retailers had a torrid 2017, as the disruptive effects of online technology are creating new channels and new ways to buy that are turning traditional trading on its head.

Aldi and Lidl are growing fast and Ocado grew faster than the rest of the online food market, but all the other big grocers lost share. Many retailers are absorbing currency cost increases because they can't pass them on: consumers have worked out what they could be paying before they come in.

Debenhams' shares are worth less than half what they were last year. John Lewis is cutting support staff and is about to make back office people redundant, and a difficult year even prompted Next to consider, before apparently dismissing the idea, if they should still have physical stores!

This isn't a simple battle between online and bricks and mortar. The challenge is combining the two into a seamless, slick, omnichannel experience that matches how people are getting used to buying and how they like to buy. The first, crucially important part of the customer journey takes place mostly online, before formal contact is made. The challenge is in coping seamlessly with buying anytime, from anywhere, with any device. And in managing customers' different information needs.

Builders are aware of best practice, because who doesn't buy online? They're used to deciding how, when and where they want it, and used to being informed when their order is ready to despatch, on its way, when it will arrive, and finally that it has arrived. That's the benchmark.

Whether you planned it or not, we're all going on an omnichannel journey. But, you can't get ahead of your suppliers, because if they're behind the curve you will be too. Suppliers have to march in step with customers, who have to march in step with their own customers or the supply chain will break.

Like most journeys into the unknown, it's best to travel with an experienced partner who has all the kit and experience you'll need. And you'd best not wait until your sales and margins dip before you move.

Speaking for Crystal, we've developed powerful selling tools for customers so they can trade effectively and grow in this more complicated omnichannel world. I believe it's critical that merchants recognise the need for online and instore solutions that work seamlessly together. Neither functions as well without the other, because it's not how customers want to buy. So, we have real customer showrooms and online software that's becoming more and more transactional, with each side feeding the other.

We're also introducing animated instructional videos (as part of an online configurator) – sitting alongside a measuring service (so virtual and real world solutions come together to address any gap in customer resources) and a 'chat' facility on the Crystal website (www.crystal-direct.co.uk). Online training is going to be prominent this year, delivering easily retained 'bite size' information on video, direct to merchant staff's mobiles, and we're expanding the customer-facing teams. It's all designed to provide seamless support in the real and virtual worlds.

We're on an omnichannel mission to make it easy for merchants to match customer expectations and sell more PVC-U windows, doors and conservatories, more easily and at good margins. Buying habits are changing, so we need to help merchants change how they sell to match how customers want to buy. Our aim is to #MakeSellingEasy.

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