Omni-channel in 6 steps: How to build a practical, effective plan of action

Nov 17, 2016 4 min

We are delighted to welcome Charlotte Kula-Przezwanski from Columbus Consulting (CCI) as our guest blogger. CCI is renowned for its expertise in retail business processes and systems delivering practical solutions to optimize sales, margin and inventory across all channels of operation.

How to Build a Practical, Effective Plan of Action

Omni-channel, cross-channel, or all-channel retailing–whatever you may call it, retailers of all sizes are struggling to get it right. The goal is to satisfy customers who want a consistent shopping experience in the store, through e-commerce, and through catalogs and call centers.

This still continues to be an urgent topic as many retailers move into different channels, markets and distribution models.

Many retailers are lagging behind their customers’ expectations. Yet for all the great information you can find about the strategies of omni-channel retailing, it’s hard to find practical advice on how to do it.

I would also have to be honest and say it’s unlikely that “any one path will work for all retailers”. That’s why planning processes have to help each retailer find their own path. What I think is important is to use a methodology that helps retailers identify the unique elements they need for their customers and their business. Retailers that have started to go through this change, have found that by implementing planning solutions, it has driven in a “best” practice” methodology.

Many retailers, including the biggest and best of them, get many elements right. But maybe they ignore or avoid a few key considerations that may stymie their success.

For example, they may do a great job of addressing business process and systems, but many overlook changes they should also make to their organization chart and their business-performance metrics. That’s why, in all my discussions with retailers I have paid special attention to the challenges of creating the right organization chart, key KPI’s and business metrics and employee-compensation plans and well as systems to support these.

You need all these important elements in place to overcome internal obstacles and to encourage appropriate employee behavior.

At Columbus Consulting International we believe that there are 6 key steps to build a practical and effective plan of action:

1. Understand your customers. Know how they shop, what they expect of your brand, and how they want to shop your channels.

2. Know your organization. Honestly assess who you are and who you want to be.

3. Rethink your business from your customers’ perspective. Plan to provide the new omni-channel capabilities your customers want.

4. Get the execution right. Be sure you can deliver on the operational side including systems before you roll out new customer-facing initiatives.

5. Structure your organization appropriately. Eliminate structural issues that will get in your way.

6. Adapt your financial metrics, incentives, and compensation programs accordingly. Reward the right kinds of behavior and penalize the wrong kinds.

These steps look deceptively simple. But they can be hard to execute well. Many capable retailers have paid inadequate attention to one or more of them.

To create your action plan, first go through all six steps in sequence, at a high level. Identify the most important changes you’ll need to make for each step. Then iterate. Go through all six steps again in greater detail. Don’t commit much time, money, or resources until you’re confident you have solid plans to get all the steps right.

If you follow this process, you’ll have a much better sense of direction than most other retailers in your situation.

Through working on many of these types of projects, CCI have identified that steps five and six are most important to your success: You absolutely must get your organization right, and you must adapt your financial metrics, incentives, and compensation programs accordingly.

If you have the right organization structure and if you’ve eliminated conflict in your business metrics and your rewards systems, your people will find ways to improve your omni-channel operations–even if other elements of your plan aren’t quite right. Your team will have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve, and they’ll be organized in an effective way to achieve it.

Even if you make perfect plans, you’re unlikely to get things right the first time. You’ll discover that you’ve overlooked some important consideration. You may uncover some unresolved organizational conflicts, or employee compensation may still be slightly misaligned with business goals.

To work through these inevitable disappointments and setbacks, your organization needs an invigorated sense of entrepreneurship. You must to be prepared to make mistakes. You have to learn quickly and adapt. In the process, you’ll become a more agile retailer. And your agility will serve you well in all aspects of your business.

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Written by

Charlotte Kula-Przezwanski

Partner & Director of EMEA at Columbus Consulting