Building a Plan for Omnichannel:

Steps to Delivering Meaningful Capabilities

Parker Avery Point of View
by Amanda Astrologo, Michele Hernandez, and Clay Parnell



If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
—Lewis Carroll



In today’s world of find it / buy it / get it anywhere, do you know precisely what services your customers expect or demand and what capabilities you need to support them? Do you sense or believe that new and extended omnichannel capabilities are needed based on what you are hearing from your customers, or simply to be competitive with what other retailers are doing? Or are you simply responding to your CEO or Board of Directors who are insisting that “we need to be more omnichannel.”

Omnichannel means different things to different retailers and can have different implications by role within any given enterprise, so it pays to be specific and clear about your brand value proposition and how your omnichannel environment supports it. As an example, some omnichannel capabilities such as buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) are very different for a grocery store versus an apparel retailer – and the requirements and complexities are different as well. Most of us expect a grocer to carry a typical or ‘standard’ grocery assortment, so BOPIS is truly about convenience for the customer. While focus must be on making the process convenient and easy, above all the grocer has to focus on product freshness—and acute attention must be spent on things like product substitutions. In an apparel environment, most shoppers are trying to track down a particular item and/or a specific size and color; as such, the inventory challenges for the retailer are significant in terms of accuracy and visibility across the fleet of stores, warehouses, and distribution centers (DCs).

Truly understanding and delivering on your omnichannel vision and strategy requires refining your objectives and prioritizing the steps needed to achieve your goals. In this point of view, we outline five steps to building your unique plan for omnichannel success.



Step1

Define what ‘omnichannel’ is (and is not), and build the roadmap

As we mentioned earlier, the definition of what omnichannel means and what is ‘in scope’ can differ widely from one retailer to another. Certain capabilities may be more important than others based on a specific business model or target consumer. For your definition, consider the following:

  • Your typical customer journey drives your omnichannel capabilities. Recognize how might this differ across your customer demographic segments as well as how much consumer engagement and shopping are done on-line, via mobile, and/or in stores (note – the “and” is important).
  • Omnichannel done well has significant inventory considerations. Understand your current inventory model and capabilities and what might need to change across vendors, DC’s, fulfillment centers, and stores.
  • Omnichannel means planning differently. Plan holistically, yes, but also plan by channel. You need to include both forward and reverse supply chains (e.g. plan for returns and consider your partners).
  • The state of your transactional data will drive how well some capabilities can be executed. Adjusting the frequency of store-level information updates (POS transactions, purchase orders, receipts, transfers) and the level of accuracy is critical now that customers and store associates expect to see correct information in real time. You will need to consider and rethink the level of housecleaning that is necessary and realistic—both with data and processes.
  • Associate behavior will likely need to change with new capabilities. These changes are typically thought of in terms of store associates, but should also include buying, planning, supply chain, etc. Organization and staffing models, particularly for customer-facing roles, will probably need review and adjusting.

Build the roadmap based on your value proposition and priorities but consider the reality of your current state and the effort required to implement new capabilities. Also include consideration of merchandise and seasonal calendars as well as other critical initiatives impacting the organization; given the many tentacles of most omnichannel initiatives, it will likely require a high priority across the enterprise, and other projects may need to pause or be deferred.



Step2

Ensure accountability and cross-functional alignment across the enterprise

While some roles may not need significant changes, others may change dramatically during the migration to true omnichannel. Buyers and planners need to think about each commerce channel when they assort. Considerations include:

  • What will interactions look like across the selling vehicles?
  • How do inventory plans need to change?
  • Do other organizations like supply chain need to be involved in those decisions?

Also, other tweaks in metrics and KPI’s may require emphasis and clarity and, in some cases, new definitions. Where sales truly originate from may be ‘fuzzy’ and focus on holistic growth is critical. Customer service in the store must also be a focus point, but new services may make it seem like associates must now spend an inordinate amount time picking and packaging for BOPIS or ship-from-store orders. These additional responsibilities and the corresponding behaviors must be carefully designed to incorporate how in-store customers are handled during new omnichannel activities. Further, such behaviors need to be included into learning materials.

As your needs and processes are defined, ensure everyone understands their role; communicate clearly and at multiple levels. Traditional mindsets will likely need to be challenged and bent. Silos must be broken down to ensure transparency and alignment and to facilitate required collaboration between functions that may not be used to the frequency of required communication and newly integrated processes.



Step 3

Define the business processes and capabilities—and then the systems (not the other way around)

Once again, we cannot emphasize enough: omnichannel is a set of business capabilities—it is not a system, nor is it an ‘IT project.’ Many omnichannel initiatives seem to initially focus on systems and technology. While these enablers are indeed important, we cannot stress enough not to let the tail wag the dog. The business needs and capability priorities should lead the way, with enabling technologies following suit. CIO’s, you are welcome.

While your enterprise may eventually need a more complete omni platform over time, building too much too soon may either limit your flexibility down the road or drive changes that don’t support your business strategy and requirements. Further, hitting the gas too hard will likely necessitate some ‘undoing’ of business processes, systems, interfaces, and/or integrations down the road—all of which take resources away from higher priority projects.

After the capability needs and priorities are defined, at the appropriate level of detail and with a cross-functional view, it is now the time to dig into the technology needs and implications. Work across your business and IT teams to create options for supporting these capabilities, either with extensions to existing systems, additional integration, and/or by selecting new solutions. Again, with a roadmap, the proper priorities and sequencing should start to become apparent.



Step4

Test, train, pilot, test, refine, deploy

Any new processes and systems need testing, training, and deployment support. This is even more critical in the omnichannel world as so many other processes and systems are impacted. Further, little is done in the omni world that isn’t customer-facing—as such, the stakes are quite high. Given this, it is typical for a new omni capability to be piloted first; as an example, pilot a limited number of SKUs in a select number of stores. This approach allows the steps and transactions to be vetted and the processes refined prior to a full roll-out.

In addition, given the potential impact to customers, externally-facing communications need to be a focus both for pilot and full deployment. Messaging such as what the new service involves, what’s different, how will it work, and others are all information your customers will appreciate. Plus, when done well, messaging can build brand loyalty and deepen engagement. Ensure the store and support teams are prepared for additional ‘feedback’ from customers as they start to utilize the new omni shopping capabilities, and provide mechanisms to share this feedback throughout the organization.



Step5

Assess, refine, continue

Or as we like to say, “rinse and repeat.” New omnichannel capabilities may bring new shopping methods to customers, introduce new associate activities in the store, add complexity in the supply chain, insert new vendor steps, and more. It’s important to assess the activities, feedback, and benefits, and plan for any required refinements. Further, given that most omni capabilities are part of a broader roadmap, the overall integration of new processes and related solutions is critical for the cohesive shopping presentation to the consumer and effective fulfillment of inventory.

Once an initiative is completed, there should be a review or checkpoint of the full roadmap to determine any new information or required adjustments. This will be an iterative process, and your organization will learn along the way. Roadmaps may need to be adjusted to reflect modifications in priorities, new understanding of consumer behavior, or simply the ultimate realization of changes required and the organization’s gulp rate.




Final Word

Omnichannel is broad and far-reaching. It is more than just ecommerce and selling online, and it requires much more than just fulfillment of online orders. Done correctly, omnichannel involves synchronized processes and capabilities throughout most of the retail enterprise, namely:

  • More robust item definitions for extended assortments, including enhanced attributes and descriptions
  • Multiple storage/fulfillment nodes to support efficient use of inventory
  • New store-level capabilities and related associate processes

As with other significant areas of opportunity, sometimes the biggest challenge is just getting started. It’s important to note that as a retailer, you’re not expecting to move from ‘lagging’ to ‘leading’ overnight or in a few steps. But you likely recognize that improvements are necessary to remain relevant for your shoppers in today’s market, and there’s no better time than now.



If you’d like to learn more about our vision or understand how you might take advantage of this strategy, contact us at Contact@parkeravery.com or call 770.882.2205.


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