Grocery buying is changing due to the emergence of omnichannel retailing. Consumers want options,…

Grocery buying is changing due to the emergence of omnichannel retailing. Consumers want options, and grocers need to be ready to provide them. Thus, experts say retailers will have to deal with selling price, venue, payment, and customer experience in all transactional channels. Doing so effectively is easier said than done, however.

One who understands that well is Jim Wisner, formerly a VP at Jewel Food Stores and Shaw’s Supermarkets? He states that omnichannel retailing is being able to operate, in any fashion, when and where the customer wants to interact. That can involve customer service via social media, online chat, E-mail, or phone; browsing or shopping in-store or online; receiving products via home delivery or in-store pickup, or old-fashioned aisle browsing; or making coupons or discounts similar across channels. “As much as the ultimate goal needs to be a complete integration of ‘all things at all times,”’ says Wisner, now president of Wisner Marketing, “it is important to make sure that each individual piece can operate functionally and effectively on its own. Pasting an online shopping portal to a Web site that hasn’t been redesigned in years or mobile-optimized won’t attract shoppers.”

DyShaun Muhammad, VP of consultancy Catapult, offers these three key steps for retailers:

Educate Yourself Get to know shoppers, especially those who are most valuable. What really drives a shopper to actually buy a particular category from you? What are the barriers to his or her doing more transactions with you? Where do tools like mobile apps, flexible fulfillment, digital couponing, and more traditional merchandising tools fit in his or her path to purchase for your priority categories? How could you best deploy these tactics to better deliver your retail proposition to drive stronger affinity and share with the shopper? How could your vendors help?

Evaluate Your Ecosystem Once you have a good understanding of shoppers’ needs and key drivers, you must assess your own ecosystem. Do you have the technology, logistics, data, and organizational resources to operate against a unified view of shoppers and their activity across channels? What are the gaps in your systems that impede delivering the quality of experiences that will drive the desired level of shopper loyalty and conversion? What frustrations are shoppers communicating to your customer service teams or via social channels?

Experiment to Find What Works At this point, you can then engage in the hard work of determining which things to experiment against, where to invest, and how to restructure your organization to deliver. It can’t be done all at once, but each step needs to be able to deliver meaningful value for shoppers and make it easier for them to accomplish their shopping goals with you.

As with any major new initiative, obstacles stand in the way of smooth implementation. Wisner, Muhammad, and others point to organizational silos in different departments as one challenge to overcome. “There are operational, organizational, and experiential issues to resolve,” affirms Channie Mize, general manager for the retail sector for Periscope, a McKinsey solution. “It’s easier to do multichannel, but that creates silos and doesn’t extend to customer service. Also, branding may not be consistent across the channels with a multichannel versus omnichannel approach.

“In more traditional multichannel environments,” Mize continues, “the chief merchant officer controls the merchandising in the physical stores, while the CIO, or ‘head of online,’ controls the offering in the online stores. They each have different agendas tied to different or misaligned incentive structures. This can cause the same retailer to cannibalize itself across channels, which inherently provides for less than optimal results for the customer.”

1. Why is omnichannel retailing a bigger challenge for food retailers than general merchandise retailers? 2. Apply DyShaun Muhammad’s three key steps to your favorite supermarket.

3. Comment on this statement: “It’s easier to do multichannel, but that creates silos and doesn’t extend to customer service. Also, branding may not be consistent across the channels with a multichannel versus omnichannel approach.”

4. What are your top five recommendations as to how to best perform as an omnichannel retailer?

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