Australian retail has been looking for words to define itself for some time.
“Bricks and mortar” retail has been an oldie but a goodie for a long time, as has “ high street” retail. Then along came “online” retail, and “pure play” retail became the hottest ticket in town.
But as the speed of change in Australian retail continues unabated, so has our stubborn quest to define ourselves by channel. “Multi-channel” retail was an attempt to give some form to those retailers who had both online and bricks and mortar offers.
And finally, perhaps in an attempt to call on some form of divine intervention, came “omnichannel” retail. This is my personal worst.
The name represents a problem
You see, the real problem is that, whilst I fully understand our industry grasping for ways to redefine our businesses by channel, we are falling into a fatal trap.
Simply put, it is clear that customers don’t engage with channels, they engage with brands. So retailers, by attempting to define themselves by channel—I call it “channel anxiety”—are in fact amplifying a disconnect between them and their customers, who want to engage holistically with their brand of choice.
The art for a retail brand is to appear seamless and whole to customers as they traverse your brand according to their mood, their location, and their access points.
What is clear is that the customer path to purchase is less linear than it has ever been. Customers have multiple interactions on their path to purchase. In fact, the attribution of sales to one channel or another is going to get harder.
The three pillars of retail today and tomorrow
I would argue that over time, “ retail “will be called, well ... “ retail” (surprise surprise). But not just yet. The folks at Westfield refer to it as “total retail”, which I rather like.
But here at NORA.org.au, Australia’s newest industry collective for retail, our term is “new retail”. That’s why we call ourselves “The Voice of New Retail in Australia”. What do we mean by “ new retail”? Well, we have attempted to simplify our focus by referencing three pillars that are driving Australian retail’s future.
The first one is technology. Hard to argue with that.
The second pillar is deep customer centricity. And not just a dramatic improvement in customer service, but rather a deep dive into data and insights. Understanding our customers, personally and holistically, at scale, is the new holy grail.
And lastly, a global and borderless retail. A recognition that the ‘ flat world’ is, in fact, an opportunity, not a threat, and that fast-growing consumer markets globally, and indeed in our region, will ensure as an industry, that our addressable markets will boom.
As the old saying goes, “ a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” and perhaps as an industry, we should take heed.
Instead of an obsessive focus on the channel, let’s apply that obsessive focus to our customer, ensuring a frictionless and fulfilling customer experience and interaction with our brand, wherever, whenever. With advances in technology, particularly mobile and social, and an unprecedented hyper-connectivity, the customer is well and truly n control. They have the wheel, and our ‘surrender’ should be a sweet one. We get control in this new world by giving it up.
The customer is king, and if we know that if we don’t look after the king, we should prepare for the gallows.
Paul is the Executive Chairman and CEO of NORA.org.au, The Voice of New Retail in Australia. Prior to that, he was the founder and CEO of DealsDirect, a pioneer Australian online retailer, which he exited at the end of 2012. Paul is a registered psychologist with a keen interest in organizational psychology. He is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and sits on a number of advisory boards and not for profits. He is a keen surfer and blues guitarist.