The True Channel
There are two sides to becoming a true merged channel retailer: the customer experience side, and the retailers view. Put another way, there are two entirely distinct battles to be fought. The "retailers view" side is where a wide range of tools are used to analyze what is going on today across all of the retailers channels—as in the monitored customer described above. Done properly, the customer will never even be aware of these sophisticated changes.One chain executive described a scenario where a customer wanting books about visiting Hawaii would come into the store. Instead of just finding books on that island paradise, the travel section would provide all of the services needed by someone considering a trip. When the customer went to checkout, they might be handed four books, two plane tickets and a hotel reservation printout, aided by in-store kiosks connected to not only Borders Web site but to partners as well. Whether Borders will ultimately realize that vision is unknown. And if it does realize it, the success of the plan may have little to do with the execution. Perhaps pricing issues and having stores in the wrong locations could hamper their efforts. If so, I would hope the industry would be sophisticated enough to look at the reasons for a success or failure and not condemn an aggressive merged channel effort. Why did Connecticut sue Best Buy? Click here to find out. Unfortunately, history suggests that businesses often learn the wrong lessons from successes and failures. Making matters worse is that the retailers who are most likely to take the merged channel plunge most enthusiastically are the ones who have been faring poorly on their own. Lets face it. A retail chain that is pulling in strong profits, great growth, happy investors and a more than satisfactory market share is unlikely to agree to radical changes. Statistically, that means that the brave souls who do will likely have multiple burdens to overcome. A merged channel strategy might be expensive to deploy initially, but its going to prove to be the most effective over time in attracting and retaining customers and, on the back end, letting management make the best decisions about resources. But like any experienced show buyer knows, the best-fitting shoe will almost always—in the beginning—hurt an awful lot. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. To read earlier retail technology opinion columns from Evan Schuman, please click here. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.
The customer experience is the opposite. The retailer should see very little change, but the customer will see everything differently. The Borders announcement in March that it would sever its partnership with Amazon and revamp its stores is an excellent example of an attempt at radically adjusting the customer experience.