The Customer Is The Channel

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Despite the accelerating growth of digitally-enabled shopping, the concentration of power in the hands of consumers and the blurring of the lines between retail channels , it’s still common for retailers to report their sales for e-commerce and physical retail as two separate figures. Comparable store sales and sales per square foot are often seen as the primary indicators of retailer health. That’s because, despite all the talk about customer-centricity over the years, the retail industry, by and large, is not organized around customers and does not employ many customer-centric metrics. Whereas consumers think brand first, channel second (if at all), that’s rarely the way retailers behave. This is more than a semantic argument. It directly impacts a brand’s ability to deliver a relevant and remarkable customer experience.

If customers are leveraging all the various tools at their disposal to find the best solutions for their unique situations, it scarcely matters to them how a given retailer is organized, whether different systems “talk to each other,” or how it pays commission to its staff. The typical customer can bounce back and forth between all sorts of websites in nanoseconds, whether they are sitting at home or standing in the aisle of our store or our competitor.

Any retailer that wants to position itself to thrive in this blended channel, customer-in-charge world needs to let go of all this channel nonsense and accept a new reality: the customer is the channel.

Accepting this as reality has several significant implications. First and foremost, it means we need to shift the vertically oriented channel, category, and product-centric thinking that epitomizes the culture of much of retail and move toward customer-centric, horizontal, channel agnostic ways of thinking and acting. We must drop some of the ways we have measured success in the past. We must organize and pay people differently. We must blow up the notion of e-commerce and physical commerce and embrace the blur.

It’s time we realize that it’s all just commerce and that our job is to figure out how to best meet the customer’s needs anytime, anywhere, anyway.

The above is adapted from Chapter 7 of my new best selling book Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption.

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