Canadian retailers are taking steps to make omni-channel happen, but they struggle with a lack of clear ownership, according to a new survey of retail leaders by Deloitte Canada and Tulip Retail.

When asked who is in charge of making omni-channel decisions, 33% of respondents said operations, 19% said IT, 14% said marketing, 13% said strategy, and 12% said digital/ecommerce.

“What we see from the study is everyone is trying to work out who is driving the bus and who is owning the omni-channel experience,” said Jennifer Lee, partner and national retail leader at Deloitte. “I think they’re still on the journey of figuring it out.”

The study, titled Retail’s Omnichannel Omnichallenge, also found budgetary constraints, supply chain operations, lack of IT investments and ineffective marketing are leading constraints for improving omni-channel capabilities.

But, Canadian retailers can’t afford to move slowly. “The market shifts very quickly… The pace of change of technology is about 18 months, from inception to maturity,” said Lee. “If the organization can’t adapt quickly and they’re building ecommerce platforms and building the foundational capabilities, the market will have shifted.”

And with increased competition from ecommerce players and global retailers entering Canada, “the leadership has to keep an eye on who truly are our competitors, how fast are they moving and can we keep up,” said Lee.

While digital is undoubtedly changing the face of retail, the study confirms that the in-store experience is still an integral part of retailers’ businesses. About 70% of respondents said more than 50% of their sales comes from the physical store.

“We’re at a point now where the consumer is still buying at the store, but they’re pre-shopping online,” said Lee. “The customer’s path to purchase is now more enabled. [For example], a customer goes online, starts shopping for the dress she’s looking for, but ultimately will go into the store to try it on. So the role of the store becomes very important in omni-channel. The store is not dead by any stretch, the store just needs to be reimaged.”

The study shows many retailers are investing in strategies to drive traffic and build long-term relationships with customers:

  • 70% of respondents have loyalty programs and 40% of those plan to spend more on loyalty programs over the next 12 months
  • 51% are deploying in-store initiatives to drive in-store sales, while 47% are planning ship-from store distribution.

But, greater investments are needed in leveraging analytics and customer relationship management. Only 30% of retailers are investing in analytics to build customer loyalty and 22% said they would like to use analytics to improve business decisions.

Retailers also need to give more support to their sales associates: less than 40% of retailers have provided their sales associates with the mobile technology to allow them to execute the in-store retail strategy.

“Everyone recognizes that store associates are crucial to conversion. The challenge is how do you empower them,” said Lee. “In the early days, a lot of retailers were throwing iPads in their hands. They’re now realizing that there’s more to it than just giving them iPads. The systems behind the sales associates need to be enabled, [such as] real-time inventory, mobile POS and the ability to have dynamic pricing, if required, by location. All of this activates the in-store experience.”

But, Lee added, the “store of the future” isn’t about making your store look like an Apple store. “The store of the future has to reflect the brand experience… It’s not about jamming all this technology into the store. It’s about [identifying] the one or two things that make the customer experience difficult in the path to purchase and removing those impediments.”

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