Retailers struggle to capitalise on omni-channel opportunity

Today’s tech-savvy consumers demand a seamless shopping experience, featuring online access to cross-channel inventory and the option to pick up web purchases in-store.

Yet retailers are struggling to make that kind of experience a reality, due in part to organisational, operational and technological constraints, according to research by Forrester Consulting.

Just 36% of the retail and manufacturing decision-makers say their companies were able to provide the essential elements of seamless retailing, while 94% said their company faced significant barriers to becoming an integrated omni-channel company, according to Forrester’s survey of 256 decision-makers from retail and manufacturing organisations across the US, UK, France and Germany. The study was commissioned by Accenture and commerce platform provider Hybris software. The views of 1,500 multi-channel shoppers were also gathered for the study. 

Obstacles for retailers

Forty per cent of retailers said they had experienced difficulty integrating back-office technology across all of their channels. Conflicting priorities and organisational silos remain a key challenge, even though 46% of respondents said their company already had a dedicated omni-channel team with cross-function representation. Additional barriers cited in the study include problems in sharing customer data and analytics between channels or locations, as well as a lack of training for in-store employees. 

As for shoppers, street visibility plays an important role, giving brick-and-mortar brands an advantage over web-only companies. Indeed, 50% of respondents expect to be able to pick up purchases made online in a physical store.

Seventy-one per cent of shoppers surveyed expect to find in-store inventory information online, regarding it as critical to their purchase decision. In fact, 39% of respondents said they were unlikely or very unlikely to visit a retailer’s store if they could not do so. This is an area that requires urgent attention from companies, the research suggests, as only 32% currently offer this facility.

The findings suggest that customers, rather than retailers, are defining competitive shopping patterns, and business will go to the companies that can provide the omni-channel sales experience shoppers are looking for.

“Retailers that fail to understand the significance of this gap in service and sales delivery are leaving themselves exposed to a significant competitive disadvantage,” Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at Hybris, said in a news release. He added that “this is going to be vital to meeting customers’ expectations and, frankly, survival for retailers.”

Samantha White ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.