The omni-channel swap shop.
“Omni-channel” is, at the time of writing, a bit of a buzzword. It’s all about enabling consumers to have a seamless experience whether they are using digital channels from a desktop, a smart phone or a tablet, a telephone or in a physical store/branch.
This paper is an update of research done back in 2008 called “The Multi-channel Swap Shop”. Of course, one massive change since 2008 has been the phenomenal growth of the digital domain – driven by smartphones, tablets and social media. This paper revisits that research to understand how (and if) the way that we use channels is changing.
To attempt to understand this complex channel waltz, we decided to do an in-depth study on a small sample of UK consumers. We asked them about different scenarios, such as shopping, banking and contacting local/central government and got them to talk about how and why they used their preferred channels of choice.
More channel choices tend to drive consumers towards the usage of more rather than fewer channels – and evidence is showing that smartphones accelerate these behaviours. This doesn’t mean that we stop using the high street, it just means that we use it in a slightly different way – occasionally substituting it but also enhancing it by the use of digital channels.
“Omni-channel” consumers are becoming more exploratory, seeking more variety than consumers who buy in a single channel and looking for an integrated and consistent experience between channels. They do not think of channels in isolation but combine them and make decisions based on their motivation, context and attitude towards channels. In short, consumers are not actually “omni-channel” at all – they are goal centric and more companies need to realise channels should facilitate, rather than drive, strategic decisions on customer experience.
“Omni-channel” is all about enabling consumers to have a seamless experience whether they are using digital channels from a desktop, a smart phone or a tablet, a telephone or in a physical store/ branch. Or all of them at the same time. And, yet, from a consumer perspective “omni-channel” actually means very little. We asked consumers whether they felt very “omni”, and they didn’t!
Is the high street dead? Clearly not, but they have noticeably changed with some high streets thriving whilst others struggle to evolve to meet the demands of today’s consumers. New technologies, high street rents, the changing structure of family life and financial pressures caused by a long and deep recession have observably changed the way that we shop, possibly forever. Some significant players of the past are now struggling or have been consigned to history, as relative newcomers provide new choices, channels, experiences and value options.
According to our interviews, certain channels have inherent strengths and weaknesses, and our preferences of use depend on where we are in our decision cycle and what it is we are trying to achieve.
So, although there seem to be certain biases towards certain channels for certain tasks or goals, there are a few other factors that seem to dictate channel choices. The important question that we wanted to answer wasn’t simply what channels consumers used, it was WHY they used them.
Customer’s choice of channel will be influenced by context and the customer’s motivational and emotional state – i.e. what are they looking to achieve, how they feel about it and past experiences. We’ve categorised customers into 3 broad categories that can be used to create appropriate omni-channel customer experience.
There are a number of psychological theories that have been developed to understand why we adopt certain technologies and channels in preference to others. Customer acceptance and adoption of digital channels are coloured by many things - expectations, emotional state and context as explored above. It is more complex than simple usability, in order to fulfil its function the technology/channel needs to be Useful, Usable and (hopefully then) Used.
Of course, there are certain events during the year that tend to skew the motivational state of the consumer and influence behaviour. Christmas is the primary one.
Omni-channel shoppers are more exploratory, seeking more variety than consumers who buy in a single channel and look for an integrated and consistent experience between channels. They do not think of channels in isolation but combine them and made decisions based on their motivation, context and attitude towards channels. In short, consumers are not channel centric – they are goal centric and more companies need to realise channels should facilitate, rather than drive, strategic decisions on customer experience.
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