How retailers can avoid fake omnichannel

Retailers today are in a constant search for the industry’s Holy Grail – delivering an omnichannel brand experience across all touchpoints. Unfortunately, this quest to deliver on the promise of the omnichannel experience has given rise to a troublesome and pervasive problem known as fake omnichannel or “’fomni.”

Amid their search, retailers confront a wide array of commerce-related software solutions masquerading as omnichannel and promising to provide the type of seamless experiences shoppers now expect.

Fomni tends to be characterized by a collection disparate systems stitched together that can never truly communicate with each other in real time or with the high level of accuracy needed to execute omnichannel. Fomni systems can’t produce a single system of record for customer, inventory or order information, breaking the customer experience and putting retailers at a competitive disadvantage.
Determining whether a retailer’s solution is true omnichannel or merely fomni is simple, just look for these warning signs:

• If your IT team needs to work closely with marketing to implement new ways to engage with shoppers, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If shoppers are frustrated with the lack of visibility into inventory on your ecommerce site or when they are in-store, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If your prices are inconsistent across channels, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If you don’t have visibility into every customer interaction, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If you’re sending out marketing emails advertising products that aren’t in stock at the nearest store, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If your sales are declining and you are ceding market share to more digitally adept competitors, then you’ve definitely got fomni.

I’ve experienced firsthand the problems fomni can create. Recently, my wife and I found a light fixture we wanted on the website of a major indoor lighting chain. However, ordering it online meant it would take too long to arrive, so we went to a local store and bought it there instead. Later, we bought a related accessory online to match it. A few days after the online purchase was delivered, we received an email promotion, offering 50% off the light fixture we had already purchased for full price.

This example is a major fomni fail because their ecommerce system had no visibility into in-store purchases. What’s worse, when I called to explain the problem, the call center I reached only handled online orders and had no visibility into any in-store transactions. The company wound up with a frustrated customer and, after I returned the light fixture and then bought it again at half off, they wound up with 50% less revenue and incurred increased operational costs. That’s the dark side of fomni, but it doesn’t have to that way.

Retailers will never deliver a true omnichannel experience if they just get a new POS or e-commerce system. Rather, the right foundational system needs to be put in place to run the business. Parents know all too well how difficult it can be to get their children to eat their vegetables, but they also know how important the nutrients vegetables provide are to establishing a foundation for long-term, sustainable health. To build a true omnichannel brand experience, retailers need to eat their vegetables and focus first on making sure the business has a foundation in place which seamlessly unifies customer, inventory, financial and order data with customer-facing systems.


Sadly, most retail businesses today skip their vegetables and, as a result, have point solutions with data spread across CRM, e-commerce, store operations, marketing and financial systems. In fact, many retailers are working on older foundational ERP systems based on technology built before the Internet even existed. They may have gone through several upgrades and bolted on content management and ecommerce systems, but the fundamental basis of their core system is still built to meet the needs of individual departments and not customers. Ultimately, these systems are loosely integrated at best. They’ll never reach omnichannel nirvana. In fact, it’s probably perpetuating the problem rather than solving it.

Indeed, fomni can result in significant expenditures in IT time and resources as retailers struggle to manage multiple licenses and integrations and grapple with the ripple effect a change to one application can wreak across the environment.  Today’s customers have little sympathy for the limitations of retailers’ existing systems and the fomni experience they enable. Consumers expect the company they’re doing business with to have real time access to the same customer, inventory and order data no matter the channel they’re interacting with.
Don't be fooled, or worse yet, victimized by fomni solutions. True omnichannel allows retailers to serve the needs of customers across every touchpoint. If current systems can’t do that, then you’ve probably got fomni and its time to eat those vegetables.

Andy Lloyd is general manager of commerce products at Netsuite, the leading provider of cloud-based financials/ERP and omnichannel software suites. In his role at NetSuite, Lloyd leads the company’s commerce product and new business development. 


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