Canadian retailers struggling with omnichannel

New Deloitte research shows merchants in this country are still dragging their heels on omnichannel customer experience (CX). Sears Canada is one retailer ready and willing to do what it takes to catch up to customer expectations.

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When organizers of the Data Marketing Toronto 2016 conference called Renee Racine-Kinnear and asked her to speak on a panel about digital transformation, she thought it was a mistake or a wrong number.

Racine-Kinnear is the new head of digital product design and UX at Sears Canada. She was shocked to be invited because Sears Canada, as we all know, has seen better days. She acknowledged that right off the bat when the panel took place in Toronto recently (she agreed to take part after realizing it wasn’t a prank phone call).

“Who’s surprised to even see Sears Canada on a digital transformation panel?” she asked the audience, eliciting huge laughs. “Maybe you thought we were gone?”

Sears Canada is still here. But like all retailers, it’s struggling to get this omnichannel thing right.

This is the part where a vaudeville comedian should pop up and say, “Times are tough out there for retail right now.” Then the audience should chime in with, “How bad is it?”

Well, it’s so bad that Sears Canada is going all in. First, it hired Racine-Kinnear away from Indigo, the Canadian bookseller that’s still holding its own in a time when Amazon (remember when they mainly sold books?) is testing deliveries via drones.

Second, Sears Canada is pretty much giving Racine-Kinnear carte blanche to do whatever the heck it takes to make omnichannel work. The sense of urgency is palpable.

“The CEO said to me, this is not the time for strategic plans. This is the time for haymakers!” Racine-Kinnear said, pretending to throw huge cartoonish punches from the stage.

“(Sears Canada) has an aging customer base,” she continued in a more serious tone. “If it does not do something now, it will not survive. So digital transformation is a big part of that. That’s why this is possibly the most exciting opportunity ever presented to me.”

Just how exciting could things get at Sears Canada? The site just got a huge makeover. And she said they’re developing a “guided shopping experience” featuring online and in-store kiosk components so “the salesperson will know the moment you walk in the store and have the five mattresses ready to show you that you want to try.”

“We’re going to get to try things that are risky, that are ‘out there,’” she added.  “Like VR, for example. We’re going to say ‘how can we bring VR into the store to make it a better experience for you?’”

Sears Canada isn’t the only Canadian retailer scrambling to catch up to customer expectations. New Deloitte research shows merchants in this country are still dragging their heels on omnichannel customer experience (CX).

Deloitte used 71 criteria to rate how well dozens of vendors in Canada and the U.S. deliver digital CX in 14 retail categories ranging from hardware to beauty products.

It concluded that “U.S. retailers (are) outpacing their Canadian counterparts’ omnichannel offerings in most categories.”

While Canadian retailers are good at everything up to the point of purchase, Americans outshine us in all the CX stuff that comes after, namely helping shoppers buy, ship and track items, plus post-purchase customer support.

The major ingredients missing from Canadian retail, Deloitte suggested, are mobile and analytics. It called analytics essential to “forming key customer insights, identifying growth opportunities and determining the smartest omnichannel investments for their company.”

What should omnichannel CX look like through Deloitte’s eyes?

“The complete integration of web, mobile and physical stores — a seamless, cross-platform experience” including “consistent inventory information and shopping basket availability across all channels.” Deloitte said it also means “significant post-purchase support with features such as product recommendations or allowing product returns with digital receipts.”

Phew. Racine-Kinnear cut to the chase by describing the omnichannel conundrum this way: “How can we knock that wall down between those two (retail) experiences, the digital and the physical?”

Sears Canada is pulling out all the stops to do that. We’ll find out in the next six to 12 months if wasn’t too late.

Image: iStock

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