Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Retail goes omni

Published in Jan-Feb 2017
Moving to an omni-channel experience is a dramatic shift in the retail business but one filled with immense opportunity.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

To date, no one has figured out the key to exactly when, why and how the contemporary Pakistani consumer makes a purchase. It is, however, assured that the customer’s path to purchase is moving away from a single channel. The average consumer today browses the web and mobile apps to identify and review products, and then buys over $90 million worth of products and services online every year.

This is a small fraction of the $152 billion sales from legacy retail channels, which, according to Planet Retail (a global retail forecasting firm), is on track for an annual growth rate of eight percent. Yet, while digital sales currently account for less than one percent of the retail market, by 2020, conservative estimates quote online sales as crossing $300 million (3x growth).

Yet, most people cite even higher growth rates, including Pakistan’s Commerce Minister, Khurram Dastgir Khan, who predicted revenues crossing one billion dollars (10x growth) by 2020 (source: Brecorder.com). Some conferences have even presented eye watering numbers of five billion dollars by 2020. Yet, even at these levels, they are within the range of Direct-to-Consumer channels (including digital) which globally account for an average of three percent of a retailer’s annual turnover. Clearly, there is a lot of growth to come in this segment.

Foodpanda disclosed earnings of one billion rupees in FY 2015-16 and is already eyeing two billion rupees in FY 2016-17, and this, with a daily volume of just 70,000 orders from Pakistan’s top four cities. Daraz.pk was the first Pakistani store to cross the one billion rupee sales mark in 24 hours in the Black Friday sale.

Such results will propel Pakistan further down the road of innovation. As telecom companies create ever faster pathways on which our mobile phones and gadgets can connect, technology will become more integrated and important in our daily lives. For the connected consumer, the divide between what we do online and what we do offline is blurring; in fact, maybe even as you are reading this article, you may have several devices nearby connected to the net.

As technology changes behaviour and expectations, marketers and retailers will need to cater to the preferences of these new consumers, and this will mean giving them an experience that is neither offline or online, but an all-in-one holistic experience, or, an omni-channel experience.

What is an omni-channel experience? Imagine your customer is looking for a particular item and your website or app says it is currently not in stock. This is not a great experience for your potential buyer, and you lose a sale, despite your investment in multiple channels. Such channels can include websites, blogs and other platforms like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. The problem is that most retailers lack the ability to maintain a consistent flow of information through their multiple channels and hence provide a seamless customer experience. Ultimately, it boils down to the depth of the integration defined as “multi-channel sales and a marketing approach that delivers an integrated shopping experience to the customer, whether they are shopping from a phone, a store, mobile device or a website” (source: techtarget.com).


As technology changes behaviour and expectations, marketers and retailers will need to cater to the preferences of these new consumers, and this will mean giving them an experience that is neither offline or online, but an all-in-one holistic experience, or, an omni-channel experience.


An omni-channel approach takes into account each platform and device in the customer journey, weaving them together in the user’s experiences. This knowledge is used to deliver an integrated experience, aligning objectives, messaging, design, goals and KPIs across each channel and device. If well implemented, it means that a customer can create an account online, place products they searched in their cart from a mobile app, call to request a change in their online order, and pick up their purchase from a brick-and-mortar store by paying cash – and all this seamlessly.

Will such an investment in integrating channels pay off? According to a 2015 study by IDC, omni-channel shoppers have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel (source: idc.com).

Media Idee was approached by Maral to develop an omni channel experience for their customers. Maral is a UK brand that caters to the young woman looking for her first evening gown. Shopping for gowns can end up being a complex process, particularly for women looking for the ‘perfect outfit’ for the first time, and who want the best value for their money. They are also ‘time crunched’, and use multiple devices to find the item they are looking for quickly.

Most digital stores tend to work in silos, without any clear multi-channel SOPs. This is despite the fact that although most customers start their journey on one platform, they rarely end up using the same one at the end of it. Although most sales still happen in store, Maral found that their customers had already researched what they wanted to buy by the time they came to the stores. Alternatively, many customers came to the stores, but then bought online later. The challenge was to optimise every channel in order to avoid a potential customer eventually ‘defecting’ to a competitor. To do so, it was essential that all channels work in tandem with the call centre and the warehouse (to ensure seamless inventory taking). Media Idee’s solution was to integrate digital within the physical stores (known as the ‘phygital’ approach). This necessitated creating the right culture, creating and developing the ‘Maral story’, and then putting in the tools that would amplify this story across all media in order to create a community around Maral. Here is how we went about it.

1) Start with the internal culture

Omni-channels rely on technology and logistics and the main logistical challenges relate to handling returns (can online customers return to any store?) and shipping (either directly to the customer’s home or to a store for pick-up – especially when the item in question is located far away). The challenge is to create an organisational culture that supports an omni-channel approach. Simply put: achieving a seamless shopping experience for the customer requires an equally seamless internal structure. It is therefore imperative that the company perceives its online and in-store marketing as a holistic entity.

This means fostering a mindset built around the customer journey which takes into account either a close collaboration between the online and in-store marketing teams (if different units), or combining both units into a single unit and ensuring that compensation systems, employees, and teams are set up to support the omni-channel shopping experience. The right metrics need to be built in to incentivise employees to support the experience; otherwise, the company will end up hindering its own goals. For example, before we stepped in, Maral’s e-commerce sales teams were rewarded only for online purchases. The likely output of continuing this policy would have been a lack of incentive to run innovative digital-to-store campaigns that would generate in-store sales. Similarly, we had to ensure that the Maral store teams were rewarded for contributing to the sale, even if ultimately converted online. This meant fusing together two separate marketing budgets (digital and traditional) into a single one and then figuring out the best way to spend it.


“Digital goes beyond e-commerce alone; these channels also motivate walk-ins. This influence doesn’t end at the entrance to the store’s doors however. Smartphones are the new virtual consultants for shoppers even inside stores.”


2) Integrating technology into the customer journey

The next step was customising the technology to meet the requirements of the business. We focussed our efforts on four areas: one, attract by integrating those channels that create awareness and discovery (search, social and traditional marketing); two, sell through in-store POS, e-commerce and click-and-collect functionalities; three, retain through loyalty programmes, gift cards and discounting and integration with iBeacons; and four, manage the complete operational module for sales, warehouses and inventory.

The solution we developed enabled us to balance both standardised and personalised services (within our limitations) and empower our customer with tools usually reserved for bigger businesses. Once a customer decides on an item, she can place the order online from her mobile phone. She can also request the assistance of a design consultant and delivery to her home address.

Part of developing this process entailed asking questions such as: “how can we help our design consultants do their jobs better?” The answer was to arm them with in-depth knowledge of the portfolio and provide tools to help them take customers through various designs options to choose the one that would best suit their preferences. They could use the system to provide the right set of recommendations, ranging from product information, as well as offering alternative fulfilment options or ‘flash offers’ (critical to customer success). When armed with such tools and technologies, store consultants can act as (in)credible brand ambassadors, able to drive customer loyalty while improving retention.

We also ensured that manager level employees had data on the products available across different distribution channels; we gave them access to powerful analytics and insights, ranging from real time ‘revenue by store’, to ‘cash in hand’ data, to enable them to make decisions on the fly. We set up the stores to act as mini-fulfilment hubs, enabling ordering online and picking up in-store; online to home delivery; in-store pickup or ordering in-store to pick at another store – thus giving customers flexibility of delivery.

Interactive displays were installed in-store, through ‘limitless shelves’, so that Maral could sell products that were not immediately available in-store. Customers could view such products in-store or online, and have them delivered directly to their home. This initiative also brought in traction of niche products and enabled Maral to test new products without them taking up expensive space in the store. These solutions were also designed to take advantage of pop-up stores. Infrastructure is a costly investment, but a pop-up store can be set up and removed within hours. All that is needed (beyond inventory and manpower) is a system that can handle payments on the fly. Our POS solution enabled this. Tapping into the power of the cloud, we could run the store anytime, anywhere, on any device taking orders via PayPal, credit cards or even cash.

3) Put measurements in place

Retailers can harvest the revenues accruing via an omni-channel strategy, but only if they know how to attract and connect with their consumers. Doing so requires a deep knowledge of how these shoppers behave. Engaging omni-channel shoppers starts with customer understanding. This requires knowing factors such as gender, location, search habits, demographics, topics of interests, media consumption habits, day parting, what interests them and where they shop in-store. But that is not enough. To be a top retailer requires an understanding at an even greater depth. It requires measuring the influence of all touch points on the customer journey to purchase (online, offline and across platforms and devices) by the use of sophisticated analytics. The attribution platform should be powerful enough to track through TV, display, search, social, mobile, email, and direct mail, thus providing a holistic view of how a customer makes a purchase.

To conclude, moving to an omni-channel retail experience is a dramatic shift in the retail business, but one filled with immense opportunity for companies that are quick to start working on building these processes and cultures. Customers today have high expectations when it comes to channel integration and the gap between their expectations and the retailer’s capabilities are widening daily. Omni-channel excellence requires investment in multiple capabilities, cross-functional alignment and cooperation. Ultimately, it boils down to the culture, team structures, incentives and analytics that come together to support a common goal of attracting more loyal and valuable omni-channel shoppers. By creating a seamless shopping experience, a company is more likely to drive sales across channels and create happier customers and stakeholders.

Umair Mohsin is Global Director, MI Digital. umair.mohsin@midigital.com

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