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Jeff O’Heir, Editor in Chief of Dealerscope, has covered consumer electronics and information technology issues for more than 15 years. Prior to that, he wrote about crime, politics, boxing and the arts for daily newspapers.

The Omni-Channel: Not Just for the Big Boxes


One of the best presentations we've seen in a while came from David F. Cook, Best Buy's director of IT systems strategy, at Aberdeen's recent retail and consumer markets summit, Retail on Broadway, in New York.

Frank, candid and honest, Cook spoke about the challenges Best Buy faces in building its omni-channel strategy, which is all about offering a seamless consumer experience across all of a retailer's shopping channels, including mobile devices, the Internet and physical stores. It boils down to offering consumers the ability to access information and make purchases from wherever they are on whatever device they're using.

Best Buy's challenges in developing an omni-channel are huge, and every small notch it makes in the plan is considered a major win. Independent CE dealers, however, should not be deterred in creating their own omni-channel strategy. For them, the process doesn't have to be nearly as complex as it is for such a large enterprise as Best Buy. In fact, Cook mentioned that in-store pick-up, a relatively simple and easily replicable process, was one of retailers most important and earliest omni-channel implementations.

Independent retailers have to start executing simple strategies like that to remain competitive and to offer the best customer experience, which is the ultimate goal of an omni-channel. George Manlove, CEO and president of Vann's and The ON Store, as well as chairman of the PRO Group, recently urged the buying group's members at their recent spring meeting to start building their own omni-channel strategies.

That means you'll be hearing more about the concept in the coming months and, more importantly, that your competitors will start adding portions of the strategy to their business models.

In its most basic terms, the omni-channel is all about bringing basic, tried-and-true customer service strategies to mobile devices. The good news is that you probably already have many of the omni-channel building blocks in place. Make sure to talk to your buying group directors, suppliers and colleagues to gather the information and best practices you need to build an omni-channel that fits your business.

The most important element in the process is the collection of customer data: emails, cell phone numbers, Twitter accounts and any other methods through which you can communicate with them. Incentivize them to give up that info with special offers that are only given to valued customers, such as invites to exclusive in-store and third-party events, new product/technology sneak peeks and demonstrations, etc.

Explain to them that the most effective way you can make them aware of those exclusive offers is through that type of communication. Show them examples of what they'll be receiving. Explain to them how the whole process is designed to make it easier for them to receive your goods and services, and to save them time and money doing so.

And make sure to reciprocate. Let your customers know that they too can interact with you through those same methods: text, voice, social media, email, etc. Prove to them that you can respond and react to their requests. If you don't, your competitors will.

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