In conjunction with our publication, MyCustomer, we recently carried out research  into the issues confronting people in customer-facing job roles, resulting in some valuable insight and a wealth of firsthand feedback. In this post we hone in on some of the discussions we had with retailers during the study, and ask how retail brands can keep up with the rapidly changing expectations of their customers.


There is no doubt that when it comes to communication and purchasing experiences, customer expectations are higher than they have ever been. In addition to a physical store (or in many cases ‘instead of’), retailers must now compete across desktop websites, mobile sites, telephone contact centres, smart TV, social media, partner channels and many more. As a result, the term ‘omnichannel’ has become synonymous with the industry; its definition used by professionals to represent the experience consumers have across all of a brand’s multiple channels.   

There is a very unpredictable nature to omnichannel customers. In a study of 1,000 UK consumers, GI Insight’s report The Omnichannel Imperative  found that 71% of customer journeys begin online yet just 42% typically buy via the web, while 18% start with a visit to a shop but 31% end up purchasing in store. Meanwhile, 25% of respondents reported that they don’t have any ‘usual’ purchasing channel at all.

While the vast majority of marketers agree that some form of multichannel strategy is important for their organisation, according to EPiServer only 39% feel they have the ability to recognise where a prospect is on the customer journey. In 2014, 47% of companies were citing IT roadblocks as a major barrier to delivering more joined up efforts.

Data dilemma

Issues around technology are having a significant impact upon our audience’s ability to deliver an omnichannel experience. Just over half of marketers (51%) claim to be unable to react to new channels and devices due to outdated tech, and almost half (49%) have to go to IT when they need to add, manage or edit content on their websites.

Data is the key. Capturing, using and making sense of customer data is what keeps retailers up at night. For some, this is simply down to a lack of tools, with 36% of businesses still not using a CRM and 62% having no marketing automation tools in place. By using technology to interrogate and merge data obtained through consumer activities across channels, it is possible to create a detailed picture of individual customers and their preferences. Leaning on this information to improve targeting of sales and marketing content can dramatically improve conversion rates and purchases.

Baby steps

For many retailers, tackling the omnichannel challenge means a new approach to the following areas:

  1. Establishing ways of understanding the omnichannel customer. This means having the data in some form or another that will help identify patterns of activity. Which means unearthing some unpredictable purchase journeys too!

  2. Establishing objectives. With a better idea of the mix of channels that might work, retailers can create objectives that will be more likely to lead to business success.

  3. Establishing new processes. Aligning operational, organisational and experiential agendas to support the objectives. Some process changes may be subtle, while others may be entirely new and require significant financial investment and even some cultural adjustment.

  4. Creating a 360 degree view of the customer – By doing this and sharing with all departments they will have access to the same information and therefore have a consistent view of the customer. Similarly, be sure that data is seen by customers in a consistent manner (.e.,g that the price of a single item is the same across all channels).

  5. Ensuring technology works for all. The CRM system should be suitable for use by marketing, sales and customer service. Beyond that the CRM system should be integrated with the ERP system as well as being integrated with social media functionality.


Unfortunately meeting these demands is far from straightforward. But with a shift in focus, investment in the right technology and learning from the resulting insight it is possible to make major gains toward omnichannel success.

To discover more challenges being faced by today’s retailers and other industries download our insights report ‘The 10 Marketing Priorities of Customer-Centric Brands’.

For further reading take a look at our blog which highlights additional challenges presented in our report.