Omni-channel Retail: A Shopper’s Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I was out looking for separate units of a standalone refrigerator and an upright freezer and I decided to visit one of the big named retail stores. The cheerful associate in the appliances department greeted me and asked me the purpose of my visit. After explaining, he promptly informed me that they only carry 2-in-1 combination units of refrigerators and freezers. He then suggested that if I insisted on separate units and didn’t need immediate delivery, he could order the products to be delivered to my address. I was okay with a later delivery so I gave my consent.

We started browsing through the catalog on his PC and narrowed the selection down to the units that met my needs. He then tried placing the order. While the order for the refrigerator went through fine, he could not find the freezer in the ordering system. A few frantic calls later, I was informed that the freezer was available only through their “online store.” I was confused and asked him what the difference was between the “online store” and the site from which he ordered the refrigerator. He said that the refrigerator was simply not in stock at the store and had to be shipped out of their North Carolina Distribution Center. However, the freezer was only available from their “online store” and would need to be ordered separately. He then logged into a separate system and placed the order for the freezer. He said the delivery would be made in about five days and thanked me for my business. I left the store exactly an hour after I walked in.

As promised, the delivery crew showed up five days later. They brought the refrigerator in and set it up. As they asked me to sign my paperwork, I inquired about what happened to the freezer. They looked at the order form one more time and said they only saw the refrigerator. When I mentioned that the freezer was ordered from the “online store,” the delivery crew said that they knew nothing about “online store” orders and that I should call the store that placed the order. When I called the brick-and-mortar store, they in turn gave me a separate 1-800 number to call the “online store.” Finally, after talking to the “online store” personnel, I was told the freezer was shipped direct from the manufacturer in California and hence could not be combined with the refrigerator delivery.

The whole interaction got me thinking about my experience from a shopper’s perspective. To me it felt like I was dealing with two different companies. Why did the store associate need to access two different systems to place the order? Why can’t he have one order entry system through which he places orders for both the products? Why do I, as a shopper, have to sit and wait for an hour as the associate tries to figure out why he can’t order both products from the same ordering system?

What if the associate had given me a choice of having both the products delivered at the same time? The busy professional that I am, I would have much preferred one consolidated shipment so that I did not have to sit and wait for the delivery for two different shipments. With an intelligent order fulfillment capability with network wide visibility, including the supplier schedules, the retailer could have coordinated the refrigerator (which was coming from the retailer’s North Carolina DC) and the freezer (which was a direct ship from the manufacturer in California) to be consolidated before delivering to my address. However in this case it is clear that the retailer simply did not have such fulfillment capability.

The aforementioned lack of network wide visibility has caused other issues as well. When I called back to the brick-and-mortar store to enquire about the freezer delivery, it would have been nice if the store associate could have looked up the status of my order himself instead of asking me to call the 1-800 number for their “online store.” Is this a cross-channel visibility issue or a store associate training issue or perhaps both? Also, the delivery personnel should have known that I placed an order for two items. They did not have the visibility to the full order.

All in all, shoppers like me are looking for a true “omni-channel” experience. I need the retailer to show one face to me. I do not need to know how many order entry systems the retailer has or how many different points from which the items of my order may originate. I don’t need to sit and wait for two separate deliveries of what I treat to be the same order nor do I need to wait for an hour and watch the store associate experiment with two ordering systems.

While several retailers are talking about the “omni-channel” promise, they are still in very early stages of the “art of the possible” with the available capabilities. With sustained investments and a commitment to “omni-channel”, they will be better prepared to satisfy customers with heightened expectations.

What do you think of my shopping experience? Have you had similar experiences? I would love to hear about them and your thoughts, both good and bad, about the experience.

  2 Comments   Comment

  1. Rahul Gupta

    I had a similar experience while buying from an Indian e-retail website. I’d ordered a couple of T-shirts but while placing the order I did not notice that the website had sourced them from two different wholesalers. I was surprised when the order (2 T-shirts) got delivered in 2 different consignments on different dates. I called up customer care and came to know that the two wholesalers had independently shipped their products. i would have surely preferred a single delivery instead of the separate consignments.

    • Madhav Durbha

      Rahul – Thanks for sharing your experience. Several retailers and e-tailers started the Omnichannel journey with focus on the front end website experience. However, the fulfillment capability is becoming more and more important as shoppers get savvy and are expecting more from their shopping experience. So seems like our experiences are in line with the broader shopper base. Retailers will need to focus more on the fulfillment aspects of the Omnichannel.


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