Omnichannel, GDPR and the smart customer. How can retail respond to the increasingly demanding modern shopper?

For those of us who, like me, have been around long enough to remember the "corner shop" of the early 1970s or the "mom and pop store" as it is known in the USA, shopping was once a very simple process. There wasn’t much choice of where to shop, often you were stuck with whatever was closest, although you might be tempted to walk another block to the next corner shop if there was a better choice, prices or service there. Even supermarkets were a relatively new phenomena in the UK back then, and many were out of reach of those who couldn’t drive. Although mail-order existed, it tended to be niche and served very particular markets.

Fast forward to the modern day, and things have changed. Yes, the local "corner" shop has survived and even flourished, albeit it in a modernized form and now often run by a chain, not a family. However, the advent of the Internet has totally changed the retail landscape, and some would say it has loaded the dice in favor of the consumer. This reassignment of power from the retailer to the shopper is great for the consumer but has produced a heap of challenges for business.

Amazon has of course been a big player in changing this landscape by responding to customer demand, or even pre-empted it. In his 2018 annual statement to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said: “One thing I love about customers is that their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary.’ I see that cycle of improvement happening at a faster rate than ever before.”

Like many people, I do a lot of shopping online, but equally, I visit physical outlets on a regular basis. When in a bricks and mortar store, I will often quickly browse Amazon to benchmark that store’s prices before committing to buy. I am not alone in this habit and, as shoppers become increasingly digital and data speeds get faster, this type of benchmarking is becoming the way most people shop.

Now, imagine I am in a store and a quick search of the product I am interested in reveals that the store also has an online shop offering free delivery of the item to my door, very useful to me if the item happens to be a big or heavy item. Or, consider the reverse situation: I am browsing their website for something I need fast and find that I can pop into their local store and collect the item now. No need to even wait for next-day delivery. This is an omnichannel retail experience, and the retailer that is able to offer me a seamless and consistent experience across all channels has a better chance of closing the sale. According to Aberdeen Group, companies with strong omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of customers: companies with weak omnichannel strategies retain only 33%.

In an article that appeared on, Managing Editor Neil Davey nails it in one paragraph, saying:

“In order for organizations to evolve themselves beyond a product-centric approach, to a customer-centric approach, they must first swap their inside-out thinking for an outside-in view. The best starting point here is, surprise surprise, the customers themselves. That means speaking with customers, analyzing their opinions and behaviors, and getting an insight into their objectives. You need to understand what channels they prefer for what scenarios, so that you can build up a picture of channel use among different consumer personas and profiles.”

What does this mean? It means you must understand and even pre-empt your customer’s demands. Today, data plays a big part in this understanding of the customer. Amazon knew this right from the start and their ability to collect, store and analyze that data has been at the core of their success. Indeed, the storage part indirectly led to the development of Amazon’s cloud storage business, currently the most profitable part of the company.

This is just one side of the data story, the other side being data you serve to your customer. To delight your customer today, you need coherent communications across all channels. A business must deliver consistent content across the board – to the customer, the employee and to every touchpoint in the sales process. That includes price data, as nothing annoys a customer more than seeing the same business offer different prices in store and online.

Clearly, data is the backbone of omnichannel retailing. However, the introduction of the new GDPR data regulations within the EU creates challenges for retailers. After spending years collecting and storing troves of customer data, retailers now need to ensure they are compliant with the new standards. Given that GDPR covers any information held on a customer, from purchase history to CCTV records, it has concrete implications. For example, email promotions now require active consent from the customer. These implications can have significant time and cost implications for retailers as they strive to achieve full compliance.

It’s not all negative, though, because GDPR also creates opportunities for retailers to rethink how they handle data and engage with their customers. Through a proper data audit, retailers can reassess the value of their data and put in place streamlined data governance and management processes that will help earn trust and deliver better experiences to customers across channels.

Things have moved on a lot since the corner shop days of my youth, and we’ve seen a significant shift of power away from the retailer to the customer. The collection, flow, analysis and use of data - the data journey - has accelerated exponentially, and will continue to do so. This shift of power and increasing digitization of the retail environment, combined with the expansion of channels available to the shopper for browsing, comparison and buying, presents the retailer with significant challenges – and opportunities. A successful implementation of the omnichannel retail experience will ensure that retailers are ready to not only meet the challenges, but also to fully exploit the opportunities they present.


Glenn Le Santo
Glenn Le Santo

Editor in Chief, International, at Orange Business. I'm in charge of our International website and the English language blogs at Orange Business. In my spare time I'm literally captain of my own ship, spending my time on the wonderful rivers and canals of England.