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Cologne in May. Jackets are worn open, because the visitors soak in the sun while talking on the grounds of the "Hall", where the who's who of decision-makers from the retail sector gathers at the 2019 EHI Retail Omnichannel Days.

Inside, the retail sector reflects its crisis. Customers are migrating to platforms or looking for "online pure players". Investors profit from double-digit growth figures, but brands are losing on importance. "Shopping" itself becomes an event, charged with emotions. Two challenges emerge from this:

  1. The customers bind themselves less to brands.
  2. Brick & mortar shops are counting a continuous decline in visitor numbers.

Which topics are driving the industry?

The omnichannel approach itself has not proven to be the single point of truth. One aspect of this, however, is a key point for speakers from the retail sector: Click&Collect. It is seen as one solution for resolving the channel conflict: If customers buy online, the local store simply lacks the necessary turnover. Click&Collect, on the other hand, is able to attract more visitors to the stores. The additional customers on site offer the opportunity to make the order more valuable for customers and suppliers: by adding more articles.

A change of mind is necessary: Customer First!

If the conflict of online vs offline is still debated, this could be an indication that companies are stuck in internal processes. Some participants, on the other hand, already are role models in digitization: already thinking from the customer's point of view. By claiming the "Uberization of Retail", NewStore is trying to reinvent retail and wants to put power (here: point of sale) in the pocket of the digital customer's jacket. Cyberport raises the question of how technology - especially AI - can meet customer needs. Their approach: reduction to functions that benefit the customer as well as the company. One example of this is dynamic pricing: controlled by artificial intelligence, prices are constantly adjusted according to customer requirements: up until the cash register at the store.

What significance does this have for business customers?

When it comes to their private, life B2B customers are consumers as everyone else. The increase in convenience of B2C will gradually find its way into B2B, even if the topics are different ones here.

Anyhow, two learnings are set:

- The customer's point of view is in focus!

- Technology must meet customer needs, not the other way around!

Customers today have more choices. The relationship between them and a brand or a retailer can erode. B2C managers have understood that the customer journey is complex and has changed over time. Fewer customers rely on human interaction. This will also affect the B2B sector. Automatically recurring orders are a first successful step. Telephone calls and fax orders will decrease. Here, services, conceived as an ecosystem around the product portfolio and the customer, are gaining in importance.

Back to start?

There is no shortage of visions. Will the next evolutionary step be the re-establishment of affiliates? Fahrrad.de is already leading the way. They asked themselves: When is omnichannel worthwhile and for which products? The answer was easy: If explanations are needed, the offline channel with personal consultation is vital. For everything else: Click.

The bottom line: the more touchpoints the customer journey has, the more likely it is to find its way to omnichannel. The simpler and shorter the journey of a product, the more exclusive channels or simply an existence as an "online pure player" makes sense. And that applies to B2C as well as B2B.

Masters of omnichannel are for example Mister Spex. Read their success story now!