Omnichannel Differences in the US & Europe

15 years ago, we embarked on the first “multichannel” retailing study for the National Retail Federation, during the midst of the Dotcom Bubble era. Little did we know how long it would take before retailers truly committed to the long journey we now call omnichannel or cross channel retail strategies. Today the ubiquity of “omnichannel” is enough that the mere mention draws a grimace or a roll of the eyes from industry insiders, similar to other industry buzzwords like “big data” and “customer centricity”. 

Despite this growing cynicism, the retail industry marches forward at a steady pace of omnichannel development with each passing season.   We’re still excited to see new developments emerge that will change how retailers win the hearts and wallets of shoppers.  Macy’s announcement of their latest wave of omnichannel capabilities sets the bar higher:  ApplePay in-store, same day delivery in select markets, national rollout of in-store pick up, enhanced mobile apps and pilot tests of digital tools in-store (associate and consumer-facing).  In the same week, Staples similarly announced a range of new cross channel capabilities to position themselves as innovative leaders, and Whole Foods launched their own version of in-store pick up.

But how does all of this US omnichannel development stack up against European retailers’ drive towards omnichannel innovation?

In recent years, among our Ebeltoft Group of retail consultancies, we have benchmarked global cross channel capabilities and a vast wave of retail innovation driven by digitally-infused retail concepts.  The global trend is clear, but some findings such as the more advanced omnichannel among UK specialty apparel retailers (vs. US retailers) were a tad surprising.  Some of the most innovative new concepts, born of the digital world and transforming into physical store retailers (Emmas Enkel or My Meusli) are award-winning German retailers.  And while many leading European retailers started later than their US counterparts, their commitment to omnichannel has been impressive.

This week, I will speak at an Amsterdam retail event on omnichannel strategies and will have the opportunity interact first hand with the retailers who are “raising the omnichannel bar” in their markets. The competitive intensity within mature, slow growth retail markets of Western Europe are macro drivers pushing retailers to find new sources of advantage, and we’re quickly seeing many retailers embrace integrated digital strategies (aka omnichannel) as their strategic priority.  In many ways, we draw analogies to our work in international ecommerce, where European retailers more naturally plan for growth outside of their domestic market, and therefore have different attitudes among senior decision makers to take these risks.

We will report back from Europe, and the upcoming Shop.org conference in Seattle where we expect to hear even more of the latest and greatest omnichannel innovation, to share our impressions of these attitudes to embrace digital retail in our next post.