Behind Macy’s Omni-Channel Customer Experience – Should Stores Look Like The Web?

During their rise to fame, e-commerce stores worked hard to recreate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience on the web.

In an effort to stay relevant in an increasingly-digital world, retail giants have recently been taking cues from the online shopping experience.

Macy’s, hoping to stand above the competition, is drawing from both philosophies in its new “omni-channel” customer strategy.

As part of a pilot program at its Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s locations, the retail juggernaut is currently rolling out a host of interactive, self-service technologies at its retail locations to expedite the purchasing process and “mirror the online shopping experience.” At the same time, Macy’s is working to enhance its web store with quintessentially-brick-and-mortar components, such as the ability to select jeans that actually fit.

The Macy’s initiatives underscore its belief that today’s customers value a consistent, seamless experience across the variety of shopping channels.

“We are using technology in our stores to mirror the online shopping experience, and adding functionality and content online to provide customers with additional assistance in product selection,” explains Terry Lundgren, chairman. “The ultimate goal of our omnichannel strategy is to build deeper relationships with customers and to ensure Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are accessible no matter how or when our customers prefer to explore or shop.”

Among the specific initiatives, which are being tested in certain locations:

“Search & Send” – Macy’s’ inventory network will be built into the retail registers, enabling customers to locate and order goods that are out of stock or unavailable at that specific location.

“Beauty Spot” – A self-service kiosk, installed at the brick-and-mortar locations, that allows customers to search the cosmetics inventory and get product insights and research before making a selection. A “dedicated Beauty Spot concierge associate will be available to assist customers and process credit card transactions.”

Tablets – The retail locations are being stocked with computer tablets, which will provide functionality similar to that of the Beauty Spot kiosks. Tablets will also be used to assist in the delivery service, allowing associates to use GPS and digital signature suites to more efficiently and accurately manage the process.

“True Fit” will be equipped with a tool that helps women select jeans that are best-suited for their “unique body and style preferences.”

Customer response units – The store pay pads are being overhauled with response units that welcome tap technology like Google Wallet.

Combined with offerings like in-store WiFi and digital receipts, the overarching theme of Macy’s omni-channel initiative is clear–making the shopping experience ‘simplistically comprehensive.’ On the one hand, the changes provide a more rapid, efficient and hassle-free purchasing experience for customers. Yet many of the new tools focus on customers’ desire to be exhaustive in the shopping experience, on their tendency to consider online research and in-store impressions prior to buying.

The dual-focus-providing access to all the necessary product information without sacrificing convenience-is simply another way of saying, “Shopping, regardless of channel, should draw from the best features of the brick-and-mortar and online experiences.”

It is doubtful many customer management professionals will dispute Macy’s’ conclusions that a quality customer experience needs to exist across multiple channels. Where some disagreement might emerge, however, is the extent to which customers want the various channels to mirror each other.

Many customer management professionals stress the belief that each channel should have a unique customer experience.

That philosophy, alone, would not render many of Macy’s’ changes worthless. In principle, there is nothing objectionable about using technology to expedite the in-person shopping experience. There is nothing undesirable about trying to make the online shopping experience more palpable.

The lasting impact of these enhancements could, however, prove alarming for those who value the unique experiences provided by the distinct channels (particularly on the brick-and-mortar side).

In the short-term, the self-service beauty kiosks, for example, should prove a welcome addition for cosmetics customers who want an “at-a-glance” look at their various purchasing options. But what if this signals a long-term movement away from staffed cosmetics counters? What if the “dedicated Beauty Spot concierge associate” grows to simply represent a tech worker rather than someone trained to give valuable advice on makeup pairings and fragrance selections?

Similarly, how will “Search & Send” (as well as the “True Fit” online service) impact customers’ ability to physically experience the products they wish to purchase? If the services take off, Macy’s might feel less pressure to carry an exhaustive in-store inventory, restricting customers’ ability to actually try on the clothes.

Granted, if Macy’s already places great internal value on the exclusive benefits of the brick-and-mortar experience, it is possible those scenarios will never emerge. More importantly, if the preservation of such features is not dictated by the market (ie, Macy’s’ annual sales will decrease if there is no cosmetics attendant), one could argue that those “valued” retail offerings do not need to exist anyway.

It is, nonetheless, interesting to see the implications of multi-channel customer strategies. Those who advocate a consistent approach across channels often point to the branding and CRM benefits, to the idea that customers will want to feel they are the same “Macy’s” regardless of channel. They mainly see a “consistent experience” for its primary benefit-incorporating the best customer service components into every channel.

What they risk overlooking, however, is the loss of features that only have value (and perhaps can only exist) in specific channels. A channel might not simply be the forum within which a customer engages with a business–it might also carry its own inherent worth.

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