The online/offline war becoming the omnichannel armistice

The media loves a good story about the online cowboys chasing the offline gorillas over the hills. Of course with as much fanfare as the media gives to the chase, we have to remember that broadly, less than 10% of retail sales are transacted online in comparison to in-store sales. We’ve seen a trend of more sales moving online year after year, but there is still a big hill to climb until we see online sales represent the majority of annual sales volume.


With omnichannel reorgs in motion, many retailers are slowly trying to get away from the fiefdoms of yesteryear and crediting the sales fractionally across various departments. A lot of the work we do has sales staff educating and promoting the initiation of a digital experience. But we track the point of inception and if the person interacts with a product digitally in the store due to the help of the staff and they buy later at home or on the go, we make sure that commission plan credits the sales person accordingly. We create the right incentives and environment for the physical store staff to encourage the jump into a digital experience.

The secret weapons of online against offline, before the days of omnichannel, were customer identification and browse-based interest data. But with recent innovations in BLE and RFID, the tides may be turning. This doesn’t mean that sales won’t continue to migrate online (they will) but for the first time in retail, the true value of physical stores can be determined. Take this example: Someone clicks on online ad, visits the website, researches the product, visits the physical store to try the product, and then goes back later to the website to make the final purchase. Current day retailers are oblivious to the valuable role that the brick and mortar store played in closing a sale that ultimately transacted online.

As it stands, retail stores are not allocated credit for any transaction that occurs outside of the physical store. Don’t think that’s a problem? Well then you try managing a business with real estate investments in all the most expensive business capitals of the world, some with data showing that store sales are in decline. Let’s say you allow this flawed data to justify closing a major store location, woefully unaware that your regional online sales are about to decrease substantially because of it. It’s a fatal error and an expensive way to realize the value of your physical store experience as part of the total customer experience. In an omnichannel world, one of the most valuable triumphs is to know the entire customer journey across all online and in-store visits leading to purchase. It can be done. But you have to create the right value exchange for the customers to identify themselves first, thus providing you with browse and interest data in the store. Without those critical data points, you are doing glorified guesswork on the value that your physical stores hold.

Retail is changing. There can no longer be a battle between the online and physical stores. With new technology afforded to mobile, the true value of both sides of the equation can be revealed to make sound data-driven business decisions.