Commentary: Omni-channel supplier to customer sales

By Richard Ilseman, MacKay & Company

Omni-channel marketing and sales is a relatively new buzz word in our e-commerce vocabulary.

Omni-channel differs from the more traditional multi-channel approach in the following way: In multi-channel, a supplier/seller has multiple touchpoints with customers such as a web page, social media, email, phone and perhaps a brick-and-mortar establishment. However, these touchpoints are not coordinated. IT systems/data are not centralized, nor are sales rep activity, customer service and communication.

In omni-channel, entire organizations and systems are geared toward meeting and supporting customers wherever they enter along the path to a potential sale and any subsequent touchpoints, supporting them with information and help, and giving them a common look and feel regardless of the channel they are using. As a simple example, pricing, discounts and specials a customer sees online or on social media are the same he will see if he shops directly in a physical store location.

Where is omni-channel growing and why?

In large part, omni-channel has been spawned by the growth of mobile phone/app Internet ordering. Customers shop in a non-linear way, initiating on-line searches, looking at reviews on social media and specifying in-store pickup or delivery, for example. They expect this journey to be personalized, seamless, easy and well-coordinated from purchase to payment to possible return, with help available every step of the way.

Auto parts stores have been among the first to invest heavily in omni-channel marketing. It is actually to their advantage to have brick and mortar locations versus pure Internet players such as Amazon. They are able to provide not only a seamless online experience, but also offer in-store pickup or delivery and advice/guidance that is difficult, if not impossible, to provide entirely online. Because of their success, some auto parts stores are beginning to enter the medium-duty truck market to grow their customer base.

Heavy-duty truck parts providers

Heavy-duty truck parts providers have been slower to adopt an omni-channel sales approach, but are now coming to the party, especially on the business-to-customer (B2C) side. Business-to-business (B2B) is more difficult to enable, but, even here, professional buyers who are used to conducting their personal business online expect the same capabilities for their business ordering.

The extra complexities of larger orders, customer/fleet-specific pricing and payment terms, real-time inventory levels, predictive ordering and delivery pose obstacles to implementation. To address these issues, providers are now beginning to integrate omni-channel capabilities with their ERP/CRM systems to provide consistent, up-to-date and centralized data across all channels. Blockchain technology, made popular by Bitcoin, may be the ultimate technology to enable widespread B2B omni-channel adoption, eventually replacing an aging electronic data interface (EDI) technology.

What does this all mean to you?

E-commerce ordering will continue to grow. You, the truck owner or fleet are going to enjoy a simpler, easier and quicker way to research, compare vendors, order, return, pay for, receive and return parts. The process will look much more like the one you use today for your personal purchases. Regardless of your preferred choice of channels, whether web-based, mobile app, social media, phone, email or in person, you will experience a more customer-centric, personalized and efficient process.

Richard Ilseman joined MacKay & Company in September 2014 after 40 years with Navistar International. While at Navistar, he piloted, designed, implemented and supported a vendor-managed inventory system. As an accomplished SAS programmer, Ilseman conducts statistical analysis and survey tabulation at MacKay & Company.

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