business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s little doubt that omnichannel operations will be a big part of the future of business, tying together the virtual and brick-and-mortar world. The evolution of this new world of shopping will bring countless challenges in terms of technology, fulfillment, variety and service.

But let’s not forget, nothing works if it doesn’t meet the customer’s needs. That is what matters most in any form of business.

I got to experience a wonderful form of omnichannel thinking recently. In lower Manhattan, Converse has opened an incredible little store where the need for personalization and creativity perfectly merge with the world of sneakers. At the store customers have near limitless ways to customize a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars, once the only sneakers available to all of us, and long a retro, hipster staple.

The range of customization is incredible starting with the colors of the shoes, or the pattern it displays down to the stripes on the rubber sole, the eyelets and, of course, the shoe laces. Frankly, I was so overwhelmed by the choices that I completely forgot to inquire as to the cost of a pair of high tops featuring the New York skyline, but I’m betting it isn’t cheap.

But here’s the thing, the store - cool as it may be - is just one part of an omnichannel strategy. At www.converse.com you can easily design a custom pair yourself. (The Hello Kitty high-top version goes for a neat $75.) With little effort you can have the same experience of personalizing your sneakers with the same detail as in the hip Manhattan boutique.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Converse - no matter how omnichannel a business as it may be - is able to meet every customer’s needs.

I mentioned the cool NYC store to the Content Guy, who I know loves both cool stores and lives close to New York. Then we started playing with the website and found a problem.

One of us (I won’t say which one, but it isn’t me) has a wide foot and cannot wear any sneakers that don’t come in 2E or 3E. We hunted up and down the website and found all manner of customization except one: there are no wide width shoes!

Now think about that. Here’s a company boldly going into omnichannel operations, offering an amazing customized experience in store and on line and yet somehow they neglected to fill a need that frankly is fairly common. (Kevin told me that there are relatively few footwear brands that make shoes in wide sizes, and so the ones that do - New Balance, Rockport, Dunham and Red Wing, for example - tend to create a lot of loyalty among people like him.)

It occurs to me that there’s a powerful reminder in that. As companies rush to make themselves relevant and useful on-line, which is increasingly important, we need to remember to stay focused on real customer needs. For food retailers that means emphasizing price, nutrition, recipe ideas and convenience. Or, to put it simply, stay focused on all the things that drive shopper satisfaction in-store or risk losing the customer in a whole new channel.

No amount of technology can fix that problem.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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