Omnichannel is not multi-channel.
For many e-tailers and fashion retailers caught in the whirlwind of fast fashion, ever-changing trends and soaring customer expectations, the difference may not be noticeable.
It is an insight that Levi Strauss & Co. learned when it wove its own omnichannel story at the back of Salesforce products.
“Most retailers think they are omnichannel but are really multichannel. So, first before doing omnichannel, find out what it really is and then size up the opportunity. Do not do it because the competitor is doing it,” Prakash Chandrasekar, Regional Head of Omnichannel CRM & Loyalty, APAC, Levi Strauss & Co. said.
The fashion mega-brand that is synonymous with cool outdoor wear often linked to the California Gold Rush embarked on their omnichannel journey with a clear goal: a single customer view and inventory view across all channels.
The reason was simple. When a customer walks into a shop or goes online to purchase an item, he or she expects a seamless experience instore or online. It requires Levi Strauss to work with the merchandisers, warehousing teams and franchisees to align demand accurately and combine online and offline data for a single customer view.
Easier said than done, according to Chandrasekar.
“This is a complete inventory synch in real time and will help us to avoid out-of-stock issues. It is a sweet spot for us, but the amount of effort and money to get us there is a big question. We will get there one day,” he said.
The primary challenge is not creating the ultimate retail experience but bringing together the involved data.
“To get omnichannel right, you need to get the data right. Omnichannel experience is just the output. So, we needed to find ways to centralize all the data,” Chandrasekar said.
Salesforce products helped. Levi Strauss began using solutions from Demandware, which Salesforce later bought for USD 2.8 billion in 2016 to shore up their Commerce Cloud product. The company also used Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud for customer relationship management. To drive loyalty, it relies on in-country partners for out-of-the-box applications.
However, deploying the right solutions is only half the struggle. Integrating them so that they share data and offer a single customer view can be costly.
“For example, in CRM, we use separate offline and online communications, even though they are both are being sent by Levi's. We are now working with Salesforce to get a single customer view that eventually unifies the customer marketing communication,” Chandrasekar said.
This is where the company needs to size up the opportunities and make an educated guess whether it is all worth it.
It is a situation that Chandrasekar faced 18 months ago. He had to show the benefits of a single customer view to the leadership to get the necessary buy-in and investment.
Once you have inked the right strategy and built the platform, the next challenge is incentivizing franchisees to buy into your omnichannel story.
“If you do not incentivize the store staff, nothing much is going to happen. You need to change the mentality of the franchisee and need to show that if they share information, the overall result will be a net positive. Else, the ecosystem will not work," Chandrasekar said.
Levi Strauss quickly found out that where you sell also mattered. The company saw that getting franchisee support for omnichannel initiatives was easier in Australia, India, Japan, and Malaysia; less so for distributor-dominated markets like Hong Kong and Singapore.
"In markets where the distributors and franchisees love us, it is much easier to dictate what we want and get it done. They are also happy to do omnichannel options. The problem comes when the distributors are huge because [our] people will question why we are investing in a distributor who may not be our long-term partner,” Chandrasekar said.
Eighteen months later, Levi Strauss is glad it went omnichannel. The company is starting to see early dividends across the region as a result. It knows more about its customers' behavior by ensuring that all omnichannel features "are attributable," allowing it to track fulfillment and create nurturing strategies around it.
The journey is far from over though. The next step in omnichannel is AI, noted Chandrasekar. He is also a big fan.
Chandrasekar and his team recently installed an AI-based recommendation engine in Japan from a third-party vendor and saw a four-time improvement in conversion rates.
He is now planning to take advantage of Commerce Cloud’s Einstein engine, which is the vendor’s automated machine learning component. Currently, he is letting the engine learn more about the company’s business environment.
“Einstein can help us to predict fashion trends, with an option to do a manual override. Currently, we are still learning, and thankfully we have started the journey," he added.