Over the past decade, researchers have been moving towards a more standardized way of understanding omni-channel commerce. Not only will a standard theoretical framework help decision makers understand that “omni-channel” isn’t just a marketing buzzword, but it will also help them systematically evaluate and compare different digital omni-channel solutions. Devising a theoretical framework for omni-channel systems would also assist solution developers by providing a Platonic ideal to use as a benchmark for future improvements.
One interesting theoretical model of omni-channel systems that has been put forward recently (Saghiri, Wilding, Mena, & Bourlakis, 2017) suggests that omni-channel systems can be assessed and differentiated along three main dimensions: channel stage, channel type, and channel agent. Channel stages correspond to distinct phases in the customer journey: pre-purchase, payment, delivery, and return. Within each stage, an omni-channel system can operate through multiple channel types. While all omni-channel implementations seem to follow the same four channel stages, the channel types vary from stage to stage. For example, store visits, websites, social media, email, print ads, and product catalogs all act as customer touch points during the pre-purchase channel stage, but the return stage uses channel types like courier services, store visits, and drop-off points. Omni-channel systems also differ by channel agent: the organization (or department, in more fine-grained assessments) that operates a specific channel type in a specific channel stage. While most channel types are operated by a single channel agent, this is not always the case. For example, both manufacturers and third parties might promote the same product on their respective websites (pre-sales stage), or both physical and digital retailers might offer home delivery (delivery stage).
These three dimensions of an organization’s business processes correspond to the when, what, and who of their omni-channel capabilities. Mapping channel agents to their corresponding channel types can give decision makers a clear picture of omni-channel responsibilities, and could potentially reveal redundant or inefficient resource allocation.
Further evidence of the model’s validity is reflected in its authors’ identification of two primary omni-channel enablers: integration and visibility. Based on a series of expert interviews, the researchers associate successful omni-channel implementation with tightly integrated processes and high inter-process visibility, which reinforce each other to produce a consistent, seamless, and efficient customer experience. Instead of simply stating that integration and visibility are important factors in omni-channel success, we can now state that successful omni-channel implementations are integrated and provide visibility across channel stages, channel types, and channel agents. In other words, channel agents responsible for different channel types share relevant information throughout all channel stages along the customer journey.
The researchers identify seven processes that should be interconnected to achieve total integration: promotion, transaction, pricing, fulfilment, reverse logistics, product information, and customer service. Similarly, the six types of visibility that omni-channel organizations should achieve are visibility of product, demand, order/payment, stock, shipment, and supply. Even though these processes and visibility types are only loosely mapped onto the three-dimensional model, the overall analysis still bears considerable merit. These details form the basis for a well-defined omni-channel checklist that organizations can use to create an implementation plan, determine preparedness, or evaluate process maturity.
The main takeaway here is that process integration and visibility should not be treated as single, monolithic properties of omni-channel systems, and not all integrated systems are equal. As the multi-dimensional model suggests, there are many aspects and processes to consider to ensure that your business operations become truly omni-channel. To learn more about integrating your ecommerce and ERP processes to enable omni-channel retail, maximize visibility, and drive efficiency, please contact Visionet Systems for a complimentary consultation.
Saghiri, S., Wilding, R., Mena, C., & Bourlakis, M. (2017). Toward a three-dimensional framework for omni-channel. Journal of Business Research, 77, 53-67.