As digital tools enhance shopping, retailers have to ensure their omnichannel strategy delivers a seamless customer experience, and that depends largely on employees.

The surest way to consumers' hearts and wallets is through an omnichannel strategy that ensures they never realize their shopping experience involves several departments. Omnichannel has to seamlessly connect and deliver on all levels, in both physical and digital sales: customer service, procurement, warehousing and shipping.

E-commerce has disrupted the old ways of retail, requiring businesses to be attentive, flexible and never out of stock. Sure, effective technology will go a long way in making omnichannel work, but the employees behind it likely determine just how closely consumers embrace a retailer's shopping experience.

For finance leaders to join the growing list of retailers that flourish in e-commerce and in-store sales, they need to develop a talent management strategy that doesn't overlook the human touch in this increasingly digital era.

E-Commerce Makes Big Gains

Digital commerce has demonstrably changed how retailers conduct business. Retailers now have to pinpoint which e-commerce sales complement physical store sales and which digital purchases effectively cannibalize in-store ones. That balancing act leads to what retail CFOs hope is the proper placement of resources in digital and in-store operations.

According to Digital Commerce 360, Forrester estimates that U.S. consumers will spend $460 billion shopping online in 2017, and online sales will amount to 17 percent of all retail sales by 2022. Forecasts like these mean retail CFOs will have to continue adjusting to the changing landscape by investing in web and mobile platforms for customer use, payment and content management systems, unified inventory management systems and distributed order management systems.

As CFO details, digital tools help retailers see where and how sales originate, allowing their finance teams to better estimate real margins and profits and leading to more informed decisions of how to spend scarce capital on operations. When done right, as Deloitte illustrates, e-commerce delivers many opportunities: improved customer data, expanded market reach, improved margins and revenue growth. But financial leaders still must also keep focus on brick-and-mortar stores because they, too, factor heavily into the overall customer experience.

Finance Leaders Must Become Flexible

A retailer's efforts will only go as far as its employees. They're the ones who help marry a retailer's many channels to create an omnichannel experience. Technology provides the tools, but employees make the decisions to engage customers. Marketers craft messages, clerks use sales histories to point customers in the right direction on a sales floor and the workers on the supply chain know when to promise delivery.

Deloitte offers several strategies for retail CFOs to hire and engage the most qualified employees for the digital age:

  • Build and deploy "on demand" teams to more effectively respond to market fluctuations. This approach includes hiring freelancers. Retail should also eliminate organizational layers and even question the need for middle managers.
  • Form partnerships with technology organizations to share talent across sectors. This would also help employees develop new skills.
  • Move beyond episodic, traditional learning programs and instead create an employee-centric learning culture. Instead of pressuring employees, make them feel as valued as customers are.
  • Invest in employees so they'll make retail a career, and not a job. Retailers that pay employees high wages and offer improved training and career development, Deloitte notes, attract and retain top talent.
  • To inspire and attract the web developers, data scientists and technologists that are needed for omnichannel success, retailers need to tell a unique story that differentiates them from the marketplace.

Employees Will Drive the Omnichannel Strategy

Although e-commerce isn't close to supplanting physical retail sales, it's share of sales continues to grow. As retailers try to pay proper attention to both the physical and digital realms, it's clear that employees will play an important role in ensuring the omnichannel experience comes off as a seamless, engaging customer experience.

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Tags: strategic planning cost efficiency