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Academy Sports, J. Crew Execs Share How To Prioritize Omnichannel Initiatives

Omnichannel was a hot topic on the EXPO floor and during sessions at the 2013 Shop.org Summit in Chicago. In one panel discussion, executives from Academy Sports and J. Crew shared how their organizations are tackling the trend by revising their organizational structures and prioritizing specific investments.

During the session, titled: Convergence in Commerce: Prioritizing Omnichannel Initiatives, Jeff McCall, Head of Strategy and Consulting at eBay Enterprises, conducted a Q&A-style session asking the retail executives about their omnichannel planning and execution strategies. McCall kicked off the conversation by sharing company research that confirmed consumers’ heightened demands.

For example, 89% of consumers expect retailers to be able to leverage technology to find an out-of-stock item. Additionally, consumers expect their favorite retailers to provide a great smartphone (66%) and tablet (75%) experience. The vast majority (93%) of consumers, however, expect retailers to provide them with a choice between picking up their order and having it delivered.

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So how are retailers across categories keeping up? Rolf Schultz, VP of E-Commerce and Omnichannel at Academy Sports, and Ted Vasquez, VP of Strategic Planning and Analysis at J. Crew, noted that it all starts with the customer.

All companies should tailor their initiatives based on their business goals and target consumers, the panelists advised. Academy Sports, for example, takes a “fast following” approach based on customer feedback from multiple sources, “rather than taking a top-down executive approach,” according to Schultz.

“We use data from ForeSee Results, as well as from consumer groups,” Schultz said. “We don’t have rich CRM data because we’ve an everyday low price retailer. However, we have identified that need and it will be a priority moving forward.”

J. Crew also listens closely to the customers and integrates insights from across all channels.

The call center is one channel that “provides us with a wealth of information,” Vasquez said. “Customer feedback points us in the right direction in terms of where the opportunities are. Ultimately, we try to find investments that are going to benefit our customers but also our investors.”

 

Organizational Change

As omnichannel crusaders, Schultz and Vasquez are spearheading change and innovation across their organizations. To ensure efforts are successful, both executives noted that shifting company culture was imperative.

“Collaboration is a big part of our culture, especially when we’re talking about omnichannel which really affects every area of the business,” Vasquez explained. Businesses should “have those strategic conversations before going into investment conversations. Just make sure everyone is on the same page in thinking it’s a big idea and determine what the business potential is before determining what to invest in.”

Schultz added that moving towards omnichannel is “more of a cultural change than anything else.” However, the goal of breaking down organizational silos may be “unattainable. There are internal silos so it’s really about building a spirit of collaboration across teams. That is the role of the omnichannel chief.” 

Schultz and Vasquez also discussed how their organizations are tackling these organizational changes, and focusing on creating a more seamless brand experience across all channels.

“It carries a lot of weight in our organization if there’s someone walking the halls and building support for an investment,” Vasquez said. “Team members see that as a sign that ROI will be achieved.”

J. Crew also prioritizes investments by referring to an omnichannel roadmap, as well as a capital investment roadmap.

“Last year, we started a laundry list of investments to separate the strategy and investment conversations,” Vasquez noted. “We’re changing things as the industry moves but regardless, we make sure each one of these investments make sense and can stand on their own. But also, we make sure there’s a logical sequencing in the implementation process, and how one begets another.”

Academy Sports also is prioritizing investments to ensure they support the high-level vision of what omnichannel means to the business. To date, the multichannel retailer has seen the benefits of a “ship from store” business model, as well as a “more options” strategy, which arms store associates with handheld devices to enable more flexible ordering options.

“I think it helps if you can lay out a vision, and get it as high in the organization as possible so everyone can understand how and why it fits,” Schultz said. “It’s also important to not focus on too much, which is funny because we’re doing a lot simultaneously. But it’s important to pare down the list and make sure when they’re joined together, they support the larger vision.”

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