What Are Omnichannel Customers? And, Why Walmart Thinks They Are The Future

By Jenna Sereni

In the past five years, technology has both enabled new retail opportunities to emerge, and also disrupted the existing shopping model in an incredible way. The time for retail marketers to reinvent how consumers shop is here, and the opportunity to establish a new level of the marketing funnel is unlike it’s ever been before.

Recently, I took a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas to speak with Walmart CMO Tony Rogers, about the future of retail in America, specifically discussing what he calls omnichannel customers—and how to attract them, engage them, and above all, entertain them.

VIDEO: Walmart CMO Tony Rogers on Omnichannel Customers 

“Our priority is to create more of what we call omnichannel customers, customers that are shopping us and acting with us not just in the store but also online, on their mobile phones, etc.,” Rogers told me during our interview conducted for the 2017 ANA Masters of Marketing.

Rogers shared that Walmart is “putting a lot of resources into the mobile experience” as the giant retailer realizes they have to increasingly interact with customers on-the-go, in addition to in-store and through traditional media such as linear TV.

Excited to innovate, Rogers also shared the importance of having a strong strategy around measurement. “Our observation is there’s a lot of activity in the world of digital media, mobile media that is harder to track and harder to prove an ROI,” Rogers said, before revealing that efforts to reach and engage customers are “platform-specific” and require detailed strategy. “Sometimes, on some platforms, it may be more image-building and brand-building whereas on other platforms it may be more about an item and a price trying to get you to buy in that moment. I think the key is to use the right message in the right place at the right time.”

I couldn’t agree more. One of the shocking stats I was excited to learn about during my trip to Bentonville, was that in-store shopping is far from dwindling. Tony shared with me that despite the massive growth in digital, “the vast majority of shopping and the vast majority of transactions still take place in a store and that’s gonna continue to be that way for a long time. [The] challenge is to find ways to make it more fun and more entertaining to go to the store,” he said. “[If] we can come up with some ways, we call it 'retailtainment,' where we can have celebrities in the store or demos and sampling new products in the store or just fun activities that make it a more interesting way to spend a little bit of time then we found that that’s what really resonates and people respond to it.”

For Rogers, the future of retail will belong to those who “are gonna be able to pull this omnichannel proposition.” Among them, Walmart; a retail giant with the resources to invest both online and offline. “[It’s] probably gonna be easier for us to continue to develop the digital tools than it is for someone to come in and develop a physical footprint of five thousand stores around the country.”

In-store transactions, online shopping and smartphones as associates are just some of the areas that Rogers envisions as the ultimate experience of shopping at Walmart. And the CMO seems cautiously optimistic. “Many people are so used to a brick and mortar store down the street that it’s gonna take a consistent drumbeat of communication to continue to move people along this continuum.”

And as technology develops and evolves, so does the behavior of consumers and how they experience retail. Enter, experiential; something CMOs have been citing as the new wave of influencer marketing. “We have so many celebrities that come through here and it’s amazing how many of them have some connection to Walmart in their past. Invariably, you’ll hear them say, ‘I worked at Walmart when I was a teenager or had Walmart in my town and it was the place to go.’ And so it may surprise somebody that’s not close to the company to hear that but for those of us who are here you really get used to the notion that these celebrities have some pretty basic roots and they have a lot of familiarity with our brand.”   

My key takeaways:

• It’s incredibly important to think of your consumer as omnichannel. How do you reach them wherever they are? This question should sit at the center of the marketing mix.
• Keep entertaining. Consumers are fans, following friends, family and influencers on social, looking to be entertained at every moment. Be a part of the action.
• Don’t overlook the in-store experience, and be creative with commerce. A captivating activation involving a talent that consumers love could create a lasting impression on behalf of a brand.

Jenna Sereni is VP, Marketing & Creative Services at WHOSAY