These days, you NEED to master omnichannel…
But many brands go wrong in their approach…
The thing is, being a leader in physical retail doesn’t guarantee online success.
You need to understand the customer’s path to purchase in the digital world so you can optimize for maximum sales.
Scott Benedict of digital commerce company WhyteSpyder is here to break down best practices for omnichannel.
- Why How brands are adapting to the new challenges of the digital world
- What brands get wrong about omnichannel
- How eCommerce has changed over the years
- Strategies for utilizing consumer data
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is best practices in omnichannel. Here to speak with me Scott Benedict, who is the Vice President of Partnerships at WhyteSpyder an Ascential Digital Commerce company. Ascential, delivers specialists information analytics and eCommerce optimization platforms to the world’s leading consumer brands and their ecosystems. Scott is an accomplished retailing executive with more than three decades of diverse experience spanning traditional brick and mortar, retailing, eCommerce, omnichannel and international retail merchandising and operations. Scott, welcome to the show.
Scott Benedict: Thank you, Steffen. I’m excited to be here and excited to have a chance to talk to you today.
Steffen: Now, Scott, before we, before we start talking about omnichannel today, tell our listeners a bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And how did you end up where you are at the moment?
Scott: Absolutely. So it’s interesting. I consider myself to be a retail merchant by training, the majority of my retail career was as a buyer or in a merchandising role. That’s kind of interesting, I studied media and communications in college, and as it turns out, that that was, and is, a hard industry to get into. So I went into retailing temporarily thinking oh, this will just be a way to support myself until I get back to my real career. And that was over 30 years, 30 years ago. And what’s funny is I’ve encountered so many people over the years for whom retail was not going to be a planned event, it was just something temporary.
And then they just fell in love with it. And I number myself among that. But I have had the opportunity to work for a lot of different retail formats. Been in the Wholesale Club business, been in the specialty retailer and mass retail space, in the brick and mortar side of my career and then had the opportunity to diversify and be involved in digital retail as well. Was part of the team that started walmart.com was with Samsclub.com. Vespa.com, Groupon, among some of the other digital experiences that I’ve had.
A few years ago, I left the business world and went into academia and actually took on responsibility for the retailing program at Texas A&M University. Did that for a few years and then decided to come back into the business world less than a year ago, and join WhyteSpyder here in Northwest Arkansas. Had an opportunity to work with friends. I’ve known the team at WhyteSpyder for a number of years. This was an opportunity to join the party and join the team and be involved in what this company is doing. And I’ve really enjoyed it in the nine months now that I’ve been here.
Steffen: Perfect. Well it sounds like you’ve been doing a lot you know from from retail, eCommerce, teaching and educating people. And now being back in the day to day world. You’ve been involved in eCommerce since the early days, you talked about that experience earlier. How has business evolved in that time?
Scott: Well, it’s interesting because eCommerce started out as something of kind of an interesting edge case of retail. Nobody knew how big it would become, how seriously to take it. Whether you could actually make money at it. And it’s interesting, I worked with a company called Service Merchandise when I first was called with the opportunity to join what grew up to become walmart.com. To leave Service Merchandise, and go to go to Walmart being involved in their first eCommerce business. And at the time, the CEO of Service Merchandise said, you know, Scott, this whole eCommerce thing is a fad. It’s not gonna last, it’s really not a real business. And it’s interesting that throughout the years, I’ve encountered a number of people who go that’s not really a retail, sustainable retail business.
And obviously fast forward today. And now it is a very, not only series business in its own right. But the interlocking between brick and mortar and digital now has come about in ways that I think a lot of us thought was possible but the pandemic kind of assisted that process. And so now, not only is it a substantial business more so than it was in those early days, but it’s an intertwined business with traditional retail. It’s not an or it’s an and, I like to tell people. And just the level of expertise and the level of focus that it has been given both by retailers and by consumer brands, has certainly grown since I first became involved in it through to today and where we are now.
Steffen: Now, for many years, Amazon seemed to be a company that had kind of figured it out. Right, they grew massively. At some points, companies were thinking about, do we actually have to join air quotes Amazon in order to stay in business? Right. At some point, I mean, you know, companies talked about Walmart likes of Target and the others, like, how are they going to respond? What has Walmart done over the last couple of years to create an area for them, that makes them competitive with the big Amazon out there that seem to have kind of grabbed a huge amount of the market?
Scott: Yeah. Well, first of all, I’ll tell you, Steffen, you know, if you look at Walmart’s efforts in omnichannel and an eCommerce today, you have to look at it through the lens that they weren’t always as focused on digital as they now are. And so there’s a learning process that I think I had the opportunity to kind of have a front row to where it went from, yes, we need to check the box, we need to be involved in eCommerce to the commitment today, that it is absolutely where the customer is. And we not only have to be there, we be there and be very good and very focused on how to be successful in this business. And so that was part of an evolution in the perspective.
But the thing that I think was so interesting and so neat is the speed with which Walmart viewed their fleet of physical stores as an asset in not only their leadership in traditional retail, but in truly serving a customer whenever, however, they wanted to be served. And as the competitive advantage because for as awesome as Amazon is, if you don’t count Whole Foods, they don’t really have stores. And in some of the experiments that they’ve tried, they’ve pulled back on. And they tend to use stores as testbeds for technology, more than an integrated part of the strategy.
And so this is what has made, I think Walmart and now some other retailers have observed this and tried to follow their lead, but to really treat it as a customer first focus, a way to serve a customer’s needs, again, however, and whenever they want to be served. And so the lines of demarcation between traditional and digital elements, so the company can just continue to be eliminated, eroded and made less prominent over time. They changed their incentive programs for store managers and for home office employees where they are now incentivized to drive business results, regardless of where that transaction is completed.
As an example, they’ve really looked to integrate the customer experience with physical and digital elements and to try to drive efficiency. So they can continue to keep prices low and try keep service high. And so those are sort of things that I’ll tell you, I observed a lot of companies, you know, concerned about online cannibalizing physical stores. Walmart really had the attitude of, well, if online is going to cannibalize the physical, we’d rather cannibalize ourselves, then let somebody else do it. So let’s get in the game, let’s get in the fray. And I think all those both strategic decisions, attitudes and customers focus, customer first kind of focus, are some of the things that I’ve observed made me Walmart kind of unique and different.
Steffen: That is interesting, because I might say that, you know, if I compare Walmart to an Amazon right, which is kind of the big, big guys out there. A lot of what you just said for me, personally, is what I think about Amazon too, right? Their customer focused, you know, because of the competition on the platform, prices to certain extent should stay competitive, right? Is what you said, are those the only points where you think Walmart unique or is there, is there something else?
Scott: No, I think that’s a highlight of it. I think if you zoom forward to more recent times, that we’ve seen a couple of interesting developments out of Walmart. First the effort to monetize traffic to develop their retail media platform and offer that as a viable way to spend a marketing dollar on the part of brands. And I’ll just leave as a profitability stream for themselves to where now the business model of retail is evolving and changing and just making a profit off of selling merchandise alone. They’re kind of evolving their perspective and their thinking on that. And then one of the other assets that Walmart uniquely has is their data.
The visibility to customer transactions, both in physical stores, and online. And being able to monetize that and to share that with their suppliers in a way that is useful to understand consumer behavior on a pretty vast scale here in the US. And to yes, it’s meant to come a profit center for Walmart. That’s not, that’s not something they don’t talk about publicly. They’ve admitted that but it’s, it’s really useful to consumer brands to study and understand that multi channel data, because that’s information on consumer behavior that again, even someone as sophisticated as Amazon, has tremendous data on online behavior.
But they can’t put together the pieces of online and offline behavior into a full kind of 360 degree view of what a consumer is thinking, doing and acting upon. And so I think that’s, those are some additional ways that they have kind of emerged in trying unique and different things that not only help them become more effective, but provide new revenue streams for the company as well. And I think the last thing I’ll tell you Steffen, is the willingness to experiment with things. There are a couple locations across the country, including here, locally, in Northwest Arkansas, where drone delivery is being tested.
Where adjunct warehouses that do fulfillment of store pickup orders in more automated and efficient ways. Those things are being tested. There’s, there’s just a lot of things that they’re willing to try knowing they may be successful, knowing they may fail. But that’s culturally, that’s an inner it’s kind of a neat tie back to the early days of Walmart, and that willingness to try things and be okay if they fail. But gain the learnings from those things, and apply them to the business going forward. And we still see examples of that today, it’s just taking on a new form in the digital space that maybe it did when they were exclusively a physical retailer.
Steffen: Now brands these days have several options to kind of place their products on bigger retail sites. You know, as obviously, we’ve talked about Walmart, but you can find it on Target, even on Best Buy. You name it, right? They all go that route. And for companies that might not have thought about that so far. At some point, they have to decide, are we going that route? When are we going that route? And how are we going that route and basically engaging in that space? What do brands get wrong in their approach to omnichannel?
Scott: Yeah, I think there’s two things that occur to me when he asked that question, Steffen. One, is, you know, kind of what I identified about Walmart. Some brands haven’t taken this open minded, experimentation type of approach and a willingness to fail, but to try and learn things. You don’t really see some very respected very large and financially healthy brands approach it with that mindset. They haven’t had that willingness always, to experiment with things, try things and thoughtfully either learn, fail, in some cases, fast fail and apply the learnings and move forward. So you know, there’s still a bit of occasional hesitation, or timidity that you’ll see is from brands number one.
Number two, a lot of brands like a lot of retailers treated digital as a separate silo of activity in a separate business channel, and have failed to see the opportunity to more fully integrate that. And that’s not just in things like product offerings, but it is go to market strategies and, and how they spend a marketing dollar to drive their business and create awareness. And you still, I think, in this day and age, treat those as two separate things, instead of looking at them as one integrated activity to get your products in front of the consumer, to learn and hear feedback from a consumer in things like ratings and reviews and other forms of feedback. If you’re not kind of taking that integrated approach, you’re not meeting the customer where they are.
And the interesting thing that I think the pandemic accelerated, is you can be a consumer brand that has historically led in the traditional path of retail. And if you are not making the investments to be as proportionally successful online. If you’re not worried about item detail pages, and the quality of content and the ways in which you’re experimenting with new and different approaches in going to market, you know, just because you were a leader in the physical space of retail doesn’t automatically grant you that status online.
And I think in some cases, you give an opening to retailers to develop their private brand market share to emerging startup challenger brands to gain a foothold in your category. And you have to realize that, you know, some of us who are older recall a world pre eCommerce. Well people like my 26 year old daughter and her husband and my 21 year old son, they don’t recall a time when you could only shop at a physical store and couldn’t have another way of going to market.
And so that age demographic that is coming now into their peak spending years or peak earning years, they’re going to make decisions about brands and products differently, perhaps, than what we did as a generation who was there for the transition, if you will. They don’t know a world without smartphones, or being able to do research online about a product to compare pricing and compare ratings or reviews. And so if you’re not thinking that way as a brand, I think you miss an opportunity. And quite frankly, you put your business at risk and in danger because you’re not meeting the customer, where they are and how they want to shop. Particularly with a newer generation who was raised in a different world than maybe some of us who are older.
Steffen: You talked about that, you know, companies look at things more in silos, right? They look at the digital environment, they look at the the offline environment. For a company that that says, yeah, we gotta go omnichannel, you know, but we want to do it right. We need to make sure that what we do offline, is kind of connected with what we do online that we can pass information back and forth, from both areas. How would they go about setting themselves up successfully, if you think about best practices, successfully, on their journey to become more omnichannel?
Scott: Yeah, I think it’s there’s a couple of things you always are taught in retail, whether you are a retailer or a consumer brand. To start with the customer. Understand who your customer is, understand their new and evolving needs and interests and ways of making buying decisions and that’s as good of a place to start I can think of as any to provide insights in your path forward. But also kind of being a student of different trends, of emerging ways which consumers encounter product, consider a product, that whole buying journey that has historically been part of the marketing playbook. For brands, you know, what is the most current up to date version of that playbook? How are consumers going about making decisions now, project forward into how they will do so in the future?
And then look yourself in the mirror and say, are we ready? Or are we not? Do we have the expertise in house? Do we need to tap into the expertise of third parties, of agencies or companies like ours? And what is our go forward strategy, knowing that you probably can’t see every last detail five years into the future? But what’s your path immediately in front of us? And and what’s your vision going forward? And just what’s your plan? And if you can’t answer those questions, perhaps we should recommend prayer for you. Not sure how successful you’re going to be going forward, if you don’t think that way, and approach the marketplace that way.
Steffen: Yeah, I mean, from my perspective, at the core of everything you do in that regard, is this data, right? The data you collect in store, that gives you an idea of who actually comes into the store, to kind of buy your product there. And then who buys online? Those could be two different groups of people. You know, you said earlier, your children, right, they might go more online, because they’re just used to it. They might not actually think about going in store, right? While the likes of us who are a little bit older, and that have gone into the store when we were younger to buy this stuff. They didn’t know that the eCommerce side, right. We might still prefer going into a store or at least, you know, doing research online and then going in store because we want to have it immediately, for example.
Scott: I’ll tell you, because we’re so focused on our business on Walmart. You know, we’re, we’re voracious readers on any information that they share. And they talk regularly in public settings about how the consumer journey just unfolds so many different ways. Now, when you consider the breadth of their customer base across the US. Mobile devices are being used in a physical store to either locate a product within the store, make sure it’s in stock, check its ratings and reviews, see if it’s priced better someplace else, or if it’s out of stock in this store, does another nearby store, have it. I mean that journey of using a mobile device in a physical store, I don’t think it’s the thought that it should.
Same token, an item detail page is now such a powerful tool to drive a sale either that happens through traditional digital delivery means. Say you order it online, and then and then a nice UPS man delivers it to your house. But the order online pickup in a physical store later today, or the next day, that use case has gone from theoretical to as mainstream. Particularly in the grocery space, food and beverage and CPG. And it seems like it happened overnight, even in pets as well. Seems like it happened overnight. And if you if you only view the purchase journey in the consideration of your product versus competitors, that journey as only one straight arrow from point A to point B, I think you miss it.
You kind of have to be prepared for a number of different purchase journeys, consideration paths. And the beautiful thing is obviously we’re blessed with data today that tells us about the scenarios and ways that it didn’t tell either brands or retailers you know, in the years past, but it’s there’s not a one way path from consideration to purchase. It’s it follows so many different paths. And you really have to be prepared to serve a customer through any of those paths, right.
Steffen: Yeah. So how does your company that you work for WhyteSpyder. How do they help businesses that want to go that omnichannel route?
Scott: Yeah, well, I think it started with the fact that we made the decision in the formative years of our company’s existence that we were going to be very focused on Walmart and not try to be experts in every retail program. But if, if you’re going to focus on one, this is a pretty good one to focus on. But we built relationships with Walmart, collaborative relationships. We’re one of the founding members of the connected content partner program, which means that we have visibility and the ability not only to publish content on behalf of our clients on the Walmart systems, but we have visibility to user behavior in a way that is different, unique and special and a kind of an important responsibility that Walmart is rightfully very protective of data.
And we have to make sure that we’re using it for the benefit of the brands and help the brands make the shopping experience of Walmart better. But I’ll give you an example. Walmart has an objective way to measure content quality at an item level and so they assign every item a content quality score. And that score is based on a number of objective measures. But it’s tied back to a content strategy that’s been assigned and developed in each individual category. And so having that visibility allows us to counsel clients, not in theory, but in actual proven data driven paths to improve the quality of their content, not only to help drive a sale once the user has arrived at that item detail page, but to make sure that they show up at that item detail page through search, in relevant use cases.
In cases where a generic search term, if your product rightfully should be associated with that search term, of the organic strategies that we help our clients to master. Or once again, they’re data driven. They’re driven off of insights to things like keywords that consumers are looking for in a category. And we counsel clients all the time that what search terms are prominently used in your category on Walmart are not necessarily the same as what is used in Amazon or other platforms. So you to have a very Walmart centric focus and strategy to your success.
And once again, that effort doesn’t just drive a digital sale. It can drive an in store sale, as well. And so those are some of the things that make us unique and special is our focus on Walmart, the collaboration integration with them, the fact that we can counsel our clients with data, and insights, that are not theoretical, but are factual. And that help them not only for their own success, but to improve the shopping experience for a customer on Walmart’s platform. So they’re, they’re pleased with that. And it serves their goals for a good customer shopping experience, as well as helping our client’s brands to be successful in an omnichannel world.
Steffen: Yeah, what you just last said, I think makes it also very clear. You know, omnichannel, it’s not something you just switch on. You know, you’re not just signing up for Target for Walmart, for Best Buy, or whatever other websites where you can place your products on, you know, and you will be equally successful in each of them. Because at the end of the day, like with, with search engines or other platforms, they all have their different approach. You know, they all look at things differently. They all value things differently. Now, the bottom line is content. And you talked about that, right?
Because content is what convinces us to buy a product, the features that are outlined, the specifics. However, you cannot just take a piece of content that you might optimize for SEO for the search engine and just say, well, you know what it’s going to do great, because this works well on search, and it’s going to work great on Amazon, on Walmart, on Target, you name it. That’s just not, and that’s I think that’s also what companies have to keep in mind. If you’re planning the omnichannel route, it’s either, you know, you have to be fully committed to it. Or you’re probably wasting your time if you just would have hearted.
Scott: Yeah, no, I would agree. And I think there are certainly common elements across retail platforms that a brand can say, hey, here’s the things that are very similar from one platform to the next and whether you’re concerned about site search on a specific website or Google queries and so you start with that but then to your point, you’ve got to then look at the at the unique nuances of each platform and then refine and optimize your presence in each of those scenarios. So that your product, one, is discoverable in the right circumstances, the right scenarios, and is seen in the best light.
And so it’s, you know, there are common elements, but it’s not a one size fits all and understanding the difference between those two. And taking learnings and applying them over time is interesting. Just an example, the use of influencer marketing activities. So things like user generated videos and taking testimonials from folks who maybe have a real deep interest and knowledge of a particular product and integrating those elements onto an item detail page seems like it’s emerging, in addition to the, you know, what we consider the basics of, hey, six images in high res and, you know, your title has to be this many characters long. Yeah, those are, are considered probably table stakes now, but then there’s innovation and, and new things that are coming into the fray that layer on top of that.
And, you know, there’s no one way to do that. A lot of it depends on your knowledge of your brand, your customer, and who likes or dislikes, a particular product or type of brand. And then figuring out how to get that story told in a way that builds credibility in the eyes of the user of the customer. Because it’s not just you telling a brand message about your product, but it’s real humans, real customers, other people like me, are advocating for this product or that product. That’s powerful stuff in a digital shopping journey. And people are starting to integrate that into marketing activity, social media posts, and even on an item detail page.
Steffen: Now, Scott, we’ve already come to the end of today’s podcast episode. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on, you know, best practices for omnichannel. If people want to find out more about you, about WhyteSpyder, how can they get in touch?
Scott: So whytespyder.com is our website. So we’ve got a wonderful website that can give you an initial introduction to what we do. Myself and all my colleagues have got LinkedIn pages. And if you just look me up by name, or by WhyteSpyder, you can find me there. And we obviously will love to answer folks questions and just kind of hear about what’s going on in their business on Walmart and what challenges they’re facing and see if we can help them. We feel pretty confident that we can in most cases, help someone or really grow that business. And it doesn’t just help them online, it helps them if their product also happens to be in physical stores and helps them really complete to that whole end to end omnichannel strategy and we’re happy to do it. We love it if folks reach out and we’ll absolutely try and help them.
Steffen: Great. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com