Omnichannel in retail: an interview with Jelle Sybesma (HEMA)

Peter Desmyttere
December 17, 2017
⏱ 7 min. read

Jelle Sybesma works as an omnichannel consultant for the Dutch retailer HEMA. We will be speaking to him about such subjects as the role played by omnichannel in retail campaigns, the impact of the customer journey on omnichannel campaigns and the position of the customer card in an omnichannel strategy.

Jelle, you are involved in the omnichannel process at HEMA. Can you explain what that is exactly?
Briefly put, it is my task to create a better overview within HEMA and, in doing so, bring the channels closer to one another. HEMA has made substantial investments in e-commerce and international expansion during the past few years, while maintaining an extensive network of physical sales points. Omnichannel is precisely on the interface of these three strategies and the company has the outspoken ambition to not only continue using these three channels for commercial purposes, but also to integrate them with one another.

Isn't omnichannel just a hip word for the traditional communication mix or multimedia strategy?
No, because omnichannel is based on the idea that, in marketing, the purchasing path or customer journey is key. The theory with regard to the communication mix for multimedia approach used to employ a more top-down approach (from the brand to the customer) and focused primarily on the budget and the channels rather than the customer. Omnichannel is based on the idea that the customer will look at and buy your product via various channels, and that you approach your relationship with the customer via these various channels in a uniform and consistent manner. 

If the customer's purchasing path is so important: what is the best way for a retail marketeer to get a solid grip on this?
By gaining the best possible understanding of customer behavior. In my opinion, there are two aspects that play a role in this: the customer's behavior online and his or her behavior at the sales point. With regard to online behavior it is important to monitor and direct people's surfing behavior. You can monitor this by asking the right questions and to subsequently measure it, by asking questions like "Where does the customer come from?", "Which keywords are customers using?" or "At what point in the purchasing process do they give up?". An important marketing instrument in the customer journey is the customer card or loyalty card, because it shows you the customer's purchasing behavior. Good management of this data will allow you to be relevant for your customer. Not only do you want that is marketeer, the customer wants this to. If your customer is a new parent, they will be thrilled to have special offers or tips about baby care. Once the children start growing up, the customer – as a family – will start developing other needs. And when the kids leave home, the customer will want to receive other nice surprises from you.

Is every campaign at HEMA an omnichannel campaign?
It is certainly the general principle on which we base all our campaigns. Every campaign has to work technically, online and in the store and, preferably in every region. Once this works, the team will examine our touch-point with the customer and identify the channels. The initial plan is followed by communication and images. Next we make sure that everything is synchronized.

Is omnichannel just as trial & error as "old school" marketing?
Despite the fact that it is much easier these days to gain an overview of everything (particularly online), you are still basing everything on an assumption. This assumption needs to be tested to see if it will be successful. It is not without reason that A-B testing is used so frequently in the field of e-commerce. The same principle applies offline, except that you will be making more use of customer panels and test stores, for example. It goes without saying that online testing is much easier because it is less expensive and you can test more things at the same time.

Is omnichannel a new force in the marketing organization landscape? Or, in other words: will marketing teams in the retail sector need to adopt a different approach if they aim to communicate omnichannel?
Certainly. I have never been an advocate of the silo mentality within marketing teams: separate teams for social media, media purchasing, the online shop, trade marketing, planning – that can't possibly work. Even if you have only one brick-and-mortar store – and therefore only one channel through which you sell – all marketeers will still need to collaborate closely to join forces in achieving a common goal. I believe that omnichannel has set a new standard with regard to collaboration within marketing teams. This means a new start and a restructuring of the organization for many marketing organizations in the retail sector. So, yes: I am convinced that the silos in marketing departments need to be torn down. This will take time and effort, because people will sometimes need to start learning how to collaborate with one another all over again.

By the way: we have never had this division of teams at HEMA. We are outspokenly customer-focused, rather than focusing on the KPIs or a specific department's budget. Of course, this doesn't apply to retail and B2C alone; An outspoken customer-oriented approach over a variety of channels and touchpoints is also forcing the B2B sector towards omnichannel and integrated teams. The marketing profession has experienced quite an evolution in the past few years in this field. This evolution is certainly a good thing if it means that we, as marketeers, will need to start focusing less on the channel itself and start using communication and channels to get closer to the customer. In the end, it's up to the customer to decide what he or she prefers to buy. As an entrepreneur, you may prefer the purchasing process to take place in a brick-and-mortar store, but if a customer prefers to shop online you have to make sure that you are present there because, if you're not, the customer will simply choose another store or supplier. A marketing team has to think and work in an integrated manner to achieve this. Using the silo mentality will no longer produce the best results.

Marketing teams are getting their hands on digital tools at a rapid pace. Does omnichannel have an impact on that choice?
I don't think a lot will change at the level of the individual marketeer. Digital marketeers have their own specific digital tools, just like media marketeers or trade marketeers have theirs. But what is not to be overlooked is the method used by various marketeers within a team to communicate with one another or the management. If everyone were to do that in separate Excel tables, in individual digital tools or via a plethora of emails you wouldn't get a single step ahead. That just makes things more complex. An integrated consultation structure forces marketing teams to use a common and centralized digital platform on which they can share their projects and campaigns with one another. Looking at our own team, Husky works perfectly for us.

How do you measure the ROI of a marketing campaign? This has always a difficult point in marketing. Doesn't omnichannel make this even more complex, simply because the communication takes place on so many different channels? 
That won't change. The advantage in online communication is that it is easier to measure than offline communication. A brochure is difficult to measure. You can stop distributing a brochure for a week, but your brand will still remain firmly anchored in your customers' memory. If you want to truly measure results, you may have to stop distributing your brochure for longer, but the question is whether or not you would want to do this. I sincerely believe that, in the phase the market is in now, both communication methods can strengthen one another quite well. Because no matter how easy online communication is to measure, you will still have to deal with the point of attribution. The brochure may indeed have contributed to the customer having clicked on your online advertisement. This is why I strongly believe in the interaction of offline with online.

One last question. The GDPR is making a lot of retail marketeers nervous. Will this impede one-on-one communication with the customer?
Email marketing fits really well to an omnichannel environment, because it allows you to be personal and relevant for your customer. Still… at HEMA we have always been very strict with regard to the privacy of our customers and we will never "misuse" our customer data. GDPR will not bring any major changes to our company. The balance remains difficult to maintain, because consumers really do make a lot of data available via all sorts of platforms. I would like to return to what I call relevant: know your customers and send them – based on consent – emails that are relevant to them. Customer-oriented marketeers have experienced no problems with this. But one thing is sure: marketeers who are only concerned with their short-term KPIs are in for a difficult time.

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