At Open we identify and examine customer issues. At DNA we deliver on that thinking.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein


Water makes its way to the sea

Sherryn Macdonald February 2010

Avoiding unplanned online/offline collisions

If an unplanned online/offline collision happens, then the incident report can only cite the business or its agency as the cause.

Online/offline collisions occur when a business is channel focussed rather than customer focussed. Dividing a company into delivery channels ensures budgets, resources and key outcomes are neatly bounded and accountable. However, in all efficient practices the distinctions are artificial. The reality is each channel eventually converges at the point of the customer.

The bigger the company, the more siloed its delivery channels and the more likely a blindsided collision will occur. To avoid these kinds of the collision, the focus must shift from being inward to seeing with the customer’s viewpoint. It’s the customer (i.e. what they’re looking for and what will suit them best) who should determine the shape channel delivery.

Just because you can, does not mean you should. Take the supermarket with its beautiful LED touchscreen informing you of the specials and recipe ideas to go with it – just when you’ve queued for 15 minutes with the kids in tow and the parking meter is about to expire. The shopper’s goal at this point is to feel efficient and complete the shop as fast as possible. In this context the LED screen experience can only be one of irritation. Most definitely not what the supermarket intended. A channel/customer collision occurred because the focus wasn’t on the customer.

In essence, an online or offline channel is an end solution. Digital touchscreens, txt promotions, price comparison sites, shopping list apps, ingredient origin trackers, virtual mannequins, GPS store locators, RFID shopper identifiers, self scanning and check out…. these should only exist because the are a solution to a shopper’s goal. A shopper has two types of goals. An experiential goal is how they wish to feel, such as stimulated, proficient, successful or popular.  A task goal is what they wish to achieve, such as finding the right shoes to go with the dress, learning about stereo systems, or locating a value of money fishing rod.  In reality the shopper is actually channel agnostic. If the solution fulfils their goal, all is well in their world. There are no irritants, no collisions.

One way to derive empathy for the shopper’s goals is to go with them through their shopping journey.  The optimal journey from a shopper perspective is one which seamlessly meets their goals and just happens, everything just falls into place. Cognitive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was instrumental in teasing out the holy grail of happiness, describes this feeling as a State of Flow. 

Just like water making its way to the sea, people take the path of least resistance to reach their goals. A state of flow along the retail journey is achieved by offering the shopper the right path (channel) in the right way at the right time. In essence, the channels are synchronised with the shoppers experiential and task goals.

Taking the shopping journey with a retailer many of us have experienced - The Warehouse - it becomes obvious where the synchronisation occurs. The goal of many a Warehouse shopper is finding and purchasing a ‘value for money’ item. Woven into this task goal is the experiential goal of the thrill of the find - the act of finding. I know families who can lose themselves, and each other, for whole afternoons smooching around the proverbial Aladdin’s Cave.

Let’s take a look at some common shopper goals and experiences in this context:   Looking at this we can begin to see the multitude of solutions to shopper’s goals, and more importantly, how they can work together enabling a state of flow. In this context the online and offline division is meaningless to the shopper, as long as their goals are realised in a seamless manner. 

Selecting which solutions to offer is an exercise in prioritisation by the business. If they are smart this prioritisation is weighted on building the long term ‘desired’ brand experience, rather than meeting short term resource availability. In doing this the skill lies in determining where the harmonies sit.

Some solutions, such as access to real time stock management, are able to satisfy goals at differing journey stages. Efficiency goals of the Transact phase tend to suggest the online channel, which excels in process and information management.

And finally, an important thing to remember - we are not all digital natives, surrounded by an ecosystem of digital hardware and online knowhow. Keep your eye firmly on your customer’s goals and hopefully you’ll never need to write an incident report  about an online/offline collision.


Mark Taylor 9 July 2013 at 8:50am

Nice post, very informative.

What do you think?