Coffee Talk: Retail, Mobile, and the Quest for an Omnichannel Experience


I’m always surprised when I find a major brand doesn’t have an app, or when a smaller brand has a kick-ass mobile site. I, like most consumers, gravitate to the more seamless omnichannel experience – especially when it comes to mobile and in-store. To dig deeper into the “why” and the implications of brands who still haven’t invested in omnichannel, I sat down with our CEO, Michael Caccavale for a little coffee talk.   

According to eMarketer, digital usage will reach 5 hours 50 minutes per day in 2017. This includes more than 3 hours of nonvoice mobile, most of which is in apps (versus mobile web). Are brands without an app missing the boat?

It depends on the brand. Brands that see frequent purchases/interactions from their customers (more than 1-2x/month), they likely need an app.


Who’s doing the app game well? Who isn’t?

Amazon. For example, I picked out a few things on my mobile app and put them in my cart. Then I realized there were a few things I wanted to investigate further. We were buying an immersion blender and I wanted to research. I went online and my cart was updated online. So I knew exactly what I was looking for and I could follow up on more research. And the app was so well integrated with the online experience, it made the process easy and seamless.

So what are the key attributes of mobile app vs. mobile web?

  • Performance. The app seems to know me. They have settings that are customized just for me and they don’t disappear or reset every time I come back.
  • Usability. That I can hit a fingerprint and be in there, not having to enter a name and password. The security and authentication is already built in.
  • Convenience. When I think of purchasing something via the web, I think of it as being clunky. For example, using the OpenTable app instead of the website, or Amazon, or my Weather app. Or even my car’s application to lock or unlock – so I don’t have to take my keys with me when I’m out riding.
  • Cost. Development, maintenance, management – the idea of keeping the app up to date vs. the website isn’t a huge cost. Maintenance over time requires more effort, but the better brands are going to have to go there.

Okay, so cost aside, what are brands looking at in terms of mobile app creation vs. web development:

In app development, you create 2 versions – iOS and android. Browsers, on the other hand, require multiple versions – and companies don’t always build for all browsers. For example, a brand’s website may work just fine in Chrome and Firefox, but break if you try to use it in Safari. And there’s also the question of whether their website is at least scaled to fit mobile, if not an entirely separate mobile web build. 

Is increased mobile use why brick-and-mortars are struggling? Can they recover?

It’s not the only reason why, but it’s a big factor. The fact that they haven’t adopted the mobile channel as one part of their multichannel strategy – despite documented increased mobile use among consumers – is definitely working against them. Like Macy’s – do they even have an app?

For example, my friends are having a new management person look at their retirement. Here’s someone who wants to reduce her annual apparel budget – in other words, spends a lot of money on clothes – but doesn’t know if Neiman Marcus has an app. How can someone with a $15,000 clothing budget who is very adept at technology, not know if her favorite store has a mobile app? So they’re clearly either not taking that action, or just not letting their best customers know when they do. Either way, it’s a miss.

If they’re late to the game, can an app save them?

People still want the store experience – so brick and mortar is still necessary. The app won’t save them but it will put them back into a place where new customers and existing customers can start to get the seamless in and out of store experience they demand today.

If mobile is just one part of the mix and the path to purchase includes many channels, how do marketers become/remain customer-centric?

It’s proactively customer-centric or reactively customer-centric. The company’s strategy can be reactive and for some customers that can appear proactive. Yeah, if I’m a lifetime Macy’s customer and they say they have an app, I’m going to recognize this was once missing. But for people who maybe shop there once a year, if they haven’t adopted the brand in a big way, they’re going to respond differently.

Why are large legacy retail brands so reactive when it comes to omnichannel marketing? Why can they afford to wait?

They only started to be smart when the stores started closing. I think they viewed as an either/or. We had clients saying “the Amazons of the world are killing us. We can’t compete in that space.” And my response there is if you’re a catalog operation, for example, there’s no reason you can’t still integrate an app. It’s not either/or. 

When was the last time you took a path to purchase comprised in a single channel?

There are times when I go online on Amazon (desktop) to purchase smaller, cheaper things. Memory sticks, for example. When it’s a known product or not a discriminating purchase. I already know what I want and don’t want. I can look online and see all that. That was on desktop. Sometimes I make single purchases on mobile. Again, on Amazon, interestingly enough – but it’s still things that are easy to click and purchase, known quantities. Other examples are food, movie tickets, repeat purchases on clothing I like… It’s all stuff I don’t have to research, I can just click and buy.

Single-channel purchases work for buying necessities (or again, known products), but when you’re in and out, buying what you came for, you’re not getting the browsing experience. Which means the retailer isn’t necessarily upselling you. So it’s not lucrative for a brand to rely solely on a single channel or they miss other sales opportunities.


Marketers are still struggling with expertise in a data-driven approach. What are the top 3 barriers to implementation?

- The consistency of attribution. Say you can’t tie a person online easily to a person you have in your customer database – you need to be able to bring data together and correlate it.

- Channel platforms are geared in different directions. Where the web is all around brand-like and sweeping search and banner ads. You don’t necessarily know who the customer is or you do through some cookie but it has to be anonymized. That’s tough.

- Some brands feel comfortable in the channel they’re in. For example, they have a strong catalog approach and don’t think about other channels as capable of complementing that. 


What advice do you have for marketers who don’t know where to start?

Consider the entire buying and shopping experience and divert the most dollars to the weakest link in that chain. If you are slamming online, for example, look at mobile and other channels – as you are only as good as your weakest channel.

Retail Dive says QR codes are making a comeback. Are you bought in?

Not at all. I came across one the other day on a bike trail for a trail map and realized I didn’t have a single app that could read one. For me, they were “the thing” a few years ago but I’m not seeing it lately.

Category: omnichannel

Amanda Wojtalik

Amanda Wojtalik

A seasoned marketing professional, Amanda Wojtalik brings experience in omnichannel marketing and communications to craft and curate content for Pluris Marketing.

About this blog

At Pluris, we believe that we all can do a better, more efficient job at marketing to our most important customers. On this blog, we'll discuss how strategy, database management, offer optimization and analytics can help us all be better marketers. Sometimes, we may just talk about sports.

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