Guest Slot – Analysis Insider – Sarah Wilson

Without doubt the question I’m most frequently asked by senior retailers is – do I know anybody who is good in multi-channel.

Multi-channel: anybody good at this stuff?


Having considered the reason for this oft-asked question, I’ve concluded that it is possible that it simply is not clear what skills are required of somebody who is deemed ‘good’ in multi-channel.

Given this lack of clarity I also wonder if there is an over-reliance in seeking out people with fabulous technical skills, maybe there is even a belief that understanding the technology is the main priority, the main driver for finding that all elusive multi-channel specialist. Whilst technical understanding helps, we see a new breed of professional emerging as the ‘multi-channel’ specialist.

It is interesting that organisational design for multi-channel retailers are so similar and yet so different.  If you look at the design for the bricks & mortar channels invariably the picture is similar no matter which retailers you look at.  When you look at those same retailers on-line operations we find no two business have the same organisational set-up.

Multi-channel retailers are still finding their feet with both people and operational structures when it comes to developing their multi-channel propositions. At this stage the reality for most retailers is that their online operations are not yet an integral part of their broader operating models.

Relying on organisational structures can be a bit fishy

However, focusing purely on the organisational structure is arguably a bit of a red herring if there is not real clarity around the skills needed to deliver in an integrated multi-channel world, then progress is going to be slow.

So- what would the attributes for people leading in multi-channel?

·         People who ‘get’ the operation of a store because multi-channel relies heavily on bricks and mortar, as an extension of the customer experience (as brand ambassadors, as collection points, as returns points). Andy Harding, executive director of multi-channel at House of Fraser, suggests it is staggering how many multi-channel people have hardly been in a shop!

·         An ability to collaborate and network across the business because multi-channel touches every aspect of an organisation – bashing down any silo mentality

·         An ability to communicate with and successfully influence a variety of people in a variety of situations and get results which work in the round

·         Highly tuned project management skills in order to bring the various business streams together, working to tight deadlines and juggling lots of balls

·         Quick learners – things are always changing

·         As well as having a creative bent where new ideas can be brought to the table and new ways of working explored

Maybe these are the attributes that retailers should be looking for to answer the ‘who is good at multi-channel question?’ Yes, without doubt individuals need to be au fait with the technical aspects of multi-channel, but the next generation multi-channel expert will need to be far more rounded and understand the ‘old’ channels as well as the ‘new’.

Believe it or not – the people who ultimately prove to be good leaders in multi-channel could be right under your nose working away within your organisation and their value has not yet been recognised.

Sponsored column by Sarah Wilson, retail specialist at consultancy Egremont Group