‘Vasegate’ got Imerco on the omnichannel track
It took a surreal shitstorm to kickstart Imerco’s grand omnichannel ambitions. Now the hardware retailer reaps the transformational benefits of being an early adopter of an omnichannel mindset.
Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard is the charismatic speed-talking CCO at Imerco. We meet her at the hardware retailer’s store in Lyngby Storcenter, a mall in Lyngby – a northern suburb of Copenhagen.
In a section of the bright and spacious Imerco store, the danish ceramics brand Kähler is showcased. Oddly, it was a controversy related to a sold-out anniversary edition of a Kähler vase that originally got Imerco fast-tracked on omnichannel. Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard recalls,
Before ‘vasegate’, we talked about omnichannel as a concept. But we didn’t comprehend the importance of it until we got hit by a shitstorm.
The unlikely situation occurred in August 2014 when 16.000 customers simultaneously tried to buy the 175th-anniversary limited edition Kähler vase on Imerco’s webshop.
The website capitulated due to the pressure and afterwards, hundreds of angry, frustrated customers let their rage run riot on Facebook, overloaded Imerco’s telephone hotline, and some even went down to the stores to complain in person.
Altogether, this multichannel shitstorm resulted in intense media coverage making it the talk of the nation for days and was a hard-earned lesson in customer-service for Imerco.
“Vasegate taught us that our customers don’t distinguish between which of our channels they use. They felt they made business with only one entity – and that was Imerco. Our customers wanted the service they felt entitled to, and when we couldn’t perform on one platform, they directed their anger towards the next unprepared Imerco employee in line,” Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard remembers.
To Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard, the semi-bizarre vase scenario represents the epitome of why you as a retailer should practice omnichannel.
We learned that it's essential that our channels ‘talk’ together - pulling in the same direction - applying the same universe to the different touchpoints. At this point, we failed miserably at that, and it made us aware that we weren't going to be a future-proof retailer if we didn't develop ourselves to master seamless service across all channels.
Omnichannel as transformation
Over the last few years, Imerco has made a eight-digit investment in omnichannel strategy and digital development, which has resulted in a significant growth in revenue. Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard is keen to share the mindset which she feels is required to achieve omnichannel success:
“People often perceive omnichannel to be some sort of an IT or technology project. I think it should be considered more of an overall transformation of one’s business. Because if you want to be successful in omnichannel, then you have to work with all departments at once.”
Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard continues,
“It’s going to affect both IT, economy, marketing, the physical stores, and logistics. And you need to revisit your cost structure and your KPIs, and how you motivate people when sales and flow changes as an effect of new cross-channel customers’ behaviour.”
Less performance, more experience
According to Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard, a lot of the classic ways to measure customer behaviour and marketing effect by channel doesn’t work in an omnichannel reality. Her advice is to look at it in a less performance parameter-centric fashion and start by putting the customer first.
At the end of the day, it is all about providing pleasant shopping experiences to the customers across all channels and touchpoints. If you want to succeed with omnichannel, my advice is to break it down to that.
Branding equals omnichannel
According to Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard, the modern-day customer has more touchpoints with his or her favoured brand than ever before. And they expect to get excellent service at any given touchpoint if a retailer is going to keep them as loyal customers.
To ensure that, you need to view customer experience as a part of the branding process. She further explains,
“At Imerco, our definition of branding is that it is the sum of all of the customer’s experiences. So, to me, branding and omnichannel are somewhat the same. To us, branding is not a list of marketing attributes claiming we are this or that. It is all about how you make the customer feel when they interact with your company.”
Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard elaborates,
If the customer doesn’t experience that you practice what you preach when they interact with you online or in-store, then they are going to leave.
Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard continues,
“At Imerco we sell a lot of products that you can find variations of elsewhere. That means that we need to be able to offer customers something else that ensures customers’ preference to shop at our stores. For example the branding that we offer through a compelling service experience.”
Amazon up next
In 2017, Imerco bought the competing retailer chain, Inspiration. But do they risk being David fighting Goliath, when the mastodon, Amazon, enters the Scandinavian market?
“No doubt the forthcoming competition from Amazon is something every retailer needs to address. But we hope that our early groundwork with our customer club (Imerco has more than 1 million club members) and all of our omnichannel functions is enough to ensure that we maintain our customer segments,” Lotte Wøldiche Præstgaard states.
In relation to the new international competition, Præstgaard thinks Imerco has certain advantages that should not be underestimated.
“In contrast to Amazon and other pure players, we have a history and Danish origin. We are represented locally with more than 160 stores all over Denmark, and we share a certain bond with the local communities. We treasure the face-to-face connection with our customers, and we firmly believe it holds great value to many people to be able to receive our services both in-store and online. We see this combination as our foundation for the future.”