The pandemic strengthens brands’ omnichannel strategies | Self-Service Innovation Summit 2021


A Self-Service Innovation Summit panel representing different retail sectors explains what omnichannel means for their business and the impact of the pandemic.

GoMoto’s Todd Marcelle, AMC Theatres’ Hank Green, Freebirds World Burrito’s Alex Eagle and MTI’s Mary Jesse explore omnichannel strategies.

As e-commerce has grown rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic, retailers and brands have been forced to upgrade their omnichannel selling capabilities.

A panel at last month’s Self-Service Innovation Summit in Hollywood, Florida titled “Omnichannel Integration: Do You Have a Game Plan?” offered insight into how three different retail sectors are meeting this challenge: restaurants, movie theaters and car dealerships.

Omnichannel has taken on new life during the pandemic, said panel moderator Mary Jesse, CEO of MTI, which makes kiosk hardware and software. Noting that the panelists represented different retail sectors, she asked each to explain what omnichannel means to their business.

Quick casual to adopt the sale

Panelist Alex Eagle, CEO of Freebirds World Burrito, a fast casual restaurant chain, said his company’s omnichannel continues to evolve with new shopping trends. Beyond e-commerce and door-to-door sales, more recent trends include extending the restaurant product into retail environments and non-traditional environments such as vending machines.

“The ‘omni’ part for me is that the brand has to stay the same and the product has to stay the same,” he said. For example, if he is moving his chips from the restaurant to packaged chips for a retail environment, the chips must taste the same.

“Or if we move our bowls from our restaurant into a retail environment, that bowl needs to replicate the experience you would have where we started, in our four-wall environment,” he said.

Eagle said he was particularly interested in selling as a growth channel.

“For me, selling has better ROI potential than licensing our brand in non-traditional (venues),” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, Eagle said his company integrated delivery into the company’s website. The company has also enabled third-party delivery from its point-of-sale system.

“When the pandemic hit, we were incredibly grateful to have been relatively early adopters,” Eagle said. Before the pandemic, the restaurant industry resisted third-party delivery companies because the model is economically and environmentally inefficient, but more importantly, third-party delivery companies keep restaurant data.

He said his company had made “massive” investments in technology to improve simplification to provide a better customer experience and to help employees and eliminated less pleasant positions.

The cinema chain responds

Panelist Hank Green, vice president of catering, AMC Theaters, a movie theater chain, said his company’s omnichannel challenge is to create an experience for customers that is not only consistent across its various brands, but seamless. .

“We want buying tickets (and) buying food to be a seamless experience for them (guests)…and give them the choice of how they want to have that experience,” Green said. “Do they want to buy their tickets online, do they want to buy them through the app, do they always want to buy them at the theater, either at a kiosk or from a person?”

The pandemic has changed the company’s business focus, he said.

Before the pandemic, AMC was trying to decide what experience a theater could provide that was better than the home viewing experience. Most of the innovations at the time focused on box office sales, such as offering tickets online and with an app.

When theaters closed during the pandemic, the company worked to improve the user experience. The pandemic gave the company time to think about how to increase food and beverage sales once people were in theaters.

“It was a really big effort to transfer that customer experience from the ticketing to the food court, which is a lot more complicated,” Green said.

Car dealerships react

Meanwhile, when the pandemic hit, auto consumers wondered whether or not they should hit a kiosk, said panelist Todd Marcelle, CEO of GoMoto, which provides digital solutions for car dealerships. All GoMoto kiosks had antimicrobial screens as well as gloves and sanitizer and told dealers how to present it as a safe option.

“We had to do a great job of explaining to consumers and resellers why this is a safe option and creating and adapting our technology to achieve that,” he said.

Automotive has traditionally lacked innovation in bringing the retail experience to the consumer because it always felt it had to control the customer experience, he said.

In creating GoMoto, Marcelle said he looked at Chick-fil-A, which has servers with tablets in the driving area, drive-thru, mobile ordering and indoor dining.

“They (Chick-fil-A) have to make it so easy based on what you want to do based on how much time you want to spend,” Marcelle said. “I really see them as an innovative way to serve lots of customers without friction, even when there are a lot of people there, it still doesn’t feel like it takes up a lot of your time.”

As part of its omnichannel initiative, GoMoto has also developed mobile check-in. The consumer receives a QR code which they scan at the kiosk, reducing transaction time from two minutes to 10 seconds.

“For us as consumers, it lowers transaction prices and creates a better experience,” he said.

On the service side, omnichannel addresses meet the customer where he wants to be met.

“Some customers never want to come into the dealership so we need to offer valet parking…we need to invest in mobile trucks…we help dealers activate mobile service where they will bring the service truck to you and do the oil change,” he said.

One of the challenges auto dealerships face is educating employees using new technologies on why they don’t threaten their jobs, Marcelle said. In stores that are using technology successfully, service advisors are using it as an extension of themselves.

The impact of the pandemic

Asked about how customers have changed since the pandemic, Freebirds World Burrito’s Eagle said there have been higher check averages in digital channels, which has been a big plus since digital channels are more profitable.

When asked if he thought they had kept the pandemic lift, Eagle said “yes”. The pandemic has encouraged many people to try online ordering or food delivery for the first time.

“It creates new opportunities that you didn’t have before,” he said.

Customer expectations at theaters have made the business more complex, so AMC Theaters has sought to simplify operations wherever possible, Green told AMC Theaters. Customers wanted to move through queues faster or skip the queues altogether, which complicates employee responsibilities. The reduction in the number of employees has also complicated the roles of employees.

“Simplifying the operation to try to meet new customer expectations has really been the goal of our groups since the start of the pandemic,” Green said. This has necessitated the reduction of food and beverage SKUs, some of which are due to supply chain issues.

“Trying to create an experience for our team that is executable and meets customer expectations that are heightened from what they were before,” he described the challenge.

“The goal is to do fewer things better,” he said.

The pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of mobile food and drink ordering, introduced by AMC Theaters in 2015.

“The pandemic gave it the ability to ramp up. Now it’s in all theaters,” Green said.

Many guests who have returned to theaters since the pandemic shutdown are buying more groceries largely because the company now offers more choices.

In addition, regular visitors use mobile ordering more often.

GoMoto’s Marcelle said the pandemic has accelerated automatic check-in and check-out.

“COVID has accelerated all of the self-directed options, (including) the finance side, where you can go to almost any car dealership’s website, or a used car outlet, and literally do the transaction in line and they’ll drop the car off at your house,” he said.

A global movement

Omnichannel retail is a global movement, with foreign markets catching up and overtaking the United States

Marcelle said the United States was the leader in investing in new technologies. However, over the past two years, all geographies have adopted similar technologies.

India has overtaken the United States and China in introducing micro-transactions over the phone, Marcelle said, using Apple Pay. When a consumer goes to a fast food restaurant or a gas station, he can order in his vehicle.

“He knows you’re at pump 4. You just select 87, or 79 or 92, then you literally fill up and away you go,” he said. “That’s how fast I see innovation coming into what I call frictionless commerce.”

“You will see that it will take off stronger in countries where there is no inheritance,” agreed Jesse.


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