That's what the pundits tell us we have to do. That's all. Just be perfect across millions of transactions a week.
Relentlessly perfect. Seamless. Frictionless. Omnichannel. The pundits use words like "table stakes" as they glowingly criticize everybody who isn't perfect.
So I go to the grocery store. In the parking lot I order pizza from the restaurant next door. Easy, quick, efficient. The omnichannel punditocracy clinks their champagne glasses, anticipating another delighted customer across online and retail.
My order will be ready between 7:15pm and 7:21pm, and I will receive a message when the order is ready.
I'm done grocery shopping, so I enter the store, where I am greeted by six customers waiting.
There is a message.The portals are down!!
Two exclamation points.
The omnichannel system has completely broken down. This isn't seamless, this isn't frictionless. But the problem can be solved. It will be up to the "cashier" to solve the problem.
Turns out there are a lot of customers waiting in the tiny lobby because the "cashier" isn't working as a "cashier" right now ... for the $11/hour she's being paid she is fighting for her life making pizzas, trying to take care of customers. She's hustling, she's scrappy, gritty, doing what she can.
Every few minutes she pops out with a pizza and barks out a name ... "TREVOR ... TREVOR??"
Then she keeps making pizzas, fighting again for her employment life at $11/hour.
There's now nine people crammed into the small lobby and the political comments are flying.
- "NOBODY WANTS TO WORK, THAT'S WHAT CAUSES THIS PROBLEM."
- "THE GOVERNMENT IS PAYING EVERYBODY TO SIT AT HOME, SO EVERYBODY HAS MONEY AND NOBODY IS WORKING AND EVERYBODY IS SPENDING GOVERNMENT MONEY. THAT'S WHAT WE'RE SEEING HERE, SHEEPLE."
- "WHERE IS MY FREE VETERANS DAY PIZZA?"
Meanwhile the "cashier" is absolutely battling. Balling. She's trying to save the entire omnichannel thesis on her own. She asks my name. She goes back, comes back out and says "we're almost done!". I don't believe her for a moment.
I should have surmised that maybe there was a good chance that the "wrong" pies were being moved in and out, because when she asks the other two employees where my pizzas are the other two employees look at her like she has candy canes coming out of her ears. She barks at her co-workers ... "THE SYSTEM SAYS HIS PIZZAS ARE READY". The co-workers look at each other again, realize that the "cashier" needs to see two pizzas immediately, and they grab two boxes and yell "KEVIN".
I should have said something, but I was worried about the two marinara sauces that were not being handed to me. One of the co-workers addresses me ... "THIS IS A REALLY ROUGH NIGHT", goes back, and gets me two marinara sauces.
Nearly a half-hour late and relieved to have two pizzas while avoiding an angry mob of customers frustrated with free government money, I drive home.
When I get home, I have two pizzas that have nothing to do with me. And I should have known this because I saw the chaos exhibited by the co-workers who were being barked at by the "cashier". I could tell by their faces that they were just randomly making pizzas to get them out the door. "HE'LL LOVE PEPPERONI!".
It all starts with this:
Tomorrow the Store Manager will explain to the Regional Manager what the heck happened on Thursday night. The Store Manager will keep her job because there is a labor shortage.
The Regional Manager will explain to the Vice President of Stores what happened at Store 2826 last night. The Vice President of Stores will compare notes across 173 different stores that all had the same problem with the "portal". Maybe it was an IT problem. Maybe the vendor who sold the solution sold the pizza brand a piece of junk. Maybe the "cashier" botched operation of the portal.
The VP of Stores will tell the Executive Team that this was an "anomaly". The "Omnichannel Services" team will deal with 12,577 angry customers, like they do every day, apologize, and offer 15% off on the next visit.
Then everybody will face Friday. It will be Groundhog Day.
Retail is not seamless. It is not frictionless. It's warfare. The best retailers hide how the sausage pizza is made, hide all of the challenges, and somehow repeatedly get through the day pleasing as many customers as possible. The employees who hide all of the problem do so earning less than what is required to make a reasonable living. The omnichannel solutions that cause problems are offered by folks making enough money to live in a cul-de-sac where homes appreciated 33% in the past two years.
The pundits demanding that you execute in a perfect manner every single time? They need to obtain some empathy. The employees they demand perfection from are fighting an uphill battle every single day, sometimes caused by the vendors selling solutions that promise a seamless, frictionless omnichannel experience.
P.S.: I received an email that my order was ready ... about five minutes after I left the store, 26 minutes after the time-window I was promised. Omnichannel!!