Webinar Recap: All About Omni-channel, Secret Weapons, and More

Miss the webinar? No problem. We’ve got a quick recap just for you.

This afternoon, Forte CEO Jeff Thorness sat down for a chat with MPD CEO Karen Webster of PYMNTS.com. The topic? Omni-channel. The big buzzword in retail and payments has launched plenty of conversation about the expectations of consumers. After all, as Karen noted, we check our devices a whopping 21 times per hour. Smartphones and other connected devices have absolutely changed the game for retailers. Mobile phones have dramatically altered the expectations of consumers, who now want to be more engaged through features like real-time status updates. But the bigger question is how do we help retailers get to an omni-channel perspective that really works, not just for the customer in terms of experience, but also for the merchants themselves?

To help sift through all of the solutions and conversations, there’s no better person than Jeff Thorness. Jeff built Forte from the ground up. As truly a “solutions provider,” Forte has always been focused on understanding the problems that customers and merchants face and on sculpting solutions that help them overcome these problems. So Forte’s interest in omni-channel was sparked long before the buzzword hit mainstream. As Jeff describes it, “We’ve always been in the omni-channel space.”

For Jeff, omni-channel is more than it seems. More than just multi-channel sales, it’s about seamless experience and consistent dialogue. “Rather than a business trying to engage with its customers, omni-channel is about the opposite: allowing customers to engage with a business.” The “end result” has to be consistent for the customer, no matter the channel. To do this, the data has to be consistent – no matter the payment method.

And this is where we talk secret weapons.

The key to omni-channel success is data

Data is a key aspect of a successful omni-channel strategy. The “actual guts (or messaging)” needs to be consistently delivered across all of the channels, states Jeff. Everything must be up-to-date and shared. “Synchronization of data is absolutely paramount to the omni-channel discussion,” says Jeff.

Karen agrees. Customers expect a certain experience, where data is synchronized almost unbeknownst to them, across all channels, but this can pose a real challenge for retailers. “Data is another word that we seem to think is a magical answer, but data doesn’t necessarily mean better decision making. So what data is actually critical in omni-channel?” she asks.

There are three specific types of data important to an omni-channel strategy:

1. Inventory level

2. Purchase activity

3. Customer information related to that purchase activity

This information is what new omni-channel innovations like Wal-Mart’s drive-thru/online ordering system depend upon.

Specific challenges around omni-channel

But what are some of the challenges? According to Jeff, a big one is simply that “a lot of these things are new.” As a result, “there isn’t a single system used to drive all of the channels that they serve.” Instead, the big channels like mobile, web, and retail are churning separately as disparate solutions. All of the information contained within these channels, their payment types, and their transaction activity can get lost. They need to be consolidated in order to better serve both customers and internal services like marketing performance, customer support, inventory, and other back-end functions. The lack of a “consistent interface” is really disrupting the omni-channel initiative.

Karen wonders if the challenges are the same for bigger and smaller retailers. Jeff sees the bigger guys as potentially having a bigger challenge but with more dedicated resources. The smaller guys will have similar challenges, just pared down, but they will be “more reliant upon their vendors in order to perform this functionality. They won’t have dedicated resources to build customized integration – they might have to rely upon canned or slightly modified solutions.”

How Forte can help retailers execute omni-channel

So how does Forte work with retailers that want to execute an omni-channel strategy? A large part of this has to do with our cloud-based payment platform. Data can flow straight through it, so merchants can consolidate their payments and segment their data all in one system. Transactions can happen via any channel, and the data related to that transaction can be segmented any way a merchant needs to: by region, location, store number, sales associate, etc. We also provide reporting that supports all of these operations, and we offer API access to that information. For a merchant, it’s incredibly easy. It takes the headache out of omni-channel operations.

Most importantly, it supports transactions from a variety of payment methods, including credit cards, debit cards, and eChecks. Jeff hints that there are plans to add cash to the system as well.

In addition to this payment processing platform, Forte also just released Checkout. This product was built to serve not only merchants, but also to provide customers with the experience that they are looking for. Checkout can be used at a variety of channels: online, mobile, kiosks, and card-present environments, for example. With one integration point, it really brings omni-channel down to a manageable level. And the data it can capture flows all the way to the very same cloud-based gateway platform for consolidation and segmentation. Checkout is brand-new, but it has most recently been adopted by the State of Illinois DMV. This solution is a perfect option for those looking to branch into omni-channel.

Jeff leads the audience through a quick demo of Checkout, highlighting its features and showing the “free t-shirt” campaign used for the launch. (For a glimpse of the infamous dino, click here!) At the end, Karen wants to know what the most important thing about omni-channel is, what Jeff would like to leave us with.

“The reality is that consumers have certain expectations, but there is a tremendous gap between what business can perform and these expectations. Adopting omni-channel addresses these expectations, but it’s going to get more and more intense. Businesses need to find a partner that has a lot of experience in this,” says Jeff.

And those businesses that need experienced partners in payments? Look no further. We’re suited up and ready to help you launch your omni-channel strategy, secret weapon in hand.

Photo credit: jmv

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