Expo Panel: The Omnichannel Experience

Tim Binder
Executive Editor
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Retailers in some product channels have been providing an omnichannel experience for shoppers for years. Among CPG retailers, it’s been a more recent occurrence.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, building an omnichannel experience became exponentially more important for every retailer in 2020, regardless of channel, as well as for any product manufacturer that sells through retail.

In fact, when polled during the Path to Purchase Institute’s fourth “Community Gathering,” held virtually on Sept. 30 as part of the Path to Purchase Digital Expo, 98% of the attendees indicated they experienced a significant shift in sales of their products to the online environment this year. The gathering featured a panel of industry experts who answered various questions on the topic of “the omnichannel experience.”

Ready-to-drink cocktail brand BuzzBallz has risen to that challenge, according to panelist Tracy Frisbie, the company’s vice president of marketing. “We had a really robust digital marketing plan going into 2020, so when the pandemic hit and people started spending more time on their connected devices, it kind of paid off that we [invested] in digital this year.

“The most important lesson we learned about shoppers this year is that panic and fear motivates very fast behavior changes and also some irrational or extremely emotional purchasing decisions.”

Shoe Carnival’s stores had to close for three months as the pandemic hit, forcing it to operate a pure-play e-commerce site for a while. “We are in non-essential retail,” said panelist Deb Hannah, the retailer’s vice president of marketing. “We’ve learned there’s no trip mission without a mission.”

Hannah said that her company implemented such a "dramatic acceleration" of e-commerce that it became a "dramatic change." “Where we are now is where we always wanted to be five years from now, but we did it in three months, instead,” she said. “And so you can imagine the kind of whiplash that can provide an organization. … We went all-in on e-commerce in a way that we’d never done before.” That required a completely different activation of the marketing mix, she noted.

A different kind of retailer than Shoe Carnival, Ahold Delhaize's Food Lion grocery chain this year has focused on providing an omnichannel experience that is shopper-centric and seamless. And that starts with its MVP loyalty program and the 25 years of data it has collected.

“That means unlocking all the benefits of the MVP card,” said panelist Cheryl Pinkham, Food Lion manager, shopper marketing. “When we launched our e-commerce site, that meant taking all those brick-and-mortar shoppers and helping them learn to use all the tools that our loyalty program offers. … How do we make it easy for our shoppers? How do we give them the experiences and the access to what we’re bringing to the table whether [or not it’s online].

“It’s mirroring that [in-store] experience. Other retailers’ e-commerce experience isn’t always the same experience as how shoppers would shop their stores.”

Panelist Paul Murphy, Menasha vice president, retail strategy and sales, said omnichannel can be “sort of agnostic” for packaging and display companies. “Our challenges are to help retailers and brands execute the channels and meet their shoppers where they are,” he said. “What are the right supply chain solutions to withstand the rigor, whether it's in-store or online? And more importantly, build the solutions beginning with the end in mind so that you don't try to make your club pack your online pack. We think about omnichannel as a chance to build synergies across sales channels and not just stay siloed across different channel management teams.”

When asked what retailers need from their brand/supplier partners in their quest for an omnichannel experience, Shoe Carnival’s Hannah said, “As a marketer and someone who designs the customer experience for in-store and online, and for how they come together, insights are incredibly helpful. What is the shopper looking for? We benchmark relentlessly.”

Pinkham said Food Lion counts on communication from its partners. “Transparency and honesty. … What is it they want out of their relationship with Food Lion?” She recalled one of her earliest meetings at Food Lion, during which a vendor said, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.”

From the brand perspective, Frisbie said to create an omnichannel experience it’s vital to have “consistency in the content and the brand messaging across online and e-commerce, ensure that your electronic shelves are correct and updated, and then be proactive with your retail partners and a third-party delivery service partner to ensure that all of the content that they have on their sites for your brands are up-to-date and correct, and make it easy for them too.”

The next Community Gathering, to be held Oct. 15, will examine “The Future of the Store" and will feature panelists Art Sebastian of Casey’s General Store, Nick Fearnley of IMS, Jalal Hamad of The Home Depot and Joel Warady of Catalina Snacks.

For more information about the Path to Purchase Digital Expo and to register for the event, visit