A Chink in Omnichannel's Armor

The Ace Hardware Corp. CEO makes the case against buzzwords, and for service and quality

Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen

With the rise of Amazon.com, there’s no shortage of interest in “omnichannel” retailing. It’s a favored buzzword at retail conferences and retail consultancies, and retail strategic plans.

But for an independent retailer, there are more important things to focus on, according to Ace Hardware CEO John Venhuizen.

In an interview with HBSDealer, the co-op chief had pointed to the struggling omnichannel giant Sears and its woes as evidence for his against-the-grain thinking.

“Everybody likes to talk about Omni-channel and sound real smart with these buzzwords,” he told HBSDealer. “But what I find interesting is that some of the retailers with the best omnichannel experience are struggling the most.”

One can argue that Sears has invested the most and has the most seamless onmichannel experience of any retailer in the U.S. And for years, Sears CEO Eddie Lampert has stressed the transition to an omni-channel format with an emphasis on a Shop Your Way loyalty plan.

And the result of that emphasis? On Wednesday Sears warned that it might not survive.

“Omni is not the answer to everything,” Venhuizen said. “ You have to manage the core value proposition first, or the omnichannel business is just chasing after what somebody else is good at.”

Venhuizen had previously stressed the three areas that Ace considers to be core: service, quality and convenience.

Beware, he said of consultants who attempt to terrify retailers about the power of Amazon, while suggesting that omnichannel retailer is the answer. One can waste a lot of money in that pursuit, he suggests.

“It’s about what your core value proposition is,” he said. “And the reason Sears is struggling is because that proposition is undefined. They spent a fortune to have a seamless integrated customer experience, but very few people care.”

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