Omnichannel Retail Made Simple: A Complete Guide For Brands
A-Z of omnichannel retailing. Step by step guide on how to implement a successful omnichannel strategy for your retail business with examples.
14 min read
There is a brand for that! Favourable market conditions aided by relaxed tax and investment laws have led to a burgeoning of brands in the market. While brands are finding it difficult to stand out among their competitors our growing middle-class is flooded with options to choose from. Brands are hence shifting focus towards offering more value to the customer across their buying journey by treating buying not like an activity but like an experience. And technology is playing a crucial part in creating this integrated buying experience for the customer.
Consumers, while they make their buying decision, now expects to be able to change channels several times before completing a transaction. For instance, they may start shopping online, but they may finally decide to go to a brick & mortar store to finalise their purchase. It becomes essential for retailers to offer their customers a seamless experience, irrespective of where they begin and end their purchases. Technology is helping retailers create such an omnichannel buying experience for their buyers. Retailers who are offering their customers the opportunity to interact with them seamlessly anytime, anywhere, enjoy a customer retention rate that is 91% higher than those that don't.
Breaking Down Omnichannel Retail
What Is Omnichannel Retailing?
Omnichannel retailing is a modern approach to traditional sales. It focuses on creating a unified shopping experience for the customer through different marketing channels. Omnichannel retailing employs the multichannel approach to reach and deliver a superior shopping experience to consumers at all touch-points.
Omnichannel Vs Multichannel Approach
The common misconception is that omnichannel retailing is just an extension of multichannel retailing, although that is not quite the case. Both omnichannel and multichannel strategies follow distinct business models. Multichannel retailers implement as many channels as possible, but there is no consistency between them as more often than not each channel is managed separately. On the other hand, the omnichannel approach presents an integrated solution that allows for centralised data management across all channels, creating a symbiotic ecosystem.
The multichannel experience is what most companies invest today, traditionally having a website, a blog, as well as a presence across one or more prominent social media platforms. They use each of these platforms to interact with customers. Despite this, in most cases, consumers still do not enjoy a seamless experience and consistent interaction on each of these channels.
Importance of Omnichannel Retailing for Brands
Ensures adaptability across the organisation
Omnichannel retailing is all about ensuring the sustainability of your business by creating the capacity for change in your organisation, so that no matter which channels your customers, employees, and partners want to use within the organisation, they can be adapted swiftly and effortlessly.
Caters growing customer expectations
The push for an omnichannel approach is also attributed to growing consumer demands. Buyers want more than just a transaction, they expect an experience. They do not consciously differentiate one channel (for instance, the mobile) from another (for example, in the store); instead, they expect their business interactions to be consistent across all channels, and most importantly, they expect to be able to seamlessly switch from one channel to another. Recently, omnichannel approaches have also begun to be adopted in sectors other than retail.
Enables collaboration across organisations
The financial services and health industries, for example, have programs in place to improve collaboration with clients through digital channels. These efforts have proved to be highly triumphant for these institutions, making omnichannel retailing an essential and ubiquitous factor for success for organisations of all types.
How To Implement Successful Omnichannel Strategy
- Source: MageStore.com
Delivering A Singular Experience Across Channels
Businesses need to create a holistic view of their customers' buying journeys to gain a concrete understanding of every possible interaction points and buying scenarios. To get such an understanding and to unlock the cumulative value of each customer, companies can try and study their customer's social graph i.e. their network of interconnected social relationships. Such relationships can be understood through customers' online footprint. It details the entirety of a customer’s experience i.e. beginning with their awareness, making the purchase decision and post-sales experience.
For example, a typical customer buying journey for the furniture retailer 'West Elm' starts from either a Pinterest board/Facebook post/Instagram ad, leading to a visit to either their online site or any of their brick & mortar stores, which eventually leads to a store or a ship-to-home purchase.
Data Integration across channels
An integral part of effectively implementing an omnichannel strategy is data integration. If an organisation has multiple channels online and offline, it must ensure that customer data from across the organisation is integrated.
After all, no customer wants to make a purchase at an offline store and log into their mobile app, only to see that their purchase (or reward points associated with the purchase) has not been updated.
Also, a customer does not want the t-shirt that they saw online to be available in their size and colour in a nearby store and makes a trip down there, only to arrive and find out that is not the case. Consumers who undergo such experiences are highly likely to dissociate from the brand completely and avoid them like the proverbial plague.
Offering A Robust Mobile Application
Smartphones have become a vital part of the in-store shopping experience for consumers and retailers are looking to enhance the shopping experience with more robust application features. Innovative features as part of a mobile application are more likely to have customers returning. The goal is to make the mobile shopping experience all-encompassing by adding features that complement the in-store experience, better and more interactive loyalty programs, personalised service experiences, and more.
Branching Out To New Customer Service Platforms
Customer service through email, call centres, and social media are all well-established mediums. Chatbots (which are getting better at engaging in natural free-flowing conversations with consumers) on social media and email are emerging as some of the more popular alternatives for consumers to connect with brands, today.
As the days go by, consumers will increasingly begin to expect the ability to reach a retailer at any time through any digital channel, similar to the way they communicate in their professional and personal lives. Retailers around the world plan on investing in customer service through mediums such as online chat (within their mobile apps) and also through the means of product reviews in the years to come.
The Role Of Immersive Tech
With growing consumer demand for better shopping experiences and the rapid increase in the number of online retailers, brands must adapt and utilize virtual technologies that can support and complement their retail practices.
With digital signage becoming the norm and the mobile revolution well underway, immersive retail technology solutions like AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) will completely transform the buying experience by replacing facets of the shopping experience that fall short of the mark, with compelling and interactive experiences intended to better inform and entertain consumers.
Omnichannel Retail Examples: 6 Brands That Are Doing It Right
Crate & Barrel
Crate and Barrel, a household goods store, partnered with omnichannel specialist CloudTags to test a program called "Mobile Totes", which allowed Crate and Barrel to synchronise their physical stores and their website, as well as re-marketing to store visitors online.
The program made use of tablets in their brick & mortar stores that acted as digital shopping bags. These allowed customers to scan product barcodes to learn more about the product and also read product reviews. Customers could also send their shopping list or checkout at the store where a sales assistant would have them ready to go.
Source: Crate & Barrel’s Mobile Totes Venture (CloudTags)
Timberland created a connective customer experience in its physical locations using near field communication technology, which is the backbone of all the popular data transfer apps available today. This technology allows users to tap their mobile device against a special chip that wirelessly transfers information between the two devices.
Rather than using it for e-commerce, Timberland uses this technology in its stores by offering customers a tablet that can be used against products and signs all over the place. Upon pressing the tablet against the chip, details about that product or offer are displayed on the tablet.
While shoppers continue to search for different items, the tablet's personalisation software begins to offer products to the user based on the history of their purchases. This creates a more personalised experience for the customer and highlights the products in your store that may not be very popular.
Source: Timberland's NFC Connected Store
The personal care and beauty brand Sephora, as part of its omnichannel strategy, created a shopping experience that connected customers' online shopping to their in-store visits. In addition to beauty workshops and free-of-cost makeovers, customers could use the tablets in-store to access their "Beauty Bag" account while they were shopping.
This account allowed them to search for detailed product information and virtually try products using digital software. If they liked a product, they were allowed to add it to a wishlist and then proceed to purchase the complete list using the app.
By integrating its Beauty Bag functionality into its in-store communication channel, Sephora was able to help customers narrow their options and track the very products they wanted to buy.
Perhaps one of the most ambitious omnichannel initiatives so far, West Elm created an AI tool called the ‘Pinterest Style Finder’ that could scan a customer's Pinterest board and learn their aesthetic in seconds, to recommend the ideal sofa.
The tool addressed many of the pitfalls of traditional omnichannel retailing, including the fact that it could recommend products based on the current tastes of a customer, without relying solely on their browsing and buying history. This tool was unique in that it did not predict what a customer was likely to purchase, instead, it offered them calculated suggestions based on their opinion.
With every brand in the market selling a product that has very few distinct characteristics, the only way to stand out is by enticing customers across all platforms. After proving to the world that one doesn’t have to try a mattress before they buy it, mattress makers Casper realised it could outmaneuver its online mattress competitors by simply letting people try their mattresses.
Partnering with West Elm, Casper introduced their pop-ups to let customers try out their products (by letting them lying down on them) before actually choosing to place an order. While the company was already quite a successful $100 million enterprise, its foray into omnichannel retailing is what helped it capture the mattress market!
Orvis gained a concrete understanding of its target audience and then employing the most effective methods to communicate with them. It made use of confidential data to discover that its target audience was mainly wealthy clients aged 50 and over. The company understood that even though this segment of the general populous had not yet fully embraced digital technology, it had a real interest in using modern e-commerce tools. Thus, to help, Orvis equipped its employees with tablets that came with pre-installed CRM and e-commerce tools.
With the help of these tools, employees could place orders for out of stock products at the store and also charge customers for online and in-store purchases. The CRM tools on the tablet recorded customer information so that employees could recognise loyal customers when they entered a store. Employees recorded their buying habits and purchase history, giving more information to their marketing teams who could then offer these customers more effective offers.
Source: Aptos Retail
Omnichannel Retailing Strategy For 2019 & Beyond
Listed below are some of the strategies you could adopt if your brand already has an existing omnichannel retail strategy in place and are looking to refine it, to make it more suitable to present circumstances as well as those for the foreseeable future.
Dynamic Customer Service and Sales
The omnichannel retail approach enables businesses to access critical information required to meet the expressed, latent and undiscovered needs of their customers. This allows them to determine the best solutions to their underlying problems, whether it is product replenishment or an accessory to add to their purchase. With proactive services, you can help them complete their order and get exactly what they were originally looking for, using the easiest channel or method.
Visually oriented consumers are increasingly buying products directly from their favorite social media platforms. This creates an opportunity for omnichannel retailers to find new ways to integrate social content into their websites or add their product listings to social media posts, etc.
Between blockchain solutions and contactless payment, consumers expect simpler payment methods, whether online, in-store or over the phone. Increasingly, buyers will turn to brands that no longer require them to enter their entire billing address, 16-digit credit card number, expiry date, and security code to complete their purchase, especially so in the case of loyal customers.
Whether in stores or by mail, through planned collections or strategic drop-off points, buyers want more convenient options to return their orders. To do this, retailers need to improve their management of incoming logistics and look for quick and cost-effective methods to facilitate hassle-free returns for their customers.
Omnichannel retailing strategies have opened the door to a world of possibilities for retail companies to take advantage of. It is vital, now more than ever, that brands begin paying attention to omnichannel retailing strategies and think of adopting them early before things get out of hand and their competitors gain an edge over them.