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Omnichannel Retailing: What, Why and How

Today’s consumers want to interact with retail brands through multiple channels, be they online, mobile or in-store. Not only that, they also want an effortless shopping experience across all touchpoints.

An omnichannel retailing strategy can help retailers meet this need, increasing customer engagement and, in turn, sales.  

What Is Omnichannel Retailing?

Omnichannel retailing is a methodology that allows you to be truly customer-centric, and ensures all your retail channels to work in harmony with each other. It breaks down the barriers between online and physical sales, creating a seamless shopping experience for the customer, regardless of where they are, what device they are using, and what channel they are accessing content from.

With omnichannel retailing, inventories and supply chains are also managed as one single entity – like one central repository from which all retail channels can draw. That gives you as a retailer much more flexibility in terms of how you fulfill customer orders.

How Is It Different From Multichannel Retailing?

While there are some similarities between the two, in practice they operate very differently.

With multichannel retailing, each channel operates completely independently from each other – in fact, they may operate as if they are different businesses entirely. Each is treated as a separate silo, with their own inventory and supply chain.

This is often a legacy issue from when retailers originally created their online offering to work as a separate entity from their brick-and-mortar stores. The technology was more basic back then, and the idea of integrating online and offline sales seemed a fanciful notion. However, the retailing landscape has changed significantly in the last two decades since retailers first started embracing online.

Omnichannel is much more sophisticated than multichannel retailing. Omnichannel retailing is customer-centered. For example, it recognizes that customers frequently flit between different channels, and often engage with a brand at multiple touchpoints simultaneously. As such, omnichannel retailing puts the customer at the heart of the retail strategy, with everything geared toward serving them better through multiple channels all working together seamlessly.

Omnichannel retailing is more expensive and more complicated to implement than multichannel retailing, as it requires a higher level of integration within an organization.

What Are the Benefits of Omnichannel Retailing?

According to IDC Retail Insights, omnichannel marketing strategies could drive a 15 to 35 percent jump in average transaction size, a 5 to 10 percent increase in loyal customers’ profitability, and 30 percent higher lifetime value than those who only shop on one channel.

Some of the immediate benefits include:

A 360-degree customer view

An omnichannel retailing strategy allows you to collect and unify customer data from many disparate sources (for example, device IDs, online shopping carts, social media, point of sale units, and loyalty programs). This gives you a more holistic view of what your customers want and how they behave, letting you tailor your marketing better to meet their needs.

Convenience

If a customer buys one of your products on a third-party site like Amazon, they could receive an Amazon-exclusive unboxing experience containing inserts for your items not found on Amazon, a discount code to be used on your site, information about your loyalty program and other nudges to redirect them to shop direct with you. Once they follow a unique link to your site, the landing page could trigger tracking codes that retarget them with ads for complementary products to the one they bought. With all channels working together seamlessly, you can easily redirect customers from one to the other with no friction between them.

A more joined-up corporate vision

By uniting all customer touchpoints and creating a seamless and consistent customer experience, omnichannel retail makes your enterprise more cohesive, more slick operationally, and gives an overall more professional impression to customers than those whose channels work independently of each other.

How Does Omnichannel Retailing Work?

Here are a few steps to execute and maintain an omnichannel retailing strategy.

1. Find your customers

Knowing what platforms and channels your customers use is an important first step to creating an omnichannel retailing strategy. That way, you can immediately discount certain domains your customers do not visit, saving your marketing budget. Analyzing a customer’s conversion path will show you each step they took on the way to making a purchase, giving you more data to crunch in devising your omnichannel strategy.

2. Create seamless omnichannel architecture

In executing an omnichannel strategy, the focus should not be on prioritizing one channel over another. Rather, you should concentrate on seamlessly integrating each channel into a coherent customer shopping experience. For example, allowing customers to add an item to their shopping basket in your app, and then complete the checkout process later on your mobile or desktop site.

3. Personalize the web and email experience

Personalizing a customer’s email and web experience gives you clear key performance indicators. Product recommendations that are tailored to each customer across your site are a good starting point. At the same time, using a customer’s identifiers like their email address or loyalty number will let you serve them emails with personalized product recommendations based on their recent web activity.

4. Expand to other avenues

Email and web are just the beginning. Once your personalized product e-commerce strategy is in place, you should expand it to engage and retain customers through other avenues like blog posts, offers, and videos focused on their wants, needs and pain points. For example, video tutorials on an area you have identified as causing your customers difficulty, like setting up a home wi-fi network, for example.

5. Leverage geotargeting

A version of your product, content and recommendation scheme that is optimized for mobile can leverage geotargeting to further enhance the experience by adding another layer of personalization. By serving in-store offers to a customer’s mobile device when they are in the vicinity, you can use online marketing to drive in-store sales.

You can also combine this with other data for more personalized offers – like promoting winter coats if the customer’s location is enduring a cold spell. Japanese firm Parco uses tracking sensors in its stores to serve customers highly personalized interactions and offers, like rewards for playing its own mobile game. These all increase engagement across multiple channels working together seamlessly.

6. Balance online and offline

It is important to strike a balance between online and in-store sales. If one is suffering compared to the other, think of ways in which you can drive customers to use both channels, for example by offering some of the online experiences in-store with customer-use tablets, or through experiential offerings customers can only get in-person in-store.

7. Integrate analytics

Keeping watch of the analytics generated by all of the marketing channels you are operating will tell you what is working well and where there is room for improvement. You can use this to constantly refine your omnichannel strategy to ensure that however your user chooses to engage with your enterprise, they have a consistent customer experience.

 

Both online and in-store shopping experiences have advantages over the other. The key to omnichannel retailing is to leverage the pros of both while creating a seamless retail experience for customers so they can engage through whichever channel(s) they like. Make it effortless, and your customers will return time and again.