Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, with new developments and innovations becoming deeply embedded in the way we all live, work and conduct our daily lives. Digital tools are now firmly integrated within modern culture and one area where their impact on behaviour can clearly be seen is retail.

The sector has been transformed in recent years, a change that has been driven by the widespread use of the internet and also pioneers in the field of ecommerce, who continue to challenge traditional ways of thinking. How consumers (and their B2B buyer counterparts) now make their purchasing decisions, has shifted. The line between offline and online is blurring and this has led to retailers needing to step up and embrace new strategies and ideas.

It’s a tough world out there and to survive in an increasingly sophisticated, multichannel environment, retailers need to find ways to capitalise on the new breed of shopper, or risk being overtaken by the competition. Customer nowadays have high expectations and this calls for a customer-centric approach. A focus on retail marketing strategies that recognise and embrace changing consumer behaviour, while also upholding the importance of customer experience (CX), is therefore key. Which is why the concept of omnichannel retail has really come into its own.

What does ‘omnichannel’ mean?

Omnichannel gets its name from the word ‘omni’, meaning all. While it is closely related to the term ‘multichannel’, the two concepts are actually very different.

Multichannel generally refers to the many ways a company may communicate with its audiences, including through a website, company blog and on social media platforms. Taking a multichannel approach is about exploiting all these channels to reach and influence people. But historically, such channels have often been viewed in isolation – being optimised without always taking the whole experience of a potential or existing customer into account.

In contrast, omnichannel is about far more than simply being active on different channels. It’s about how well all the channels are integrated and being used, and the overall experience being provided.

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retail is about effectively utilising all available channels, to provide a positive customer experience. There are several ways a potential customer may interact with and purchase from a brand – online, offline and the mobile shopping experience. To be successful, retailers need to seamlessly combine all these options, so the overall experience and all touchpoints (interactions) that take place along the way, are consistent and of the same high quality.

In short, the aim of omnichannel retail is to ensure you convert and achieve a sale, no matter what channel or medium (or combination of the two) is used.

How to succeed in omnichannel retail

The best place to start is to consider the journey that potential buyers may take towards making a sale. Retailers need to map out this journey and ensure it is fully optimised and as strong as it can be. Careful consideration needs to be made here for all influencing factors, such as the devices customers are using. Key areas to think about, include: your products, how they are being marketed, your sales processes and customer services function.

Great multichannel marketing campaigns will naturally be part of the mix, but must go towards providing a positive, overall customer experience, if sales and brand loyalty are to be achieved in the long run. For example, you may run an amazing social media campaign that hits on exactly the right messaging and imagery, and ends up getting loads of hits. However, if the rest of the experience shoppers get doesn’t match up, then that hard work will be for nothing.

Top tips – These may seem obvious points, but you need to get the basics right. Technology needs to work (on any device and be simple to use). Online you need great product shots and ideally video. You always need to deliver on your promises and customers need to know exactly what they can expect when they shop with you.

 10 interesting stats on modern buyer behaviour

  • In the UK, trust is the second most important reason for choosing a retailer, after price
  • 44% of shoppers say they need to see and touch the product before purchasing
  • 59% of shoppers say sales associates with deep knowledge of product range is the most important in-store attribute
  • 65% of UK shoppers consider themselves to be loyal shoppers
  • 48% of shoppers reveal convenience is the main reason for shopping online
  • Since 2014 there has been a 39% increase in the number of consumers using their phone for purchases at least once a year
  • Price dominates shopping decisions for 59% of shoppers
  • 35% of shoppers use price comparison sites for their inspiration
  • 38% of shoppers start their product search on Amazon
  • 29% of UK shoppers say that fast and reliable delivery (same day, collect from store or designated place) and a 28% good returns policy (free or return to store) are reasons for shopping with their favourite retailer

(PWC ‘Total Retail Survey’ 2017)

Who’s doing omnichannel retail well?

Oasis

UK fashion retailer, Oasis, is one great example. The nationwide chain has an ecommerce website, app and around 80 standalone stores, plus 200 concessions within other department stores.

Sales assistants within the bricks and mortar stores have been given iPads that can provide up-to-date product information. The iPads also work as cash registers, so a sale can be made anywhere in the shop. Taking it a step further still, if something is out of stock the staff member can instantly place an online order, so the item is shipped directly to a customer’s home, maximising the potential for a sale to be made.

For online shoppers, if an item is sold out then customers can also use a “Seek & Send” service, whereby the retailer searches its stores for the product, then offers to ship it to them.

Overall, a well designed and managed shopping experience, that blurs the lines between online and offline and looks to land the sale, no matter what channel is used.

Starbucks

There are now around 350 Starbuck cafes in the UK, making it the second largest coffee chain behind Costa. But where the retailer really stands out is its customer rewards app, which continues to receive much praise within business circles.

So, why is their reward app such a great example of omnichannel retail and how to seamlessly combine the online and offline shopping experience?

Basically, because everything is linked and super easy. Any rewards that are earned are automatically added to the customer’s account, without them needing to do anything. They can load money onto their card, through their phone, the website, or in person at a cafe. Customers can then pay with their physical reward card or phone, with all the account data being updated in real time and across all devices. A sleek operation that focuses on building and rewarding loyalty.

Amazon

Love it or hate it, Amazon has had a huge and lasting impact on online shopping habits and is now set to disrupt the bricks and mortar world too. Early in 2018, the first Amazon Go store was officially opened in Seattle, US. The supermarket has no checkout operators or self-service tills. Instead, it uses hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors to identify each customer and track the items they select. Shoppers swipe their smartphone loaded with the Amazon Go app, upon entering the store and purchases are then billed to their credit card when they leave the store.

While it is yet to be seen how successful this concept will be, Amazon’s influence on the online shopping experience – and therefore what other retailers must live up to – cannot be ignored. Long gone are the days of having to wait weeks, or even days, for a delivery. AmazonPrime gives customers the option to get items the next day and for ‘free’ (not technically, but as part of an annual fee that includes all postage costs but also gives access to movies and box sets as a valuable sweetener).

This element alone has had an impact on other retailers, who have had to address their own delivery options. Argos being one example. The company now offers same day delivery or fast instore collections, and leads heavily on these messages online.

From a customer experience perspective, Amazon is also an expert at providing a personalised and helpful service, which makes it super easy to buy thanks to innovations such as the ‘1-click’ ordering option.

Does offline shopping have a future?

The main message coming out of the research and being proven by the most innovation and forward-thinking retailers, is that offline still has a place in the mix.

Customers like to see, touch and try products. They like to interact with knowledgeable sales assistants and to visit physical shops whenever they can. But they are increasingly driven by price, so will search online and compare what is on offer. They will read reviews and have high expectations of both the service and its delivery.

This is further backed by the growing trend for online retailers to open physical stores on the high street, in a bid to attract more customers. Termed by the industry as “showrooming” it is a way of allowing potential customers to see products, further blurring the lines between channels.

Overall, building relationships and loyalty is key and that comes down to providing a positive customer experience across all channels and providing customers with want they want. Importantly, making the sales process smooth and easy from start to finish, so every potential sale is captured.

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