Over the years, commerce evolved from single channel, to multichannel, and now omnichannel. To make the sale, companies need to at least be successful with single channel retail. As consumers came to expect more from brands, multichannel set the new standard. Long-term, omnichannel is what all businesses will now strive for.
To effectively manage an omnichannel approach, retailers must integrate the user experience across digital, physical, social media, mobile, phone, instant messaging, and more. This provides customers with a seamless user experience at each brand touchpoint.
Omnichannel retailing is commonly confused with multichannel retail. For many businesses, an expansion of sales channels can simplify the way consumers interact with your brand, and that demonstrates an organization’s ability to deploy multichannel marketing and sales well. The omnichannel retailing definition, on the other hand, melds all available channels together (from the customer’s perspective) so consumers can pick up where they left off using a completely new medium and method of communication.
In other words, a multichannel approach helps you reach a wide variety of customers. An omnichannel approach enables businesses to personalize customer communications in a way that anticipates the user’s needs even before they do.
This is important because the data on how shoppers prefer to interact with brands can be misleading or conflicting. Some sources estimate, based on research, that consumers are “more likely to shop for almost all types of products online instead of in stores.” Other sources, such as The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, tell you consumers make the majority of their purchases in store: “Ecommerce sales in 2018 accounted for 9.7 percent of total sales.”
When you use a multichannel approach, these conflicting statistics might lead you to put more effort or energy into your customer service protocol in one area — for example, reduce your social media team and increase the number of reps in your store — when it would actually be more advantageous to offer it somewhere else. An omnichannel retail strategy lets you use all of the tools provided for one channel across your other channels. It also allows you to access data gathered from one campaign or contact with a customer and use it at their next touchpoint, even if that connection is from one platform to another.
Here’s an example of omnichannel retailing. Sue browses your website on her desktop computer and saves a few items in her cart. She runs out of time to finish her purchase before she leaves for her next appointment. When Sue returns to shop through the app on her phone, those items are still saved in her cart for easy checkout. You may also send a follow-up email to Sue to remind her she can place her order any time. This approach uses three different channels that are interconnected to offer the same experience and continue the same interaction. Doing so makes it easy for your shoppers to finish the process without having to start over again.
For businesses eager to transition from multichannel retailing to omnichannel, it’s important to think outside the box and apply omnichannel retailing strategies in your upcoming campaigns. This should give you a competitive advantage over other companies in your industry. It raises the operating standards for your customer experience online, offline, and through any other medium customers use to interact with your business.
To go above and beyond, here are six omnichannel retailing trends you should consider integrating into your long-term strategy.
The customer journey can be a long one. Not every shopper will buy on first contact with your brand. In fact, most consumers require several contacts before they decide to commit to a purchase. With large ticket items, many customers research in-store and online before finalizing their decision. This may mean multiple visits to your website and retail locations, and perhaps a direct message or two. When you understand the target demographic for your products, you can develop and deploy omnichannel communications and marketing strategies that facilitate a more seamless customer journey.
When you recognize that a portion of your audience uses initial touchpoints as data gathering exercises before they finalize their purchasing decisions, then you can prepare yourself by making your brand stand out among the competition. To do this successfully, you can proactively provide shoppers with information that compares you against your competitors and highlights your biggest advantages. Additionally, you can offer incentives, such as coupons and special promotions, to move exploratory buyers closer to the decision-making stage.
A unified commerce experience lets you put all of the pieces of the customer journey together. Shoppers can start from their computer, continue the browsing experience on their phones, check out the app, and visit your closest retail locations. No matter where and how they contact you, your company should be prepared to pick up where the customer left off to ensure a smooth user journey. With multichannel retailing, consumers generally have to start the process over from the beginning again. When you apply omnichannel retail, though, all company representatives at each new touchpoint are equipped with the data they need to quickly guide shoppers through to the next stage of their respective, personal sales funnel.
Through unified commerce, which enables omnichannel retailing, brands go beyond simply connecting their channels. They combine all user information culled from each channel into one easy-to-read dashboard. Cloud technology makes your customer's journey available for any personnel who might be helping them and any of your marketing staff who might include that user in outreach efforts.
Unified commerce means that the customer can count on the same level of care, no matter where they find you. Consistency and continuity of service helps elevate your brand against the competition. This reinforces brand trust among consumers, resulting in higher sales conversions and long-term customer loyalty.