Omnichannel strategy is changing, as it’s no longer just a blueprint for big businesses and billion-euro brands to follow. Instead, customers around the world are saying that they expect an “Amazon-like” experience when shopping — even from smaller companies. It’s not enough for businesses to create a website and offer standard customer service; today’s businesses have to be exceptional just to remain competitive.
Modern customers expect a seamless omnichannel journey, 24/7 customer service, and personalised communication. Companies that fail to deliver on these expectations will get left behind. For the customer, another company is always just a click away.
It’s clear that an omnichannel strategy benefits both businesses and customers, but how can companies get started on their digital journey? How can they create an omnichannel strategy that acts as a differentiator in an era of stiff competition?
An omnichannel strategy focuses on connecting all of a company’s touchpoints, such as brick-and-mortar shops, social, website, email, and mobile. This enables customers to move seamlessly between these channels without encountering any dead ends.
This holistic strategy is different from a multi-channel strategy, where the various touchpoints operate in silos. In short, an omnichannel strategy breaks down boundaries to put the customer at the heart of the journey.
Ecommerce may be growing, but retail still plays an important role in consumers’ lives. A large percentage of consumers still prefer physical stores to shopping online, even if the role of the store is evolving. Both retailers and customers are starting to realise the potential of the store as a showroom and a provider of curated experiences.
More and more shops are introducing in-store events to connect with their community — think classes, contests and lessons, meet-ups with brand advocates and influencers, and product demonstrations. They’re also using their floor space as a brand showcase, as it provides a tactile, sensory shopping experience that the digital realm just can’t match. So brick-and-mortar shops still have their place —they just need to be seamlessly connected with a business’s other channels.
Ideally, an omnichannel strategy benefits businesses by uniting their physical and online channels and reinforcing their strengths, making them stronger than they would be on their own.
An omnichannel strategy is quickly becoming standard in the modern climate. According to a Coresight report, 74% of retailers have either started on their omnichannel strategy or have already implemented it. Businesses that haven’t yet started thinking about an omnichannel strategy are driving in the slow lane.
As revealed in the 2019 Salesforce report, the State of the Connected Customer, 67% of customers use multiple channels to complete a single transaction. This means that businesses that aren’t offering multichannel engagement are providing a substandard experience for these customers. For many consumers, an omnichannel strategy isn’t even negotiable, as 40% of customers say that they won’t do business with companies if they can’t use their preferred channels.
However, the Coresight report also shows that only 34% of companies have reached the ‘execution’ or ‘realisation’ stage of omnichannel maturity, so those organisations have a monopoly on these customer-centric experiences. This number needs to rise, and quickly, for the sake of both businesses and their customers.
The Coresight report also reveals some of the reasons why businesses adopt an omnichannel strategy, and some of the omnichannel strategy benefits that they’re seeing.
An omnichannel experience puts the customer first, and it’s no wonder that customers want to stay with businesses that put them in the driver’s seat. It’s also not surprising that retail leaders see long-term goals as being critically important. The Coresight report shows that 53% of leading European retailers state that improving lifetime customer value is a reason for implementing an omnichannel strategy, while only 34% of other retailers feel the same.
An omnichannel strategy benefits businesses by enabling them to reach new customer segments. This benefit is nearly equally important to both leading retailers and ‘others’ (48% vs. 45%), but both numbers should be higher, as reaching new customers is a key to growth.
Some omnichannel strategy benefits that businesses might see include increased operational efficiency and reduced costs. With an omnichannel strategy, businesses only need to collect a customer’s data once, rather than at every touchpoint. Creating a holistic overview also means that companies don’t need to worry about creating and implementing strategies for every channel.
Increased sales is a great benefit for retailers who need a revenue boost. A Harvard Business Review study showed that omnichannel customers spend 10% more online than single-channel consumers. This is one area, though, that leading retailers (42%) aren’t as focussed on as ‘others’ (57%). It’s clear that leading retailers are prioritising long-term growth, and are viewing omnichannel strategy benefits as being strategic and structural.
The days of retailers losing business due to items being out of stock may be ending. An omnichannel strategy benefits businesses by providing them with a better overview of their inventory, and the ability to fulfil orders from anywhere. An omnichannel strategy makes it easier for businesses to optimise stock levels and develop smarter replenishment practices.
Many omnichannel strategy benefits are practical, such as better inventory management and improved operational efficiency. But it’s also important to remember that an omnichannel strategy offers businesses the chance to get creative with their branding and marketing. They’re creating a big umbrella of unified channels, after all, so a company’s unique voice should be highlighted wherever possible.
Here are some tips for creating a successful omnichannel strategy.
Personal communication is paramount in the current climate, and customers expect businesses to understand their needs and priorities. Any good omnichannel strategy should start with personalising the customer experience by leveraging data through CRM systems and in-store technology.
Stores are already being reimagined, and this trend is expected to accelerate even more. The future of stores lays in offering in-person experiences that engage customers and build the brand. Think about your company’s voice, and what kind of experiences might reinforce that voice in meaningful, creative ways.
According to the Coresight report, business leaders expect interactive technologies to improve the in-store experience by boosting engagement and providing shoppers with actionable information. Some 22% of respondents said that using AI, AR and VR is the most important way to connect with shoppers.
As the future of shops changes, so do the skills required. Consider training and reskilling in-store staff so that they can better complement your new omnichannel journey. For instance, when lockdown measures hit, some companies turned their staff into personal concierges or stylists. Agility is key in the new climate.
Utilise actionable information to fine-tune your omnichannel experience. Data is king in the new landscape, and it’s the fuel that drives the personalisation required to create a successful omnichannel strategy. Make sure that you have the right tools to come up with a data-driven strategy.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud enables businesses to provide the personalised digital shopping experience that today’s consumers expect. The Endless Aisle feature even lets companies give in-store shoppers access to online-only products, and provides real-time access to inventory.
Make sure there are no dead ends – only green lights. When creating an omnichannel strategy, make sure to put yourself in the customer’s shoes as they navigate the different touchpoints. Is every channel optimised to put the customer at the heart of the experience?
Companies need to meet their customers in the places where they spend the most time, so don’t neglect social media channels. Social Studio allows businesses to gather market intelligence and better engage on social media platforms.
Customers expect 24/7 service and easily accessible solutions to their problems, so consider using AI and chatbots to handle routine issues promptly.
One of the biggest omnichannel strategy benefits is the wealth of data it puts at a business’s fingertips. Don’t let this data go to waste: use it to find and nurture brand advocates.
Many retailers have stressed the importance of an omnichannel strategy, but putting it into practice has been a different story. Leading companies have a different perspective though, and many have already invested in omnichannel capabilities to put the customer at the heart of their business.
Leaders are mostly driven by long-term goals such as:
Reaching new customer segments
Increasing customer lifetime value
Improving operational efficiency
Omnichannel experiences are offering businesses and consumers better, more intuitive ways of engaging. Businesses such as Amazon, Disney, and Starbucks have raised the bar for omnichannel experiences, and smaller organisations have to evolve to keep pace.
“The future is a store where the digital and offline businesses are merged.”
As expectations continue to rise, the store will play a critical role in creating omnichannel strategies and defining the customer journey. Rather than functioning primarily as sales channels, the future of stores may be used as:
Showcases for products
Providers of experiences
Places for brands to connect with their consumers
To put it into perspective, think grocers offering cooking lessons or fashion retailers having in-store runway shows or meet-and-greets with influencers. Stores can highlight a brand’s voice, acting as a complement to digital touchpoints.
The current moment offers a huge opportunity to do so, as shops and touchpoints are just waiting to be re-imagined. Companies that can come up with creative ways to build an omnichannel strategy will win over their customers and thrive well into the future. Those that don’t will end up wandering in a labyrinth of disconnected silos, empty shelves, and disappointed shoppers. The time to act is now.
To read more about why today’s business leaders are focussed on an omnichannel strategy, check out Salesforce’s report, Omnichannel Retail Research in Europe.