What is omnichannel retail? 7 need-to-know strategies
The retail sector was transformed by the advent of the digital age. As information and communications technology has advanced, the retail landscape has expanded rapidly online.
What’s more, the retail value chain has also gone through a huge change during the COVID-19 pandemic. In what has been a very difficult year for everyone, online shopping has been a saving grace.
This has been reflected in the rise of ecommerce’s share of global retail trade from 16% to 19% in 2020. So, as the public gravitates towards online shopping more than ever before, understanding and implementing a world-class omnichannel retail strategy has never been more crucial.
With most major retailers working solely online throughout lockdowns, physical stores were made redundant. And even as restrictions ease and shoppers return to malls, it’s safe to say that ecommerce is here to stay. With unprecedented growth in the ecommerce sector triggered by COVID-19, the ease and comfort of shopping from your couch are unbeatable.
The digital revolution not only includes the way we shop, i.e., via websites or social media but also how the rest of the value chain exists. With technological advancements in inventory, invoicing, and order to cash automation, even customer-facing processes have been transformed.
With the retail sector now operating at a higher level of digital maturity, businesses need to unify their digital channels. This includes everything from their website and ecommerce store to their email, Instagram, Facebook, and mobile app to provide the best ecommerce customer experience. It could even include aligning your in-store experience.
Consumers demand exceptional customer service at every step of the customer experience. This makes omnichannel retail a necessity in the 21st century for any retailer looking to succeed. We will go over:
- What is omnichannel retail?
- Why is omnichannel retail important?
- Omnichannel sales and marketing
- The omnichannel supply chain
- Omnichannel strategy
- Omnichannel challenges
- Channel conflicts
- Omnichannel best practices
- Omnichannel KPIs
- The future of omnichannel retail
- Ready to go omnichannel?
What is omnichannel retail?
Omnichannel retail describes an all-channel-encompassing view of how consumers experience a retailer brand. It provides customers with a unified shopping experience across multiple channels and integrates the online and offline world to help customers transact across social media channels, online stores, and physical stores.
Omnichannel retailing blurs the lines between different retail channels to create a single, frictionless shopping experience. To provide a seamless omnichannel experience, organisations must focus on customer centricity, robust data management, and business systemisation.
Omnichannel vs multichannel
Both omnichannel and multichannel retailing refer to sales across a number of different channels. However, in multichannel retail, each channel exists in a silo. There’s no unified brand experience across retail channels. Instead, the focus is on optimising by touchpoint.
The omnichannel approach focuses on the entire customer journey by developing and maintaining a cross-channel brand identity. Omnichannel marketing operates under the belief that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. It’s best to have a single consistent experience across all channels instead of the multichannel approach of having a disparate retail experience across multiple channels.
Why is omnichannel retail important?
Omnichannel retail is a natural culmination of the digital revolution. As retailers try to overcome the limitations of the physical world and try to grow their presence online, an omnichannel strategy is a necessity to seamlessly connect one channel with the other. Brands that leverage an omnichannel strategy have more control over their relationship with customers. Omnichannel retail is now the default customer expectation.
Customers expect you to be available online and in stores. In fact, 74% of in-store shoppers searched online before going to the store to shop. Shoppers regularly switch from social media to websites and then even visit physical stores before making a purchase.
If you want to maximise your ROI, you need to be on the top of your omnichannel retail game, especially in terms of marketing and customer service. With 73% of consumers shopping across multiple channels, you must deliver a unified brand experience across different touchpoints. Single-channel customers are a thing of the past.
Rethinking your customer journey and implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy will help you to:
Increase sales and revenue. A study found that customers who used more than four channels spent 9% more than those who shopped using a single channel. This makes the omnichannel customer more valuable and necessitates an investment in omnichannel retail.
Meet customers where they are in real-time and cater to their current needs.
Make the return process convenient for customers. If a product is bought online, it can be returned in-store or vice versa. This is a truly customer-centric approach and lets the customer start a purchase on one channel and complete it on another.
Boost customer loyalty. Customers have logged 23% more repeat shopping trips to an omnichannel retailer than a single-channel retailer. A loyal customer is also likely to spread the word about your brand among family and friends.
Increase your visibility. People can discover your products on Facebook, Google, Amazon or in-store. With more sales channels, you pave the way for more traffic.
Stand out from your competition. When your advertising and offline and online sales channels are well-integrated, and you understand the target customer, you’ll have a better chance of rising above the rest.
Optimise your business with data and analytics. A comprehensive omnichannel strategy helps you centralise your data from all sources to give you a better overview of how consumers use your channels. This allows you to utilise analytics better to keep improving the service you offer.
Centralise your inventory. This can be great for your inventory control system to help meet customer demands and focus your energy on areas for improvement.
Ensure a consistent brand everywhere. When executing an omnichannel strategy, you need to ensure your brand image and voice are consistent across all channels so that you’re immediately recognisable to your customers.
Provide an equivalent to the in-store experience in the current pandemic situation by delivering high-quality CX throughout shoppers’ journey online. This will increase retention and reduce churn.
Develop a more robust supply chain. This improves your fulfillment capabilities, and you can use your store as a fulfillment warehouse.
Protect yourself against sudden changes in the retail landscape. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, brands that had expanded into ecommerce fared better than those that were limited to their physical stores. This is retail change agility, and it’s critical with technology changing so fast.
An example of a brand executing an excellent omnichannel strategy is Starbucks. Customers can order their coffee online if they don’t wish to stand in a long queue. You can skip the line and collect your coffee, the order procedure is simplified through their app, and you can even pay online.
Making ordering and payment easier through this omnichannel strategy has led to a boost in their revenue.
Omnichannel sales and marketing
The key to omnichannel sales and marketing is to create a brand message that adapts to your customer based on their behaviour and where they are in the sales funnel, providing the ultimate personalised customer experience.
A unified omnichannel sales and marketing strategy is the best way to increase sales. There are more sales channels to choose from than ever before, but you should select which of these to focus your energies on with your target audience in mind.
When you expand into multiple channels, you are creating one or many backup channels in case your audience moves away from a specific platform. This is risk mitigation at its best. A solid omnichannel marketing strategy involves always being where your customers are.
Omnichannel marketing is necessary to drive traffic to your retail channels. Customers won’t find you simply because you exist on many channels. You have to market your brand and draw them in.
Once you’ve done so, follow through with constant support, engagement, and expertise to increase customer lifetime value.
These digital advertising and marketing strategies can help you drive traffic to your online and offline stores:
- Google Shopping Ads - Investing in ads will catapult your product or service to the top of search results when relevant search terms are used. This will drastically increase your visibility and consumers’ awareness of your brand.
- Search Engine Optimisation - Drive traffic to your online store by using keywords that’ll increase your visibility in search engines.
- Retargeting ads - These allow your business to show targeted ads to the users who visited your website and didn’t complete a conversion.
- Social media - Facebook and Instagram ads will increase visits to your website from your desired audience.
- Email remarketing - Using a Digital Assistant and behavioural email tool, like Ve, will allow you to harness the information you’ve gathered on site users to send those who abandoned their shopping baskets a personalised email. This might contain their abandoned baskets or product recommendations based on their recent on-site activity. Such highly targeted content will drive your prospective customers to act and possibly reconsider their choice to abandon their cart.
- Connected media - Use Connected Media to get more value from your online advertisements. Connected media can help you digitise traditional media such as brochures and posters and make them interactive for use on your website, social media, or email remarketing campaigns.
Using Ve’s Connected Media platform, you can make the customer journey on your site super simple to navigate. By asking direct user-intent questions based on browsing preferences through digital ads, you can eliminate the need for navigation altogether. Customers just need to answer questions, and within a click or two, they’re on the product page of their desire.
The omnichannel supply chain
What is dead stock but the gravest of liabilities? An efficient supply chain can help retailers avoid excess stock lying around on their warehouse shelves. With deliveries to be made and stock to be maintained in-store, sustaining a robust omnichannel supply chain can be a bit of a pickle.
The omnichannel supply chain has to cater to multiple digital channels and physical stores. With the future moving towards ecommerce, a digital supply chain is the answer to the many logistical problems.
The increase in corporate digital awareness has made it possible to digitise conventional supply chain processes. With real-time reporting, a simpler purchase order procedure for your procurement department, faster invoicing, and visibility across the value chain, you can react better to unforeseen changes.
A streamlined omnichannel supply chain should take advantage of shipping software to make online deliveries on time and without error. Such software offers a clear view of shipping statuses, reporting, and the ability to engage with a third-party fulfillment provider. Logistics are an extension of the customer experience. The customer journey extends well beyond just delivering the product.
Fulfillment decisions for omnichannel retail
With fulfillment ranging from the time your customer places an order at checkout to its delivery, this is a major factor in the success of your omnichannel strategy. In a post-COVID-19 world, where consumers are continuing to use ecommerce channels at an unprecedented pace, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a retailer’s success depends on its ability to leverage various omnichannel fulfillment methods.
Whichever method you choose, you should embrace inventory management technology that provides complete inventory visibility. It’s critical to maintain an understanding of your in-store stock at all times to deliver the best customer experience possible.
If you have brick-and-mortar retail stores and are looking to minimise shipping costs, you might consider taking advantage of your local store inventory.
Target has made use of its scattered 1900 locations to fulfill 80% of its deliveries in the first quarter of 2020. Walmart, too, has started using 2,500 stores to fulfill orders and address the backlog in its online operations.
To allow customers a seamless retail experience, you should allow customers the flexibility to pick up items in-store and return them via the channel of their choice. 32% of retailers currently enable customers to buy items online and pick them up in-store, and 75% let customers return items in-store that they’ve purchased online.
To provide a truly contactless and frictionless experience, you should consider adopting curbside pickup. This means that consumers don’t even need to get out of their cars at the store. They simply pull up, and the retailer brings their order to their car.
Using Amazon and Shopify fulfillment, you can avoid some decision-making, though, storing your products in Amazon’s warehouses and also listing these in your Shopify store. With Amazon managing your inventory and shipping, you can work on other areas of your omnichannel strategy.
Your omnichannel strategy must be customised to fit your business and will change as the retail environment evolves. To define your strategy, you must first understand your customer in as much detail as possible. Evaluate their pain points and observe how they interact with your brand during online and in-store shopping.
Collecting the right data can help draft an omnichannel shopping experience that’s guaranteed to work in your favour. The data can help identify the right touchpoints and enable you to focus on integrating them to create a tailor-made customer journey.
Orchestrating a personalised customer experience means choosing the most effective sales and marketing channels. Those will be unique to your business and aligned with your business goals. Your omnichannel strategy needs a predefined framework to be able to meet customer expectations. This is what it should look like.
There are many ways to segment your customers. You need to divide your target customers into distinct groups so you can personalise your offerings to them. This is not just limited to key demographics like gender, income, location, etc. It extends to their shopping preferences, age, financial position, and more.
Once you’ve identified different segments, you can decide how to market yourself to them.
Evaluate which channels are the most profitable using analytics
Customer insights can give you the most precise idea about consumer behaviour. If you want to deliver an omnichannel customer experience, you need to analyse the personalised customer experience.
Some of your customers would prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, while others might browse Instagram before shopping online. To be able to reach your customers where they are, in real-time, you need to know which customer segment prefers which channel.
Consumer analytics help you choose the right marketing strategy depending on where your customers are in the sales funnel. Analytics can also help identify which channels have the best reach and help detect engagement gaps. Qualitative and quantitative data will provide the most insight into your best-performing channels.
Having the right data about what motivated your customers to make a purchase and where they browse or shop can help you focus on those channels and develop them better.
Map the customer journey
Your omnichannel strategy can only be effective if you’re able to map out the customer journey before implementing it. This can also help you discover which conversion paths are the most effective.
With omnichannel retail, there are various routes that customers can take to reach the end of the conversion funnel. They could google your product, reach your social media page, and perhaps purchase it on your website. Another route could be initiated through an email newsletter, and some could culminate at a physical store.
Any particular customer journey can be diverted or reordered at any time, and the customer would still expect flawless customer service at every touchpoint.
Cross-channel customer support
Convenience trumps everything. If you’re willing to implement omnichannel marketing, you also have to make sure your customer support is present on all your retail channels. This means being able to provide customer support over the phone, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and even using a secure video conference platform for customers unable to visit your stores in person.
Impeccable post-sales customer service is critical if you want to increase the lifetime value of your customers and ensure they remain loyal customers.
Automate your operations
Technology can be your greatest asset when you’re dealing with multiple channels. If you want a unified real-time view of your sales and inventory, or you want a single source of truth for product information, many types of software can make life easier.
Using software for sales and inventory tracking can also provide essential data that you can later use to identify opportunities.
Data provides omnichannel visibility that can be used to predict demand accurately. It would also help ensure that you’re never out of stock or even encumbered by dead stock.
Cross-channel inventory visibility is key to a successful omnichannel retail system. For this, you will need an automated warehouse management system, pne that’s quick to read every barcode type and keep track of the movement of every stock keeping unit. A centralised omnichannel inventory system has the ability to meet omnichannel demand while keeping the inventory in check.
Using customer relationship software is necessary too. For example, a customer communicates over email and then calls to check on the status of a faulty purchase. It would be embarrassing if the phone agent isn’t aware of the email thread. A CRM software keeps track of all customer communications across all retail channels.
Inefficiencies and inconsistencies in supply chain and accounts are usually because of the use of outdated tracking methods. Automating your operational processes can boost productivity and profits. If you want to remain competitive and manage a complicated omnichannel strategy effectively, automation can help you immensely.
You can also use a Digital Assistant on your website to elevate the customer experience. These can answer common questions, recommend products and even measure performance.
Ve’s personal assistant can include personalised offers in ads or a range of speedy questions geared towards finding exactly what a customer is looking for. This can help to reduce your digital marketing spend and yield a greater ROI.
Test and then test some more
You can’t just test your omnichannel strategy once. It has to be an ongoing process. Don’t relegate it to the last day of launch. Make testing systematic and continuous. Especially as you collect data on your omnichannel journey, your strategies and decisions should change in light of this.
Every time you decide to implement a new strategy to elevate your business, make sure you’re keeping track of the data to monitor the results of such changes.
Leverage the omnichannel strategy framework
These are the three steps necessary to leverage the omnichannel framework:
Educate your staff about the shift from single or multi-channel to omnichannel retail and all the organisational changes that will comes with this. Make sure you explain the benefits.
Train them on omnichannel retail and all the software you use to integrate all your retail channels.
Leverage the strength of your brand with its unified sales channels.
You might have an excellent marketing strategy for your online or physical store. But this would not translate automatically into a good omnichannel strategy. It’s not easy to create a seamless user experience, connect with customers and win sales across multiple channels. Marketers face many of the challenges listed below as the drivers of customer churn.
Avoid these common mistakes to ensure you stay above the competition at every retail channel.
Ill-defined content strategy - Make sure your content caters to your buyer’s persona and that it’s engaging and compelling across the sales funnel. Optimise your on-site experience before you branch out.
Not utilising data effectively - Embrace big data and use it to personalise the shopping experience for your customers. Data might be gathered at individual touchpoints but consider the fact that all your retail channels are interconnected. Data should not be considered in isolation.
Not placing the customer at the centre of your strategy - While your strategy needs to be data-driven, it also has to ensure the customer has the best experience.
KPI measurement is limited to the overall effectiveness of the campaign - Instead, measure your KPIs at every stage of the customer’s journey.
HR issues - It’s possible your employees are resistant to change and don’t want ecommerce to cannibalise physical store sales. Change management can help with this.
Failure to personalise - A curated, personalised experience is the easiest way to win customer loyalty. Do not let customers slip through the cracks while they move through multiple channels.
All businesses evolve from a single channel and go on to develop other retail channels for business. Amazon developed physical stores after their website, and Ikea developed their website after 100s of physical stores. The biggest challenge in omnichannel retail is ensuring all channels are completely integrated and treated equally.
Channel conflicts arise when inventory is limited and customer demand is not being satisfied. As retailers look to minimise inventory, retailers have to make tough decisions about which channel gets priority. If retailers can address channel conflict proactively, they can avoid a supply and demand gap.
Keep yourself ahead of the customer by predicting demand precisely and ensuring your supply chain meets this. Demand can be predicted using inventory data, sales data, and sales history. Sales growth projections are also necessary to predict demand. Machine learning can help retailers make such predictions to meet consumer demand.
Omnichannel best practices
We have detailed the most common mistakes that need to be avoided. Let’s address the best practices that can ensure the success of your omnichannel campaign.
- Understand your buyers - When you map out their journeys, you will see that no two buyers are the same. Respect that and develop your strategy accordingly.
- Select the right channels - Omnichannel doesn’t mean you have to have six retail channels working for you. While you have to optimise all channels, recognise the fact that not all channels will suit you. Leverage those that your target customers use most.
- Study and compare automation tools - There are many in the market. You don’t want to be stuck with the wrong one. Research and compare automation tools and buy one that fits your needs.
- Be careful with your marketing and advertisements - Don’t reach saturation level so that your prospective customers find your emails and texts overbearing. Make sure to offer valuable content that answers questions or piques their interest.
- Always measure how effective your campaigns have been, this helps avoid repeated mistakes.
- Deliver a consistent experience - If you want your customers to return, make sure their experience is consistent across all channels.
- Constant messaging- Make sure your brand message is understood by employees and customers alike.
- Personalisation is important - Data-driven marketing can help personalise the customer experience and help you engage with customers in the right way.
Setting and tracking KPIs is crucial for success in omnichannel retail. KPIs are needed to judge business performance and to ensure your strategies are working. The digital experience does not involve gut feeling. KPIs give absolute, concrete information about the status of your business.
With an omnichannel retail business, making sense of the tons of data received from every channel can be very challenging. With information coming in from so many interlinked touchpoints, measurable KPIs are your best bet to measure the effectiveness of omnichannel performance.
Your old KPIs won’t be of much help because they didn’t consider the interactive ecosystem of all channels. Set new KPIs to measure performance and evaluate if your strategies are working. KPIs can tell you which channels are worth the investment and which need a little more attention.
Customer behaviour and internal procedure add layers of complications to the retail business. KPIs can help reduce complexities and solve misunderstandings. Define new omnichannel metrics and use software to centralise and manage your data.
With previous business models, KPIs have usually been sales-based. These are usually aligned with the revenue–cost–margin model. Commonly measured metrics include- monthly revenue, cost of goods sold, cost of acquiring customers, marketing cost, gross margin, net profit, etc. For an omnichannel business model, these figures can’t possibly tell you everything you need to know.
This is primarily because all channels are interconnected to the extent that they all affect each other. For example, opening a new store on the main high street can boost online sales.
KPIs shouldn’t just include final transactions but also account for customers’ decisions at all points in their shopping journey. We suggest the following KPIs to assess performance at every step of the conversion funnel:
Awareness and Interest
- Traffic generation
- Visit rate
- Product recommendations
- Conversion rate on product recommendations
- Conversion rate on offers and discounts
- Length of visit
- Product tried per visit
- Conversion rate on product trial
- Cross-channel conversion rate
- Cross-channel basket rate
- Lifetime customer value
- Revisit rate and frequency
The future of omnichannel retail
73% of ecommerce is currently carried out on mobile devices. Mobile apps are therefore clearly a key area for investment. App features can connect online and offline touchpoints and allow consumers the convenience of purchasing from anywhere. For the future of ecommerce, we expect mobile retail to become an even more prominent part of the retail experience.
AI will provide a much-needed boost to the online customer service experience. The omnichannel customer would like to reach you whenever and wherever, and digital assistants can help you with this. As social media use increases, customers will opt to reach customer support simply through Facebook and WhatsApp instead of phone or email.
Personalising the customer experience will be crucial. AI assistants, like Ve’s, that tailor suggestions to users based on past purchases will be essential to the customer experience. If you don’t invest in personalisation, you’ll find it hard to remain competitive.
For connecting with customers, some brick-and-mortar stores are even looking to personalise sounds and smells.
Ready to go omnichannel?
Retailers today need to recalibrate their understanding of their customers. Customers want to be engaged on multiple platforms and want their interactions and experiences to be nothing less than exceptional. Your omnichannel strategy can help you be where your customers are and become an ecommerce leader.
A holistic and comprehensive strategy can help you address the rising complexity in the retail market and also help you manage operational costs. If you’re looking to win customers, increase your sales and lower your churn, adopt a cohesive omnichannel marketing strategy. Use it to offer a killer on-site experience, as most customers are online during the pandemic.
Omnichannel marketing is dependent on huge amounts of data, but this will allow you to deliver a positive customer experience that keeps consumers rushing back.
It’s not easy to win the omnichannel marketing game, it requires dedication and consistency, but it is worth it. Omnichannel retail just isn’t an option anymore. Your customers are already there. You just have to make sure you’re there to meet them and meet them well.
Omnichannel retail doesn’t mean you need to abandon your brand identity for a new one. It means adapting to your customers’ needs and synching your brand identity across platforms so you can provide a consistently wonderful experience.
Change isn’t just a buzzword. The world of retail is becoming increasingly competitive, so businesses must keep up with consumer behaviour and embrace an omnichannel strategy as the perfect amalgamation of the real and virtual world.