Demystifying omnichannel retailing

Demystifying omnichannel retailing

By Greg Liset, Head of Propositions
Thu May 04 2017

In my earlier blog post, Time Waits For No Merchant, I touched briefly on omnichannel strategy and its importance to customer experience.  
In this post, we take a closer look.

First, let’s recap. What exactly is omnichannel?

Essentially, an omnichannel approach is about integrating consumer touchpoints to provide a seamless shopping experience.
If a retailer has successfully implemented an omnichannel strategy, the customer - let's call him Mr X - can engage with the retailer across different channels and devices and the experience will be frictionless.

In other words, Mr X experiences smooth, integrated customer service, whether making a purchase on the retailer’s website, talking to a representative on the telephone or via social media, or picking up his purchase in-store.

Good for you, Mr X.
Now imagine the opposite.

If Mr X is unable to complete his purchase online, or if his email to customer services goes unanswered, or if he’s told one thing over the phone but another in-store, he’ll be frustrated.

He’s likely to abandon his purchase or become a one-off, rather than repeat, customer. And it’s also likely he’ll tell other potential customers about his bad experience.   

Mr X walks away to the sound of a sad trombone.

Importantly, having a range of customer touchpoints – a website optimised for different devices, social media, bricks and mortar stores, and so on – does not equal omnichannel. The critical thing is for the customer experience on each channel to be joined up – for goals, objectives and messaging to be aligned.

Channel hopping

So, why has omnichannel become such a necessity for retailers? One reason is the explosive growth of mobile commerce (m-commerce), which now accounts for almost half of online sales in the UK1.

With a range of mobile devices at their disposal, it’s now common for customers to shift across channels during the shopping process. Take Sue, Walter’s friend, who researches items on her laptop, before purchasing them via smartphone on her lunchbreak – and then returning some of them via a third channel.

The omnichannel mindset

Whereas customers once visited stores simply to buy products, today they come to try products before purchasing, for the in-store experience and face-to-face interactions. But here, too, they are eager for new technologies.

Recent research revealed most shoppers (65%) would like to see more touchscreen technology in-store. Similarly, over half (57%) would be more likely to visit stores kitted out with virtual reality (57%), smart fitting rooms (57%) or augmented reality (52%).2

Of course, the challenge for retailers is not just to invest in new technology and experiences but to incorporate these within their omnichannel strategy – to bring them under the omnichannel umbrella, if you like.

Currently, consumer expectations are moving faster than retailers can innovate.

So how can retailers ensure they don’t get left behind, that they invest in the right areas, while continuing to offer joined up customer experiences?

I believe it’s about maintaining balance – that is, the balance between the high-street experience and online offerings – and an omnichannel marketing and retailing mindset.  

If retailers get this right, they’ll continue to attract shoppers through their doors, whether those doors are made of pixels or they’re, well, actual doors.

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