Is your omnichannel meeting customers’ expectations?


Today’s customers often want a fast, efficient shopping experience, and retailers are increasingly providing omnichannel experiences that are refined to meet those needs.

While retailers hope to gain revenue and gain efficiencies in marketing, what do customers view as a successful omnichannel experience?

Origin of omnichannel

Ten years ago, a retailer might offer an online as well as a brick and mortar experience, hoping to catch shoppers who couldn’t make it to the store.

In essence, e-commerce began as a way retailers could extend their shopping hours.

Today, for many, e-commerce has evolved into a preferred means of shopping for many common items, but it doesn’t replace traditional shopping entirely.

That’s where a strong omni-channel strategy comes into play.

Clothing, electronics, furnishings — those are items that customers typically want to see in-person before buying.

They may not want to purchase them in-person, however.

Additionally, shoppers often want opinions of their friends before committing to those types of purchases.

Best-in-class omnichannel retailing serves shoppers through multiple sales channels—primarily online, in-store and social media — in a way that is presented cohesively, no matter how or where the customer journey began.

The reality today

From the customer’s point of view, most businesses currently provide a multi-channel experience.

There is a brick and mortar store, a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and, perhaps, a blog.

Those platforms engage and connect with customers, but rarely as a cohesive unit.

In most cases, there is no seamless experience or consistent messaging across channels.

Many times, “buy online, pickup in store,” or BOPIS, is unavailable, because inventory systems are disparate.

What it takes to do omnichannel well

A successful strategy should build a coherent, aligned experience across multiple platforms and involve stakeholders including the product, marketing, sales, customer support and customer journey teams.

Each shopping channel should work concurrently to provide a truly powerful experience through many shopping touch points.

Among the most important areas to align include:

  • Inventory: Online reflects in-store stock
  • Rewards programs: Use and earn points online and in-store
  • Shipping and delivery: Delivery status can be checked in-store or online

While the biggest changes have come primarily from the largest retailers, many smaller companies have actually driven the customer experience crusade, using social media platforms to engage directly with shoppers.

Start-up retailers generally have omni-channel “baked in” as a foundation, leaving larger companies challenged to compete.

Retail consultant McKinsey notes that an omni-channel transformation is the only way for a company to address rising complexity, provide an excellent customer experience, and manage operations costs.

A true omni-channel strategy improves communication within the retailer itself, because different departments are routinely updating statuses that are then reflected throughout the internal supply chain.

As a result, the strategy better meets the needs of today’s customer.

Going omnichannel doesn’t mean using every channel



Through the past decade, retailers have worked to create and maintain a digital, omnichannel presence.

For most, that has primarily meant improving the connection among their different sales channels, i.e., online with brick and mortar.

But today’s retailer must do more than, for example, ensure a sale can start in one channel and conclude in another, or that inventory of a downtown location can be reliably checked online.

With digital interactions influencing an estimated 56 cents of every dollar spent in retail stores, it is crucial for brick and mortars to invest in the right channel, the right way.

Here are 3 tips for choosing the best channels for your omnichannel investment.


1. Hook up with social media


The ability of retailers to influence the purchase journey is decreasing, while social media channels are increasingly able to shape sales decisions.

Retailers should embrace integration with and the native capabilities of the major digital platforms where their customers are currently interacting and transacting.

Retailers interact with customers on average, according to Deloitte, six to eight times annually.

Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest interact with those same individuals far more regularly, weekly, daily and even multiple times per day. Advertising on Facebook is not just for niche companies.

Becoming integrated into the fabric of everyday activity means more than old-school mailers or even posting on a business Facebook page or Instagram account.

They must become “top of mind” for customers, and in today’s world, that means being a consistent voice on social media.


2. Be millennial-minded


Deloitte found that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of non-millennials are now using digital devices either two or three times throughout their shopping trips.

Research indicates that digital plays a large role in inspiration, payment and post-purchase for beauty products, but only a very small role in the grocery business.

Couple that with the fact that more than three-quarters of the buying power is still with those older than 30, and it’s clear that digital strategies should be aimed at how different groups use digital tools differently during the purchasing journey, and a range of customized experiences should be created for each.

Customers want to shop from trusted advisers. Creating a dialogue and a relationship with customers is the future of retailing.


3. Look at the data


Retailers need to move from a legacy “campaign” mind-set that centers on sales events to a customer mind-set built around the needs of different segments of shoppers.

Reliance on traditional approaches can result in flawed budgeting and investments in the wrong positions.

For instance, a commitment to helping shoppers easily select products may be the most important customer interaction on the path to purchase — rather than promoting the “one-day super sale.”

Staffing and hiring needs to reflect that change: social media specialists and customer relationship managers are increasingly valuable.

Brick and mortars that can marry valuable service from associates that complements their digital presence will ultimately be omnichannel winners.

Digital plays a larger role at different times during a journey, depending on the product that is sought.

Customers want to engage digitally and direct their own journeys, rather than work their ways through a store layout or merchandise hierarchy to locate and purchase products.

The key is to find the moments of inspiration and engage from that moment.



Omnichannel: The “new” brick & mortar concept



The face of Main Street stores has changed significantly during the last 20 years.

Bookstores have been replaced by nail salons, clothing shops are now restaurants and flower shops have made way for pet groomers.

Those are the types of services you can’t buy online, and they’re finding brick-and-mortar success.

They are taking back Main Street, breathing life back into the vacant store fronts.

And adding to this new look for downtown are traditional retailers that are using omnichannel to open successful businesses.


VIP Click and Collect


Take Nordstrom.

The venerable, high-fashion store has debuted “Nordstrom Local.”

Nordstrom Local doesn’t need a huge footprint, and doesn’t carry much inventory.

But it’s a way for shoppers to buy online, pick up in store but also enjoy other amenities that are afforded the VIP shopper.

Today’s fashionistas often order online, motivated by styles presented on social networking sites such as Instagram.

A customer places her order online, then heads to Nordstrom Local to pick up her merchandise instead of taking advantage of free shipping.

Why? To enjoy a manicure while sipping a smoothie and getting the inside scoop on the season’s hottest collection from the friendly, professional associate.

Sure, curbside pickup is a popular option for those on-the-go, but those pedicure stations also have their place.

Those are the competitive differences that will make Nordstrom’s top-of-mind for their next purchases.

It’s Click & Collect, taken to new heights. It’s that type of something extra that drive customers into the store.

This is the next level of omnichannel, in which the channel used for purchase is irrelevant.


Compare that to Amazon 4-Star


These days, fewer clothing stores have a presence on Main Street, with the exception of pricey boutiques that offer unique products unlikely to be found on Amazon.

Conversely, Amazon 4-Star carries a curated selection of product that caters to a local area.

This is almost the exact opposite of Nordstrom’s model, yet it is also very similar.

Both retailers are trying to cultivate a customer base that enjoys shopping online, but is missing human interaction.

While Amazon attempts to capture “discovery” shoppers, Nordstrom targets the efficient-with-benefits shopper.

And both are offering their clientele an experience tailored to their interests, which align with the shoppers in that demographic.


A personalized approach


Retailers today need to entice shoppers out of their homes and into the stores.

Just a few years ago, brick and mortar were written off as a dying breed, suitable only for “showrooming.”

Slowly but surely, brick and mortar shops are finding secure footing back on Main Street.

Not all the old names will make it back, and some are gone for good, because they just couldn’t reinvent themselves or their customer experience fast enough.

But physical locations are a vital part of the omnichannel, offering a more personalized approach than any pure ecommerce retailer ever could.

Just ask Amazon.