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.