While the term “omni-channel” has been circulating in the retail industry for several years, it is only recently that retailers have truly been able to expand the shopping experience beyond a multichannel experience and offer customers a truly omni-channel experience.
Omni-channel strategy: The advantage lies in consistency and a focus on device utilization.
The distinction setting omni-channel initiatives apart from similar multi-channel models is that there is a seamless consistency to the experience being delivered across different channels and devices that isn’t present in multi-channel initiatives.
Let’s look at an example scenario of a user in an omni-channel set up. Mary gets up in the morning and decides that she needs new linens; she grabs her tablet and sits at the breakfast table, browsing her way to a specific retailer’s website, thanks to an advertisement on her Facebook page. As she finishes her breakfast and makes her way around the house, she is using multiple touchpoints – switching between her tablet, phone, and even her laptop – to interact with a single retailer’s website, social media, and ecommerce pages. At every level, she is greeted with identical messages and presentation of the products she’s browsing. Still undecided, she heads out for the day.
Later while she’s at lunch, she uses her tablet to continue researching from a local cafe situated at the center of a bustling retail area. While browsing, the website gives Mary a popup letting her know the item she’s looking for can be found at a nearby location.
The site offers up the item’s sale price, directions, and store hours and then a chat screen opens to discuss her needs with a customer experience specialist. She accepts the invitation. On the other end of the chat, a representative is reading through the profile data that’s been gathered on Mary’s browsing and shopping history through her session in the company’s retail sphere, and the representative suggests several other complimentary items for purchase, then offers to have Mary’s whole order waiting for her arrival. Mary agrees, finishes her lunch and leisurely makes her way to the store down the road.
In this scenario, the boundaries between touchpoints are blurred and the customer experience is a single seamless event, despite the experience having taken place across multiple platforms in different venues.
How to leverage the advantages of omni-channel approach
While retailers would be remiss not to adopt the omni-channel approach as part of their larger strategy, the truth is that customers aren’t giving retailers much of a choice. As the influence of mobile devices on consumer behavior continues to increase, retailers are forced to determine the most effective methods to leverage multiple mobile platforms and streamline the shopping experience so it’s truly seamless from browsing and window shopping to point of sale. In order to accomplish this, it’s essential that three key measures must be taken care off:
1. Measure and leverage cross-device and online-to-store metrics.
The benefits of customers using mobile devices to interact with your operation via your website, social media pages, and ecommerce portals is that the entirety of their experience has been captured and turned into vital statistical data for you. Leveraging this information to understand the consumer path through all touchpoints in the retail experience lets you determine what strategies are working and which ones should be tweaked in order to better engage your customer base. Essentially you are striving to allow customers to interact with your brand on their own terms while simultaneously capitalizing on their behavior.
2. Provide your customer base with relevant location dependent information.
Local inventory ads (LIAs) such as that included in the example above, where you communicate to users where they can find a product and provide them with directions to the store, are key drivers in converting online window shopping sessions into customers walking through your doors ready to make a purchase. And in order to improve the in-store experience, retailers are utilizing easily customizable mobile devices that allow customers to make orders.
3. Create a retail infrastructure – both online and offline – geared towards supporting omni-channel consumers.
It is vital to your organization’s success that you close the gap between your online and in-store retail experience and unify your vision and message across all points of contact with the customer. Look at your various retail channels as parts of a whole, and treat your brand as an experience. Integrate the shopping experience in your brick-and-mortar locations with mobile apps, web-based ecommerce, digital signage and interactive kiosks, and in-store tablets that can be used for ordering and in-store pickup. The true goal here is to eliminate the barriers between your ecommerce platform and your physical store platforms, and offer a truly seamless shopping experience for your customers.
Embrace omni-channel strategy and stay ahead of the curve
Omni-channel is changing the retail paradigm and it’s vital for your business to embrace this philosophy in order to stay relevant. When you remove barriers in the retail experience and embrace initiatives that let you reach customers no matter where they are or what they are doing, you’re simply giving an increasingly influential demographic the attention they crave for. By bridging the gap between digital mediums and brick-and-mortar locations, you’re capitalizing on your infrastructure. This will allow you to know customers’ shopping habits better than they know themselves, and you will succeed in the new era of the highly mobile, well-informed omni-channel elite.