The digital globe is spinning fast. So fast. Every step of hyper-personalization we are experiencing on apps, eCommerce websites, tools and software, search engines, etc. are all constantly improvising towards making massive advancements.
The simpler the user experience gets, the more complex does the ideas, strategies, and innovation should get.
“Each step along the customer journey offers retailers another opportunity to engage with the customer and strengthen the personal relationship to drive sales and customer loyalty.”
Every further step the customer takes at your online store means a step closer to sales. In the present day, there are a ton of online stores making their way big into the markets. They have fresh customers day after day and repetitive purchases form the same ones as well. If you are beginning your venture or an already well-established brand, or even if you want to grow your business you have to get omnichannel.
Before we get into the why’s and how’s let’s understand the basics.
What is omnichannel, really?
Omnichannel means, on all channels. It gives a unified, put together experience to the customer be it online or offline. Omnichannel is consistency in the experience that is coherent with the actions, desires, and interest of the customer, which is precisely termed as the ‘touchpoints’.
So, a robust omnichannel retailer does not only have a presence across channels that their customers are in but also has the right sense of it to connect the presence and utilize technology to synthesize the goals for hyper-personalization.
Hubspot defines omnichannel as – Omni-channel experience is a multi-channel approach to marketing, selling, and serving customers in a way that creates an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer reaches out.
Bigcommerce definition of omnichannel – Stores selling both online and offline — likely also selling through multiple online channels (i.e. on Amazon, eBay, Facebook, B2B). We’ve also been referencing the importance of listing your product wherever consumers are already spending their time. This is increasingly known as contextual commerce, a more strategic take on the overarching omnichannel term.
What can you call omnichannel?
Omnichannel experience is one that falls under the spectrum of one or all of these.
- Shopping experiences that flow through different online channels or within one channel
- The physical and digital presence of a retailer that we call click & mortar and brick & mortar
- Factorizing the shopping journey across the devices your customers shop through
Multichannel is not omnichannel:
Multichannel is “the blending of different distribution and promotional channels for the purpose of Marketing. Distribution channels range from a retail storefront, a website, or a mail-order catalog.”
The major difference between multichannel and omnichannel experience is the concept of unified ‘brand experience’ at every touch point. While the latter offers that, the former does not.
Let’s say, you own a shoe brand called plasma. You have your own store and a digital presence as well. Your digital presence includes – buying opportunities across your own storefront, on huge marketplaces like Amazon, through social media open marketplaces like selling through Facebook and Instagram. You also make marketing efforts through emails with a ‘buy now’ CTA button.
While you see your physical store and digital stores as silos operating with their own norms by no means of stock or order integrations then that is multichannel. You are ideally on multiple channels but do not allow the integration of a sale process or the possible follow-ups (for instance, product returns can happen only where the sale was made) by synthesizing the channels.
Every step of retargeting or follow-ups or the customer support is exclusive to the engagement of the prospect in the respective channel and there’s no blending of the two.
While multichannel gives a unified brand experience by operating as silos, omnichannel is a more integrated experience wherein, the targeting is based out of every customer interaction with a brand and a contemplated parallel approach.
Why should you provide an omnichannel experience?
Your customers, in fact, the millennials who are the major pie in the market that engage in online purchases, don’t look for the pricing as the major criteria to engage with the brand. Shopping in the truest sense is all about a seamless experience. Your brand earns the patronage of customers only through remarkable brand experiences. In fact, this recent research report from Bigcommerce suggests that the current clan of buyers is making a lateral shift from millennials to the gen Z. The report considers the following as the biggest expectations of a good brand experience.
- Brand coverage
- Social media presence
- Overall lifestyle affinity
With a pulse on popular culture and propensity to engage with brands on social platforms, Gen Z is proving to be important influencers of purchasing decisions by older generation family members. Put another way; parents and grandparents value the input of their in-the-know Gen Z children.
-Daniel Sperling-Horowitz, President at Zentail:
This means you need a thorough knowledge of your customers, the segmentation in terms of age, gender, geography, earning-spending pattern, channels they are active on, and like a gazillion other in-depth points of analytics to truly get omnichannel.
So, once you know the channels the audience are ideally on, you may want to create buying opportunities there. Not just that, omnichannel is much more. You should also be able to connect the stage of customer purchase and diligently create buying opportunities.
Let’s look at the example of Starbucks.
If you’re familiar with the rewards app, I am sure you would appreciate how Starbucks has thought through the customer experience and their way to an omnichannel approach. This is how it goes.
- You can accumulate points for free perks like a refill
- Purchase gift cards for your friends, instantly
- Be notified about a Starbucks store in the near location,
- Pay for your purchase through the cash balance in your phone,
- Pre-order through the app
- Pick up your coffee at the store before you begin your commute
That’s omnichannel for you. Connecting digital to reality and a lot more.
There are a ton of other interesting examples of some brands taking commendable omnichannel approaches. You can read them here. Also, this interesting Nike case study on how omnichannel experience should look like.
So, why implement omnichannel?
Image source credit: Retail touchpoints
- Customers shop across devices and channels. Also, they use five connected devices on an average
- Consumers are not impulsive anymore. They are on the look for the best deals and research before they buy. They look for ease. They crave choice, speed, and convenience.
- If not for you, customers would choose a competitor that provides a better shopping experience
- By providing a better experience you do not only improve sales but also brand identity and customer loyalty
How to provide an omnichannel experience?
Channel mix to consider
As we already discussed, being on different channels is multichannel. But, connecting the customer presence, behavior, interests and leveraging it all to making a sale by being omnipresent is the goal. So, where do we begin?
You begin by analyzing the channels, mediums, and devices your customers are active on. You also have to clearly study the demographics and decide upon a thorough analysis of the channels, mediums, and the style in which you are going to integrate the process.
This is not exactly like retargeting. As retargeting would limit it to conversion optimization. Rather, omnichannel presence is a wider concept. It is about understanding where your customers left, and being spontaneous with the channel and messaging along with persuasive ‘buy now’ message. This needs you to invest in technology, which is discussed in the later section of the post.
To begin with, you can analyze the acquisition reports on Google analytics to understand the sources that drive traffic to your site. You can also run attribution reports to check the funnel paths people take before converting.
Sales opportunities at every touchpoint
At every channel, your customer is possibly in, there must be buying options available. Let’s take an example of the plasma shoes we already discussed.
If a customer has added the plasma sports shoe to the cart, abandoned it there and left the site. Next step, the customer gets an email saying that there is a price slash on the plasma sports shoe and there’s a ‘buy now’ button right there, in the email. Simultaneously, there are Buy now ads on Facebook and Youtube, Buy pins on Pinterest to appear as per the likeliness of the customer towards converting. Customer clicks on one of these buttons and lands on the shipping page. This time the customer browses for casual plasma shoes as well. Now, the customer abandons both products on the payment page. The customer leaves, the reason being the need for a product trial. Your customer data helps in anticipating this request and finds out that the delivery address is within proximity to a plasma showroom.
Next, a personalized email is sent inviting to try shoes in the store nearby. Meanwhile, social media ads now are for both models of shoes. Now, the customer visits the stores and tries the shoes. The app is integrated and the purchase has been reflected on the website with a message saying ‘thanks for completing the purchase at the stores’. The ads and emails have stopped in the meanwhile, and now fresh ones are sent inducing a purchase for socks and shoe scrubs.
So, that’s being at every touch point in a contextual manner that elevates the whole brand experience.
Investing in technology
Investing in technology will help you make the omnichannel process a quick reality as you can take advantage of the expertise, technical infrastructure, vision, and skillset. You need a powerful back-end system that will give you a single version of the customer data, order, and inventory data.
Have you heard of the PIM technology? It is in fact, the foundation for a robust omnichannel or a multichannel approach.
The unified back-end system will help in streamlining operations and accelerates business decisions, functions, and actions by connecting different channels and geographies easily. Having all the data at your disposal in a single, unified repository you become empowered to make sense of the information. This will help you grow sales, create personalized content and run targeted marketing depending upon how receptive your customers are to the type of product content you create.
Deepening relationships requires cultivating the right foundation and PIM is the right way to begin your omnichannel journey.
Investing in a real-time inventory visibility software also helps you track the stock availability instantaneously. This helps you deliver a coherent customer experience as you can reduce excess inventory, deal with lost sales, phase out overselling and promote products that are most profitable. There is no omnichannel solution that you can buy from the market. You must bridge the silos and bring together people, process, data, and technology and meticulously tie your efforts together to achieve your path to omnichannel.
To be able to offer great brand experiences and win over customers you should not be confined to just one channel. Customer experience is connected to perception, feelings, and emotions and retention strategies or acquisition strategies can sail through to the reality phase only by giving your business an omnichannel facelift.
Customer experience is bi-directional. The touchpoints are created both when the customer meets your brand or when your brand meets your customers. For a customer the touchpoints are pretty obvious, it is the physical stores, digital stores and across multiple devices. Whereas, for an organization, the touchpoints can either be analog (storefront, sales associates, etc.) or digital(websites, mobile apps, etc.).
The cumulative impressions you create across the bi-directional touchpoints and the bridging of silos can help to make omnichannel a reality. Combine the power of customer presence on different channels to your advantage and connect it to give them a unique, contextualized, and personalized shopping experience.