What is Omnichannel Retail?
For at least the past five years, omnichannel retail has been widely discussed, first as a possible strategy and then as something to implement.
Omnichannel retail is the practice of using multiple customer touchpoints to make a seamless brand impact through a uniform customer experience that meets them where they are.
Phew! That’s not easy on the tongue, is it? Let us break the definition down into parts that make sense.
Omnichannel Retail Definition:
Seamless brand impact
Now, it’s easy enough to open up social media accounts, or even a web store today. However, what’s important is to come across as a single entity across these channels.
If customers are confused about who you are as a brand, they are less likely to trust you and make a purchase.
While the UK markets fell behind the US in implementing their omnichannel strategy, something must be said for how they’ve made their brand presence impactful. A new generation of buyers, the Gen Zers, are using their social media twice as much to get to know their favorite brands in the UK, and the brands are delivering!
With a combination of strong and impactful messaging, a keen understanding of their new customers and presence on all relevant channels, they’re far ahead of the curve.
Multiple Customer Touchpoints
Google partners research shows that over 70% of all shopping begins online. Many customers today express their buying intent online long before they actually buy something. Businesses have the task of not only being present across channels but also of providing enough information across these platforms for the customer to make a choice.
A touchpoint is any location, offline or online, where a customer can interact with you. In omnichannel retail, many touchpoints exist, right from getting to know your product, and then your brand to finally making a purchase.
Uniform customer experience
Brands and retailers today strive for one thing above all else- recall. There’s too much clutter and noise out there and you cannot afford to be forgotten. The brand presence discussed above leads to loyalty, or repeat purchases. To get there, you need a uniform customer experience.
For online sellers, omnichannel is the new norm, and they’re expected to adapt fast.
The aim of a retail business in going omnichannel is simple enough- to be present across multiple channels, thus increasing the scope for selling as well as building a loyal base of customers.
To get there, you need to put the customer first, with an experience that only you can provide.
Now that you know what omnichannel strategy is, let us dive into how you can come up with one for your retail business.
Where The Customers Are
The starting point for a good omnichannel strategy is considering where your customers are.
It is very unlikely that you will have hordes of loyal customers on the very day you launch. In the online context, this is an even bigger challenge and it is almost impossible to be found on social media without paid advertising.
Identifying where your customers are, has two aspects to it:
- evaluating the sales channels they are likely to prefer
- identifying the marketing options that are most likely to work
Sales channels are the most obvious touchpoints- you can have both an offline and online presence, as well as sell in marketplaces.
That’s not all.
Touchpoints are all points of impact, so your social media channels, email campaigns, CRM systems- all of them come into the picture.
Types Of Sales Channels- Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Retail
If you are considering an omnichannel approach, you probably already have a retail outlet, either offline or online. What are some reasons for you to consider going for the other channel? Moreover, what is the difference between having more than one sales channel vs. seamlessly integrating all of them?
For those moving online, the benefits are obvious- you can reach many more customers across geographies and make it convenient for existing customers to buy from you more often.
If you are opening an offline store, you’re probably looking at building an experience center for your product so people have more incentive to invest in it.
It is worth spending time to figure out why you’re opening stores on a new channel, and if your customer base might actually increase by doing so.
The next thing to consider is whether your customers prefer buying from a marketplace or from your website. For more generic products, customers usually look at marketplaces for a good deal. For specific products, a website is the right place to get a good experience.
Many retailers also confuse omnichannel retail with multichannel retail. In terms of the number of channels, they’re both similar. However, omnichannel retail tries to bring together all sales channels to create one seamless experience. On the other hand, multichannel retail focuses on being present on as many sales channels as possible.
In today’s retail context, experience is everything. Thus, omnichannel retail is the better one between the two options.
Identifying Marketing Channels
The more niche your product is, the lesser the channel options you have to market from. For example, if you sell apparel or food products, you have all the visual media at your disposal.
If you sell a robotic home cleaner, you are more likely to convince customers through live demos, YouTube videos, and a compelling, informative website. Much like you consider your sales channels, think through what sort of media presence you really need.
This step is important because, among so many different platforms, you don’t want to waste time on those that don’t work for you.
Once you’ve decided what your marketing strategy is going to be, you can integrate your sales channels and your marketing approach.
Suggested reading: 8 Aspects Of Taking Your Retail Business Online That You Didn’t Think About
Why Is Omnichannel Retail Important?
A while ago, the retail industry wondered if online would take over completely. We did too. We also knew then that it would only be a matter of time before omnichannel retail came to the fore. This is why Primaseller is designed to support sales across multiple channels.
The proof of omnichannel is in the numbers.
In early 2017, Harvard Business Review published a study which says that 73% of all customers use more than one channel along their shopping journey. What’s more, customers who interacted across channels were far more likely to purchase more frequently from the same brand.
In 2013, well before omnichannel retail became an everyday reality, one study showed how such an approach can add to customer loyalty. Brands that are omnichannel retain over 83% of their customers from one channel to another, strongly increasing their lifetime value.
For decades now, retail businesses have been striving to get customers to purchase from them again and again. This approach benefits a business by giving them more in return for every buck they spend on marketing. Today, with an omnichannel approach done right, the scope to achieve just that is immense.
Let’s just say that in retail, it is good to be able to stand above the crowd.
Steps to Implement An Omnichannel Retail Strategy
An excellent experience defines a good omnichannel strategy. If you already have a strategy in place, the best way to see how it’s doing is to ask your customers. Run paid surveys and pay close attention to the complaints you have been receiving.
Also, monitor your analytics data to see where customers drop off during an online sale, and why. Chances are that they haven’t found the information or the experience they were looking for.
There are a few challenges you are likely to face with your omnichannel strategy. Here’s how to address them.
If you’re just starting out being omnichannel, or if you’re looking to fix problems, these pointers can help.
1. Common customer database and history
We’ve discussed that integration is important to succeed as an omnichannel retailer. As a business, you represent a single entity.
So, when a customer visits your web store, or reads an Instagram post from you and discovers a product, the first interaction is complete. When they get to the store later, they come armed with information. Therefore, your store employees need to take the interaction a step further.
Instead of harping on about the product’s features all over again, this is a chance to let the customer experience the product. Free samples, a live demo, running them through lesser-known features, can all help translate that visit into a purchase.
For existing customers, this need for seamlessness is even higher.
How do you, as a business, identify every person who walks in?
- A common customer database can help. If an online customer walks into your store, you can identify them with their email ID, and thus gain access to their past purchases. This gives you a chance to recommend relevant products and to engage them in a conversation.
- Remove duplication in customer data. Sometimes, people use different email addresses to buy, but you can consolidate using their delivery address and phone numbers.
- For offline customers, emailing them receipts is a great way to save paper, and also get their email address for your records. You can ask them for permissions to send promotional emails and lead them through your online channels for further buys.
Treat yourself as a customer looking for a new product in your catalog. What does the process look like? Does it flow logically? How would having customer data help make the process better? How can you collect more information about each customer?
Most importantly, how do you use this data effectively across channels? A good CRM system can help immensely.
2. Distributed customer-facing presence
Now that you have a portfolio of channels with which to reach customers, you also need to know what strategy to employ at each touchpoint.
Social media usually serves as a very good awareness-building platform. You can use your social channels to bring in followers, advertise your products and lead people to the website.
Sometimes, customers might need more information before buying something. This applies to every retailer who sells a unique product. In such cases, a blog accompanying the online store can give people the information they need and lead them to make a purchase.
Then, there is the aspect of the sales channels themselves. Gen Z has just entered the buying landscape, and guess what their favorite way of buying is? Online, preferably on a mobile device.
In order to have a seamlessly distributed presence, here are a few things you can do:
- Use the same colors, font, and logos across all your sales and marketing channels
- Decide on the purpose of each channel and focus your efforts around that objective only
- Ask customers in the store whether they’ve had a chance to experience your product online yet
- Offer the option of buying online and picking up in your store
- Use features like the Facebook shop to help highlight the product and its attributes instantly
- Respond to queries and complaints across media in as short a time period as possible
Your goal is to let customers know that shopping with you on any channel is exactly the same experience, even though you exist across so many different ones.
3. Strategic inventory management
The very spine of a retail business is inventory. When you scale up to multiple channels, you may be overwhelmed by the prospect of managing inventory well.
- Stop Manual Management: If you manage inventory manually, stop. There is no good way to manually track inventory and sales across several different channels without a single error. A good inventory management system can come to your rescue.
- Treat Inventory As One Entity: Usually, even though you sell across channels, it is worth treating inventory as a single entity spread across one or more storage facilities. Your existing retail outlet’s stockroom can serve as the source of all inventory, at least until you scale up.
- Manage Inventory Across Locations: Once you scale up, your inventory is usually spread across locations. You can use an inventory management system to set preferences for where you pick the inventory from, for each order. Even in this case, the total inventory numbers remain the same- it is only a question of which facility you choose.
- Move Into A Warehouse: When you are ready to move into a warehouse, pick a location that is central for your existing customers. This allows you to fulfill their orders faster. To ship to locales that are too expensive for you to cover independently, marketplaces come in handy.
- Process Orders Better: Ensure that orders placed online and being fulfilled in-store are stored separately to prevent duplicate sales for the same product.
Your main goal is to have just enough inventory without going out of stock. Using an automated system is the best way to do this. This also gives you an edge over large, established retailers who contend with huge amounts of inventory.
4. Common messaging
In some cases, you may choose to have online-only items as a way to bring more people to your website. In all other cases, your product catalog across channels needs to be uniform. A customer visiting your store has likely seen the product online.
Similarly, someone on your web store may then check on Amazon for your product’s price. Therefore, your product catalog and prices across channels need to be the same.
If you’re running a promo and offering special discounts on a particular channel, inform all of your customers so they can choose where to buy.
Returns and replacements are other aspects to consider. When you go omnichannel, you must be prepared to process these from any channel. For example, an online customer may come to the store to return or replace an item. This is a great chance for you to expedite the process, as well as showcase your other products.
Having a standard policy across channels helps your staff handle these cases better.
5. Technology that connects it all
Today, technology is a powerful tool at your disposal to go omnichannel.
- A good CRM system can help you consolidate customer data, segment them and send them relevant promotions and offers.
- What you’d also need is a good inventory management system. Some, like Primaseller, support sales across multiple channels and allow you to process orders, handle inventory and update accounting books from the same interface. This is like having a personal assistant at your disposal, only much faster.
- You also need features like automated purchase orders to ensure you never run out of stock.
- Moreover, with Primaseller’s POS system installed in your store, you can capture customer data and identify when the same customer makes a purchase online.
In each of these cases, your inventory is updated automatically to reflect its actual value, thanks to integrations with marketplaces and your own web store. Primaseller also goes a step further by integrating with your shipping partners to help you manage orders until they are delivered, and beyond.
Challenges In Omnichannel Retailing
If omnichannel retail is the new buzzword and if everyone’s talking about it, why aren’t so many people actually doing it? That’s because, like any good plan, it comes with its own share of downsides. Here are some common implementation issues that several retailers face.
The Plan Needs Total Commitment
An omnichannel strategy is not a halfway commitment. It requires a complete overhaul of your business strategy. In turn, this means that every store, channel, and employee now need to be realigned with this vision. Sometimes, in larger organizations, this is a problem. On the one hand, the sales team might promise the option of exchanging on any channel, but the customer service team is unaware. This leads to a very disgruntled customer.
Moreover, there is no good way to implement the strategy in phases- you need to go all out in one go to provide a seamless experience. Many retailers are not prepared for a complete overhaul.
You Need To Know Where You’re Needed
For many retailers, an omnichannel strategy is a multichannel strategy. The goal is to be present online, offline and on marketplaces as opposed to being where the consumers are. Such an approach leads to a lot of frustration over underperforming channels. Instead, you need to know first that
- you don’t have to be present on every sales channel, and
- your customers have a distinct preference for one channel over another for shopping
Understanding this can save you time, money and resources you would otherwise spend on channels that are just not right for you. Omnichannel isn’t about being everywhere. It is about being at all places where your consumer is.
How To Choose An Omnichannel Retail Software
When you take the plunge into omnichannel retail, you will suddenly find yourself dealing with far too many things at one go. Offline retailers moving online find the need to focus on shipping and order fulfillment. Online folks going offline suddenly need to consider geographies, buying behavior and in-store experience.
When there are so many key decisions to make already, automation is your best friend. A good omnichannel retail management software like Primaseller can help you
- fulfill orders from all your channels with greater ease
- process and view all your orders from a single interface for better decision-making
- update inventory across channels based on availability
- eliminate errors in processing bulk orders or orders from different channels
- view your order fulfillment status by integrating with shipping providers
By letting a system handle everyday retail tasks, you can focus on more important decisions like how to market your new channels, how much inventory to stock under the new strategy, etc.
Omnichannel Retailing example – Staples, They’re Doing It Right!
There’s something to be said about having a great vision. That’s Staples for you. In 1998, their website was a mark of online presence at a time when businesses didn’t quite see the need. Here are a few lessons in omnichannel strategy worth learning from this leading Stationery retailer.
Your favorite entertainment destination is another example of omnichannel done right. While Disney is not just a retailer, the idea of using a single app to manage everything from ride times to meal options is something worth emulating. Read more about Disney’s approach here.
In India, we have an omnichannel success story that Primaseller supports. Tail Lovers Company is all about offering our four-legged friends some much needed TLC. And they do it with Primaseller’s inventory management system that supports multichannel sales. Read more about how they do it, here.