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Omnichannel Retail; Definition, Trends, and Benefits

If there’s one thing that most retail businesses know for certain, it’s that they face competition. They also know that in gaining the edge over their competitors, brand recognition reinforced by brand exposure can work in their favour. 

Prospective customers are exposed to brands across multiple platforms or channels. They might visit a physical store, see a print advert, check out an online shop, use an app, or even interact with brands over social media. In short, there are a lot of places where customers are to be found, and it makes sense to have a presence wherever your customers are. 

If you’re already doing this, you have a multichannel retail presence – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re realising the benefits of omnichannel retail – even if you’re using every channel imaginable. To explain this, let’s take a deep dive into omnichannel retail and how it works. 

What is Omnichannel Retail?

Omnichannel retail strategy aims to unify customers’ experience across all the channels your brand uses. It rests on the principles of visibility, personalisation, measurement and optimisation. Its goal is to craft experiences that will appeal to all customers regardless of their individual interests, how they interact with your brand, and whether they switch channels in the process. 

As a simple example, imagine that you see a product you’re interested in while browsing your socials. You decide to move to the website and you instantly find the product you were interested in. You’re also shown some related products. But you notice that there’s a physical store near you. You can order the things you want and pick them up in store, saving on delivery costs or qualifying for a discount. It’s a done deal and you’re happy with the results.

So far, the store has led you through a simple yet positive and consistent customer journey spanning three channels. But it doesn’t stop there. For example, you may have decided to download the store’s app and joined its mailing list. On these two additional channels, you receive offers you’re genuinely interested in and you buy even more products. 

As you can imagine, the retailer benefits, but so does the consumer. However, without the synergy between the different channels you used, it wouldn’t have happened at all. To achieve this, the retailer implemented a conscious omnichannel strategy.  

How to Develop an Omnichannel Retail Strategy

Look at What You’re Doing Already

Every good strategy begins by determining where you are right now. Here are the points to include:

  • Your existing marketing channels
  • The customer journey maps relevant to people using these channels – including those who switch channels during their journeys
  • The degree to which each channel shares information with the other channels you use
  • Customer lists that can be used to develop audiences on other channels
  • The results you’re achieving through marketing on digital channels 
  • Any technologies you already use to unify and automate customer experiences across channels

Now that you know where you currently are, you can look for ways to create the unified experiences that define omnichannel retail. Your customer journey maps and analysing any data you’re able to collect on real customer journeys will be a big help. 

Assemble a Suite of Tools

If you aren’t already using tech tools to achieve an omnichannel retail experience, or have a limited toolbox, it’s time to set one up. Here are the bare basics you’ll need:

An inventory management system: Understocking means your customers may not get what they want. This is a bad experience – worse if your promotion is the reason they visited your online or physical store. Overstocking is a waste of resources. Inventory management software helps you to track inventory in real time, and helps you with stock replenishment. It should “talk” to your ecommerce platforms and warehousing system.

A customer relationship management system (CRM): Your CRM collects and analyses customer data. It should be able to work with other elements such as your ecommerce, email marketing, and social media platforms. This allows you to personalise offers and target your marketing campaigns. Whether communication is automated or requires human intervention (as it sometimes does), your CRM should allow you to present relevant information and provide service that matches individual customers’ current needs.

A data integration platform: Bring all your data from different channels and tools together with a data integration platform. It must synthesise all this information, analysing it and transforming it into reports that help you to optimise your omnichannel retail strategy. 

A merchandising optimisation tool: Using data analytics, AI, and machine learning, a merchandising optimisation tool has multiple uses. For example, it can help you to forecast market demand, determine optimum pricing strategies, roll out seasonal campaigns, and personalise user experiences. 

If you sell from brick-and-mortar stores, you can add this channel to your omnichannel mix. You can still measure customer purchasing patterns with the help of loyalty cards or customer apps, using the data to enrich your customers’ experience while boosting your sales through targeted promotions. 

Remember: Visibility, Personalisation, Measurement, Optimisation

With your baseline information captured and your toolbox assembled, it’s time to get to work. If you’re low on usable data, you’ll be working by guess, but even if you have data that seems to point in a certain direction, you can’t rest on your laurels. 

Your four goals are to achieve visibility, personalise customer experiences effectively, acquire data and measurable results, and optimise your omnichannel retail strategy based on real-world data. 

Omnichannel Retail Trends

In-Person Contact

We’ve become so accustomed to digitising everything and assuming it will be cheaper that way, that this trend might come as a surprise. The truth is that digital marketing isn’t as cheap as it once was. That’s led to a growing number of digital-only brands opting for a brick-and-mortar presence or other opportunities for in-person contact. But don’t underestimate the power of digital selling – research shows that establishing a physical presence will drive even more traffic to your online store. 

Enriching In-Person Shopping With Digital Experiences

The truth is that people are social creatures. Shopping from your armchair is rarely as exciting as going out on a “proper” shopping trip and most people like to see and touch products before buying them. At the same time, the digital experience is still important. Some stores are bringing the two types of shopping together, offering digital tools to enhance the in-store experience. 

Deliberately Blending On and Offline Shopping

Buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) is a popular trend. Most consumers say they discover and research products they’re interested in online – but don’t like waiting for shipping. BOPIS solves this problem while cutting costs. It can also lead to even more sales when customers decide to browse the physical store before picking up their purchases. 

The flipside of this is buying in-store for shipping to home. This allows retailers to operate their stores as showrooms where people can view products. If they buy them, they’re shipped from the retailers’ warehouses. The advantages are obvious: customers get to see products before they buy, and retailers don’t have to work as hard to get the conversion or cover the costs of a full-scale shop. 

Omnichannel Customer Service

Whether or not you plan to add brick-and-mortar to the mix, omnichannel retailing calls for equally ubiquitous customer service and support. It satisfies consumers’ need for easily accessible information, and when live agents step in, it compares well to the type of service they’d expect in a physical store. It makes sense that if you want to engage customers across channels, you also need to be ready to serve them no matter where and how they reach out. 

Social Media Selling through Video Content is Bigger Than Ever

Whether you decide to make your own social selling videos or hope to use influencer marketing, social selling keeps growing. TikTok and Instagram will continue to drive sales through video content, and if you aren’t using these channels yet, you should consider doing so. With your analytics to back you up, you’ll be able to develop the kind of content that sells your products across channels. 

Building Communities

Helping people to feel like part of a community when they interact with your brand goes a long way towards building engagement. As a retailer, you can help to bridge the gap between suppliers and consumers by featuring inspiring content like showing artisans at work or supporting important causes through your products. The approach you take should be tailored to fit the product, the audience and the channel.

Optimising Touchpoints Across Channels

When Grandad was a boy, he may have seen a print ad that spurred him to go to shop and buy a product. That’s just two touchpoints. But any single customer you have may have passed through as many as six different touchpoints using several different channels before making a purchase. That’s why omnichannel retailing, and the attendant ability to join the dots between touchpoints has become so important. Optimise every touchpoint to create great customer experiences. 

Omnichannel Retail Requires Omnichannel Communication

There are many different ways to communicate with customers, and not all of them require one-on-one interaction between people. But the whole purpose of omnichannel retailing, apart from growing sales, is to make customers feel like they’re having a “conversation” with your brand. It’s one they can pick up on again even if they switch platforms, and much of it can run on auto. But there’s no point in personalising if there’s no in-person customer service. 

You’re selling to people, and when they want assistance, they’ll expect to get it immediately, no matter what time of day it is or how they choose to reach out. When automated options like chatbots fail, one-on-one interaction with real people is the only solution. Fail to offer it, and you’re not only losing out on a sale – you’re also losing repeat business from someone who might otherwise have been a loyal customer. 

At RSVP, we’re omnichannel communications experts – and we’re available whenever your customers want us. It’s a scalable solution that builds your brand’s reputation for excellent service. Win over customers who might otherwise have walked away empty-handed never to return. Monitor communication across channels around the clock. Get those all-important facts and figures you’ll need to help optimise your omnichannel retail experience still further. 

Want to know more? Talk to us about RSVPs omnichannel support services today. 


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