Nowadays, essentially every consumer likely has a computer in his or her pocket. This means one thing to retailers: Convenience is king. Not only is there a demand for expedited purchasing processes, but customers also crave simplicity. It is retailers' jobs to provide this to consumers alongside their products and services.
The need for convenience initially drove many merchants to online channels. Before that, they were selling products with television advertisements. Prior to TV, it was all about attracting consumers via radio and newsprint. The point is that retailers have always adapted to the times. The current era is no exception to this rule.
Therefore, if the newest form of commerce is omnichannel, then every merchant who doesn't follow that trend can expect trouble. Omnichannel commerce is all about delivering the best possible customer experience and, consequently, today that means convenience. It's – in its simplest definition – a complete combination of in-store and online, but it really encompasses the utilization of every single channel, such as mobile and social.
"To master omnichannel commerce, retailers must create seamless customer experiences regardless of the platform."
It's all about the consumer
To master omnichannel commerce, retailers must create seamless customer experiences regardless of the platform. That means having the same brand image, type of support and products in their store, on their websites and posted to social media pages. For example, according to Forrester, 71 percent of consumers expect to view in-store inventory on a company's website, and 50 percent want the ability to buy online and pick up that item at a brick-and-mortar location.
"Retail has become a blur. And the blurring is 100 percent driven by technology," Tige Savage, a partner at Revolution, told the MIT Technology Review. "Are you at the store? Or is the store at you? And then there's mobile, the store is in your pocket. The game is to satisfy demand wherever and whenever it is."
Now, merchants are putting all of their efforts into improving customer experiences on every channel, mainly because having simply one weak outlet could turn off such a wide group of consumers. In a survey of over 225 senior marketers at North American retail companies, Econsultancy found that none of them planned to reduce their commitment to delivering the best experiences in 2015.
There are a variety of different ways to improve the customer experience. This is both a virtue and a problem when it comes to multichannel commerce. According to the source, 22 percent of marketers cited ominchannel marketing, suggesting that creating a "truly seamless experience" is a challenge. For example, what should a retailer focus on? Which specific aspects of each channel need to be tweaked? Where does the customer experience even begin?
"Mastery of the customer experience is a challenge with many facets. Retailers are overwhelmed by the complexity of data, technology and understanding of the customer journey," said Paige O'Neill, chief marketing officer at SDL, according to Econsultancy. "Our latest research indicates that North American retailers are acutely aware of their technological shortfalls when it comes to creating a seamless, personalized customer experience across multiple channels."
Econsultancy also posited that achieving a great customer experience will be "a powerful differentiator." Since it is difficult, rarity follows. Only 35 percent of retailers believe they can set themselves apart with mobile optimization, while 97 percent agree on the importance of integrating systems and technologies to reach every online and offline touch point.
It's clear that omnichannel commerce is about giving consumers a perfect, uniform experience regardless of where they visit a brand. This might seem intimidating, but with some careful planning and patience, becoming an omnichannel retailer will be very beneficial to the bottom line. Here are four important aspects of an omnichannel strategy.
1. Use data
Retailers can leverage big data in many ways, but when it comes to omnichannel commerce, they will want to focus on consumer behavior metrics, Forbes reported. Identifying trends in purchasing habits can lead to better decisions in regard to suppliers, products and the market landscape. Additionally, merchants should collect statistics on what channels are getting attention.
2. Repurpose retail
Just because there is a larger focus on online and mobile outlets, retailers shouldn't forget about their brick-and-mortar locations. These will also need to be optimized. The Business of Fashion recommended using physical stores as places to excite customers about products or articulate brand stories. Then, retailers should push their consumers to other channels. Stores are unique, so it's important to generate a different but very familiar brand experience.
3. Optimize technology
Forrester indicated that investing in technology will be a critical aspect of exemplary customer experiences. With an omnichannel approach, retailers will need to provide higher levels of service. This means using technology to create inventory visibility, provide support to customers, store payment information and develop new capabilities such as in-store pickups.
"Technology will be critical in the omnichannel commerce fight against cybercrime."
Another side of the technology coin includes cybersecurity. Data breaches have become far too common occurrences in retail sectors, and this has caused many businesses to adopt new policies when it comes to data protection. Technology will be critical in the omnichannel commerce fight against cybercrime due to the variety of channels that need protecting. Retailers will need to invest in tools and solutions that cover POS systems, online payment processing and mobile transactions.
4. Push the brand
A great customer experience is also dependent on a solid brand. With omnichannel commerce, retailers need to establish a strong image, as well as remain consistent with it from the brick-and-mortar storefront to a mobile application to social media. Forrester discovered that many retailers rank omnichannel maturity based on a brand's perception along with customer loyalty and satisfaction. In fact, it is common for chief marketing officers to hold responsibilities when it comes to channel initiatives.
Therefore, retailers should consider maintaining a strong social media presence, communicating with customers often, but not responding to every comment. Another consideration lies in a brand's website. Creating content is a great way to keep consumers interacting even when they aren't purchasing products. After all, those items will always remain a single click away.
Omnichannel commerce isn't exactly new, but it has evolved rapidly in the past few years thanks to social media and mobile devices. Capitalizing on this necessary strategy will allow retailers to step up their brand's rankings against competitors.
Is Your Business Ready For Omni-Channel Retailing?