Your complete guide to omnichannel retail

As technology advances, consumer behaviour will do the same. To keep one step ahead of the curve, retailers must quickly adopt effective retail strategies. More than just a fad, omnichannel is the key to delivering a consistent brand experience everywhere you sell.

This article is a comprehensive guide to omnichannel retail. We’ll take a deep dive into:

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retail refers to transacting across multiple channels, which can include social media platforms, an ecommerce store, a physical store and more — all while experiencing a seamless shopping experience between channels.

Omnichannel retailers must deliver a consistent brand experience everywhere their customers are. This means optimising business in such a way that every element in their sales funnel — from sales, branding, messaging, online and offline touchpoints, distribution and order fulfilment — are integrated in the back-end.

Sephora: beauty gurus and omnichannel pros

According to a Retail Personalisation Index from Sailthru, Sephora holds the number one spot for giving their customers the best omnichannel experiences for the past four years running. Their secret to success lies in the perfect balance of latest technology, personalised online experiences and knowledgeable sales staff.

When a customer comes in store for a makeover, Sephora’s Beauty Advisors scan each product they use. This list of products is then emailed to the customer so they can recreate the look for themselves at home. Sephora also uses innovative technology in store, such as augmented reality fitting rooms and colour matching technology, to help customers find the perfect products.

On a digital front, their website uses the visitor’s location data to find the nearest store. Their mobile app combines augmented reality and personalised messaging that aligns what the members experience on the website and through email content. Their AI-driven chatbot is just like their in-store Beauty Advisors — it provides product and beauty tips, as well as personalised product recommendations.

What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?

Multichannel is when a retailer uses multiple channels, such as a physical store and ecommerce. However, they are not integrated nor do they provide a seamless customer experience. Omnichannel retailers use multiple channels, but the difference is that the customer will have the same experience across all channels; for the business, the software and data from all channels are integrated and shared.

In a nutshell, all omnichannel retailers use multiple channels and integrate them, but not all multichannel retailers will have an omnichannel experience.

Is omnichannel retail right for my business?

Retail-based businesses that sell directly to consumers in industries such as fashion, food and beverage, consumer goods are well-suited to omnichannel retail. Some well-known omnichannel retailers include Starbucks, Disney, Singapore Airlines, and Bank of America.

Business-to-business (B2B) companies are also suited for omnichannel retail, especially with B2B ecommerce growing rapidly. Just like B2C buyers, B2B buyers look for convenience and don’t have a linear path to purchase. Plus, despite traditionally-held beliefs that big contracts require in-person contact, 20% of B2B buyers said they’d be willing to spend more than $500,000 in a fully remote or digital sales model (McKinsey). In the B2B context, omnichannel is fast becoming an important element of B2B business globally.

The importance of omnichannel retail

Today’s consumers seek out conveniences along their shopping journey. Little things like Buy Now Pay Later services, click and collect, and fast delivery drive shopping behaviour changes.

As technology blends into our daily lives, how will retailers create a holistic approach that will allow customers to have a flawless experience whenever they want? Omnichannel retail is the solution to improving how customers interact with your business in real life and online.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that come with being an omnichannel business:

  1. Boost customer experience and satisfaction

Omnichannel customer experience is made up of single customer touch points across a variety of channels. These channels are all connected so customers can move across platforms and still get the same experience. Since omnichannel is driven by achieving customer experience excellence, regardless of the channel, the customer experience is better.

  1. Reach more people

52% of Kiwis shopped online in 2020 (NZ Post The Full Download 2021) so why not reach your customers where they are? An omnichannel strategy allows you to provide more channels for purchase, whether that’s via ecommerce, mobile app, or in brick-and-mortar stores. No matter where your customers are, your business is only a click, email, call or live chat away.

  1. Increase sales and profits

81% of retail customers do online research before they purchase (GE Capital Retail Bank’s Second Annual Shopper Study). Throughout their research, they’ll come across your business’ social media, website and maybe even engage with your online chat — these interactions are called touchpoints.

If you optimise your touchpoints, they can nurture potential customers through the sales journey. From a customer’s perspective, they will be able to find your business and products easily. From a business owner’s perspective, this means you’ll be able to convert potential customers, win sales deals, encourage repurchases, and boost the lifetime value of your customers.

  1. Better understand your customers

The foundation of any business strategy is an in-depth understanding of your customers. Luckily, going omnichannel doesn’t just apply to your customers’ experience but also your data analytics too. Tracking engagement across channels allows you to get a better understanding of the customer journey, your customers’ preferences and how marketing campaigns performed. You’ll then be able to transform this data into valuable information to optimise your sales and marketing efforts.

  1. Improve inventory turnover

Your omnichannel strategy extends to your inventory management too. Handling inventory stock individually across physical stores, ecommerce stores and maybe even your social media shop is inefficient.

As a holistic strategy, omnichannel retail allows businesses to track inventory levels across multiple channels from a single platform. This provides them with better stock visibility so they never miss a sale or get caught out of stock.

  1. Increase operational efficiency

Across multiple channels, an omnichannel strategy allows businesses to collect customer data once, instead of at each touchpoint. For a customer that means less time spent entering the same data across channels, and for businesses it means having one source of truth — a win-win!

What are the strengths and weaknesses of an omnichannel strategy?

Omnichannel retail isn’t too good to be true — you just need to invest time and energy into laying the foundations properly from the get go.

Strengths of omnichannel retail:

  • Gives your business a competitive advantage. 46% of retail executives plan to increasingly invest in omnichannel retailing moving forward (The Retail Investment Playbook 2020). Now that there are more retailers in the online retail landscape, standing out from your competition means you need to adapt to new consumer needs and behaviours by enhancing their shopping experience and improving your service.
  • Puts customers at the heart of your business. Omnichannel retailers aim to create a smooth and cohesive customer experience, regardless of channel or platform. Aberdeen Group research found that businesses with well-defined omnichannel customer experience management programs have a 91% higher YOY increase in customer retention rate on average, compared to organizations without omnichannel programs.
  • Encourages integrated systems. A well-executed omnichannel strategy allows you to centralise data from all your channels. Without traditional silos, each department can share valuable insights that will inform efficient ways to balance inventory, market to customers and provide the best service, wherever they shop.

Weaknesses of omnichannel retail:

  • Complexity. Implementing a seamless infrastructure such as omnichannel retail is complex and time-consuming.
  • Technology as a barrier to entry. Businesses can experience difficulties integrating new omnichannel solutions with their existing back-office technology.
  • Demanding across departments. Addressing customer needs now requires inter-department collaboration. This puts pressure on all organisational departments to resolve challenges such as cross-channel staff training, managing organisational priorities, communicating data and information between channels, and more.

How to implement an omnichannel strategy

The process of setting up omnichannel retail will be unique to your business needs because you’ll choose sales and marketing channels that best align with your business goals and customers. Regardless, these six steps are suitable for growing businesses who want to implement omnichannel retail.

Step 1: Segment your customers

Use factors such as generation, gender, income range and online behaviour to segment your customer base and target market. This allows you to further personalise your sales offering, create targeted marketing campaigns and more.

To take this one step further, create buyer personas based on the data you’ve collected. Buyer personas are fictional archetypes that represent key traits of your customer segments. It helps you understand the different motivations and purchasing habits of your customers to target each group appropriately.

Step 2: Determine appropriate channels for each customer segment

Each customer segment will have different motivators and behaviours. A mix of qualitative and quantitative data can help you decide which channels to pursue. These include:

  • Talking to customers or reading reviews
  • Profits from each channel
  • Engagement rates on each platform

Once you’ve determined the best channels to suit your needs, you can focus your efforts on creating the best customer experience in those channels.

Step 3: Map the customer journey for each channel

Traditional paths to purchase are linear: if the customer wants something, they go to different stores to canvas prices, make their decision and purchase it.

Modern paths to purchase aren’t as straightforward. Customers go online to research what they want to buy and canvas prices, look up the company, read up on reviews and more before they complete their purchase online or in store.

Despite their complex journey, customers still want a seamless experience across channels. An effective strategy relies on an in-depth understanding of what your customers want and how they get there.

Step 4: Implement the right back-end solutions

When you’re selling in omnichannel retail, it’s essential that your tech stack is integrated. If you implement the right tech solutions, you’ll reap the rewards: a single view of inventory across all channels, analytics to determine sales and marketing success and identify opportunities, identify customer dissatisfaction and address it before they leave.

It’s also a win for your customers too — seamless hand-offs between your chat support and phone agents creates deep customer satisfaction.

Step 5: Optimise for efficiency

Optimise your processes across different departments to maximise operational efficiency. Here are some ideas:

Online payments

If customers are shopping online, they must be able to pay online. These days, customers generally want options when it comes to how they pay for goods – even in-store they want choice, from cash to EFTPOS to payment apps like Google Pay.

Offering a variety of online payment options enables fast transactions for customers, and back-end streamlining for businesses. For example, when customers pay with POLi, reference numbers and sum totals are all automatically applied and recorded so when it comes time to reconcile cash flow, payments made and inventory, a lot of the data entry is already completed.

Learn more:

Inventory management

If you’re still tracking stock with spreadsheets, consider switching to dedicated inventory management software. It will help you reconcile stock levels across all channels, track and manage orders, help your order fulfilment team pick and pack the right order and more. Bonus points if it also integrates with your accounting software for easy journal reconciliation.

Chatbots

Chatbots relieve pressure for support representatives to focus their attention on complex issues instead of getting bogged down by basic questions. Chatbots can answer routine customer queries and perform simple tasks such as:

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Resetting passwords and updating contact details
  • Re-engaging customers with abandoned carts

Step 6: Keep testing and measuring

The retail landscape is always adapting and you should too. Make it an ongoing, systematic habit to test and measure your performance so you can make decisions with the latest information.

Conclusion

When executed correctly, a holistic omnichannel strategy will allow you to differentiate yourself from the competition, respond to complex customer demands, provide memorable customer experiences that win customers, create lasting relationships and boost your bottom line.