If you're a retail business, it's highly likely that you've heard the term omnichannel. So, what is omnichannel retail?
Omnichannel retail allows businesses to reach out to and engage customers at every point of their retail experience, online and offline across multiple platforms, to provide a seamless customer experience across the board. Omnichannel retail goes beyond having a great customer experience on a single channel individually, and focuses more on giving customers a unified experience for customers physically in store, as well as across all the online channels your business may be on.
Retailers are switching up their marketing strategies to enable customers to convert on any channel, because shoppers that buy from them in store and online is their most valuable kind of customer. An article by BlueBite states that customers that shop both online and offline have a 30% higher lifetime value than those using only a single channel.
A multichannel approach to retail doesn't necessarily mean that your brand is omnichannel. As a multichannel retailer, you would be available for sales and/or communication on multiple channels, online and offline. But generally, these experiences are separate and disconnected from each other, and each time a customer shops/communicates with you on a different channel, it becomes a new experience all over again. Of course, multichannel is important, and without multichannel, you wouldn’t have omnichannel, rightly stated in this article by Bloomreach.
However, with brands taking their businesses and customer experiences online, they do have to ensure seamless transitions and consistent experiences from one channel to the next. This ability to sell online has changed how brands sell directly to consumers, whether the sale takes place on a website, app, or social media channels. Besides opening up a wider avenue for customers to shop, it's also a way for brands to establish direct and personal communication with customers.
Think of it this way - in the not-so-distant past (though technologically, you could argue that it was ages ago), pretty much all shopping would happen in physical stores. If you had a problem with your purchase, you’d either have to call up the store, or actually visit the store to get your issue resolved. While that was the only way out, it wasn’t super effective or efficient, and it would require customers to take time off to actually resolve their issues. Now that customers are able to connect with businesses online, it essentially means that they can save time and effort not just for support, but the entire retail experience itself.
Think of it this way - a customer purchases something from a physical store, and you generate an invoice and send it to them on WhatsApp. Now, your communication remains on the customer’s phone, and you’re able to upsell products to your customers without your customers wondering where the communication is coming from. In fact, it becomes even easier for the customer to come back to your brand to find out about your other products if they really liked their last purchase, and shop through WhatsApp, another channel that’s now opened up to them.
Or take for instance, a potential customer sees an ad for some products on Instagram. On impulse, they purchase that product and get it delivered. On the off chance that they may not be satisfied with the purchase, and want to return the product, or exchange it for something else, your customer can just message you on another channel (say WhatsApp, because they find it easier to communicate there), and because your services are interconnected (omnichannel, as it were), you can easily identify what the customer had purchased and offer them a seamless customer support experience, without them having to go through an entire process of having to explain their purchase and problem all over again.
Businesses that build up their direct sales channels are able to have more control over their relationships with their customers. With e-commerce becoming a growing market, online channels and an omnichannel presence and experience becomes an important part of how effectively brands can serve their customers. As mentioned earlier, it’s not just important for physical stores, as even brands that have sold through single channels are exploring options of direct sales across multiple channels. Furthermore, MuleSoft states that omnichannel customers tend to spend 15-30% more than single channel customers.
With customers not only expecting, but demanding better retail experiences, the direct-to-consumer model gives brands a brilliant opportunity to build better relationships with their customers. Plus, with direct sales, it allows businesses to collect, and have complete control over customer data, which means that the brand is able to create new opportunities to connect directly with their customer base, and even effectively upsell and cross-sell their products better.
When businesses sell through third party retailers, they have very little control over how their products are sold, and over customer databases. They have to rely on the retailer to ensure that the customer is satisfied not just with the sale, but with the retail experience. That’s why Instagram (and other channels, but mostly Instagram) has become such a powerful platform for small businesses (and even medium to larger scale businesses) to take back control of their retail experiences and their data. This aligns with the bigger picture of a brand marketing and sales strategy that focuses on creating an optimal CX at every point of the retail experience.
With omnichannel retail becoming a standard consumer expectation, brands need to look at optimising for this sort of experience. A lot of brands still separate their customers into online and offline sections. However, more often than not, it is the case that customers would start their journey online, and end up offline, or vice versa. Omnichannel retail is becoming a new standard, and successful brands not only take advantage of new, cross-channel retail, but also collect and effectively use data from all these channels to create better sales and marketing strategies and customer experiences.