In business magazines and online publications, there has been a lot of doom and gloom regarding the retail industry in recent years. You hear stories of large retailers closing, malls emptying, and earnings slipping for some of the most well-known brands in the world. Despite the negative messaging, U.S. and worldwide trends are showing steady growth in retail markets following the recession:
Those big headlines might pull in visitors, but they fail to reflect the reality of the growing retail industry. Companies across the world are finding new, innovative ways to connect with their customers and provide a consistent experience wherever those interactions happen.
Omnichannel marketing plays a key role in the success of retail stores today. According to Google, 84% of smartphone shoppers use their phones to research products while in a physical store. Increasingly, customers expect a seamless experience between digital and in-store interactions.
What is OmniChannel?
So, what is omnichannel? The term itself has become a bit of a business buzzword, but the practice has real-world implications for any retailer. Omni comes from the word “Omnis,” which means “all” or “universal” in Latin.
Omnichannel refers to a company’s ability to provide a seamless experience no matter where they engage with customers — whether it is in person, through phone, or on their website. Omnichannel strategies are about true continuity of the customer experience, no matter where they interact with a company. In the early days of eCommerce, as larger retailers began to flesh out their online offerings, their online presence was often disjointed from their in-store offerings.
This disjointed feeling creates a disconnect between customers and brands. In the early days of eCommerce, this was expected by customers, they didn’t have the frame of reference to expect any different. But times have changed, and consumers are beginning to expect experiences that feel more centralized. Being able to track what a user does through online channels and apply those insights to interactions through other channels provides measurable benefits. It helps to facilitate engaged, loyal customers. The truth is that customers choose to interact with companies through multiple channels for a variety of reasons. For instance, the reasons why customers generally to shop in store as opposed to online can vary quite a bit:
As the industry has matured, many companies have found ways to improve the customer experience across channels. Still, there is a lot to learn.
Understand the Customer’s Journey
In order to provide a seamless experience across multiple channels, it’s important that companies are able to understand the customer’s journey in full. Understanding the most prevalent paths taken by your own customers will allow you to focus your efforts on smoothing over issues that apply directly to them. Customers are increasingly using multiple devices during the transactional process. A user may begin this process on their desktop, researching the product and company. Later, they may add a product to their cart while using their phone before finalizing their purchase several hours later on their tablet.
If that process wasn’t facilitated, the company may lose the sale. Imagine that the user found that once they logged into their account from their tablet, that the item was no longer in their shopping cart. You are now asking the customer to take an additional action — one that they have already taken — in order to complete their purchase. Those types of redundancies always result in lower conversion rates. This type of omnichannel consideration is becoming an expectation among average consumers.
Other examples of omnichannel strategies could include allowing a customer to return an item using their online purchase record as proof of purchase, or using an online coupon at a physical retail location. These are small examples of how a lack of omnichannel thinking could be aggravating to a customer and ultimately push them toward taking their business elsewhere. While these examples are ones that most companies often cover, it provides a clear understanding of what people mean when they use the term “omnichannel.”
In this article, we laid out a few best practices for setting up your omnichannel strategy.
Segment Audiences and Increase Personalization
We are at the beginning of the era of “big data.” Companies are collecting more information about customers than they ever have before. Despite this fact, many companies struggle to put the information that they collect to good use. There is an unending number of ways to personalize the customer’s experience using the data that you already collect.
A simple and effective place to start with omnichannel personalization is through email. Using the data at your fingertips to ensure that you are delivering laser-targeted email messages to customers is vital for improving engagement and open rates for your email list. Use purchase data to personalize the emails that you send to every prospect, regardless of where the final purchases are made.
Segmentation is a powerful tool, and learning more about your users can help you to provide a more consistent experience across all channels. Customers prefer marketing that is tailored to their interests and habits. Using that data to improve omnichannel experiences helps companies to provide a consistent, reliable experience to their customers.
Empower Sales Associates
In physical retail locations, one of the most common omnichannel disconnects comes from sales associates’ not having the tools that they need to help customers in an omnichannel environment. Your sales team should be armed with tablets and mobile devices that allow them to access important product information, promotions, and customer information that will assist them in providing a better shopping experience. Even simply referencing an action that a customer on your website can impress and help to create a positive impression.
According to a recent study from PWC, 78% of customers want sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product. While companies with a large number of products will have a hard time training every employee on the intricacies of every product – empowering your team with information at their fingertips while engaging with customers certainly helps to bridge that gap.
Too many companies look at omnichannel success purely from a marketing perspective. We invite retailers to take a step back and see that true omnichannel success is about human interaction. A personalized email is great, but arming sales associates with your customer history provides a truly seamless experience.
Develop Omnichannel Content and Improve Accessibility
It’s no secret that customers love reading and using content throughout the customer journey. Why then, is all of the focus on providing content to customers online, with so little placed on providing that same content to in-store shoppers? Improving the accessibility of the content that you have already invested in is a great way to improve your omnichannel presence and find ways to give in-store customers access to content that helps with their buying decision.
Connect Customer Service Online and Offline
One of the most aggravating omnichannel mistakes for customers is a lack of connection between online and offline customer support options. All companies boast about their world-class customer support — well, true world-class customer support isn’t limited by where the interaction took place. Poor customer support experiences erode customer loyalty.
According to a recent study by Aberdeen Group, companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies are able to retain 89% of their customers. Compare this to the 33% of customers retained by companies with weak omnichannel implementations and the benefit of uniting support channels becomes crystal-clear.
Your customer service and support teams are often the first point of contact that a customer has with your company. They are responsible for creating that first impression or improving the relationship. Make sure that you are arming customer support reps with customer data across multiple channels to provide as seamless of an experience as you can.
Measuring Success in an Omnichannel Environment
One major challenge at the heart of any omnichannel strategy is tracking attribution: how to accurately reward different channels along the multi-channel customer journey for their contribution to a sale. It’s an important problem to solve so you know which channels to invest more in, which to drop and which to rethink.
Bridging the gap between online and offline media channels is no small feat. All the current solutions have their drawbacks whether that be complexity or coverage. But, to get an accurate picture of your activity, you need to try to express your marketing success metrics in an omnichannel way – the sum of in-channel conversions and influenced conversions in other channels.
In this article, we give an in-depth picture of how to attempt more accurate omnichannel tracking with today’s solutions and give you a preview into new technologies that will improve our understanding of omnichannel attribution.
Channel Lines Will Continue to Blur
In the grand scheme of things, the focus on omnichannel strategies is still relatively young in the world of retail business. Growth in tech has lead to an increase in solutions to bridge these gaps, and already we see the channel lines beginning to blur. As time goes on, it will become even more difficult for customers to separate their experiences with companies on different channels. By adopting these strategies now, eCommerce companies put themselves at the forefront of a business revolution that is certain to grow.
Creating better omnichannel experiences is a process. It won’t happen overnight for any company. However, identifying gaps in the customer experience now can help to illuminate a clear path for any company that would like to improve the way they communicate with customers across channels.