Forward-thinking retailers leverage their physical and digital channels to create an experience that gets noticed. These days omni-channel retailing delivers a single brand experience instead of a different experience on every channel. It’s important in the B2B and B2C worlds. B2C shoppers already expect an omnichannel experience and where B2C goes B2B follows.
How Customers Experience an Omnichannel Brand
So, what does an omnichannel experience look like? Well, to the customer it is completely seamless. They don’t even realize they are engaging on different channels – through their eyes it is one experience. On the other hand, the retailer has carefully orchestrated their brand message to be consistent at every touchpoint.
Through the eyes of a customer, it might look like this.
A customer is scrolling through their social media feed (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) and they see a pair of garden shears that gets them thinking about the yard work they need to do this Spring. So, they click through the ad to the social media page for the brand. There they read reviews about the shears and the buying experience. Those shears are awesome, and the consumer must buy them now!
Another click takes them to the website. They click to buy the shears but discover they aren’t in stock. Frustrated, they interact with an online chat agent to find when the shears (and poison ivy soap they discovered on the site) will be back in stock. But the chat agent saves the day. The agent finds all the items available in a store that’s less than 10 miles away. The agent reserves the items for the customer who will drive the next day to pick up the shears, poison ivy soap, and the gloves they decided they can’t live without once they are in the store.
To the customer, they clicked an ad and drove to a store. To the brand, it was a well-coordinated effort between social media marketing, an eCommerce website, live chat, and a brick-and-mortar store.
That’s omnichannel retailing at its finest.
Omnichannel Isn’t Multichannel
Don’t confuse multichannel marketing with omnichannel marketing. You may have been engaged in multichannel efforts for years. That’s where you used your eCommerce store, print catalogs, and emails to engage with your customer.
Multichannel experiences are separate and distinct. Even if they use the same corporate imaging, they don’t provide a cohesive experience.
On the other hand, the omnichannel experience has no borders. From looking at the website from home to checking for a coupon on a smartphone in the store, the experience blends into one. The customer is at the center of the experience, not the brand. It’s an entirely new way of looking at brands – through the eyes of the consumer.
Steps to Omnichannel Retailing
Omnichannel retail isn’t without its challenges. But to chart a course for smooth sailing, follow these steps.
Step 1 – Unify the Digital and Physical Presence
Start with creating consistency throughout your digital and physical assets. Strive for consistency in everything from product descriptions and prices to marketing messages. For example, a “best seller” online shouldn’t be in the clearance section in the store. Promotions should also be consistent with every touchpoint. A customer phoning in their order should receive the same promotion as a person shopping online or in the store. Consistency is the start of a cohesive omnichannel experience. It enhances engagement and the relationship with the brand.
Step 2 – Get Flexible
A brand relationship is built on trust. So, build in the flexibility to maintain that trust in all you do. Trust builds loyalty and that leads to further sales.
Make sure your digital solutions have the flexibility to pivot with your business model. For example, Grainger was a leader in moving from B2B industrial supply into B2C sales as well. While it might not have been a challenge for its digital sales, it meant a change in thinking for the brick-and-mortar sales force.
Ready in-store and online customer-facing staff to support customers from any channel and with any level of product knowledge. The B2C pivot wouldn’t work for Grainger if in-store or phone staff weren’t ready and eager to help a retail customer select the right product for their needs.
Step 3 – Create and Maintain a Consistent Corporate Image
In step one, you unified your digital and physical presence. One of those unifying forces is a consistent brand or corporate image.
The images, colors, fonts, logos, and messages must be consistent across all channels. Compare the Apple website to an Apple store and you’ll see a perfect example. There is a minimalist approach to both, and both put the focus squarely on the product and how it will improve a customer’s life.
Whether scrolling the Twitter feed, walking in the mall, or opening an email a customer should immediately recognize your brand and associate it with a positive experience. Whatever journey the customer chooses to take, the sights along the way should be the same.
Consistency encourages a second purchase. And a second purchase increases the chance of a third purchase. After the first purchase, the customer acquisition cost has been paid. Profit only increases with the subsequent purchases encourage by consistent branding.
Step 4 – Collect, Share, and Analyze Data Across Channels
Tear down data silos and integrate all business systems. From POS to eCommerce, from ERP to WMS, data must flow freely.
You can’t get a full picture of the customer journey without a full picture of the customer. Capture data at every touchpoint and share it with other channels. The only way to target customers with the message that matches their needs is to have accurate and up-to-date data.
Data sharing also allows customers to self-serve, and that’s one experience everyone wants these days. Self-serve return kiosks allow customers to return merchandise without the expense of return freight. Online surveys can obtain insights into in-store experiences.
Step 5 – Personalize the Experience
Once you’ve broken down silos and data is flowing freely, put it to work. Ensure that every experience is personalized.
Track customers across channels. This can be as simple as showing online items that coordinate with items purchased in the store. Or, using geolocation to send push notifications to online customers when they are near a physical location.
In-app, online, in the store, or on the socials, make sure your customers recognize that you recognize them. That’s how you put the customer in the center and that’s the heart of omnichannel retailing.