Did you know that COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that has driven ecommerce innovation?

In fact, when the SARS outbreak happened in China, Alibaba was just a young company with not much in terms of sales to brag about. Today, there are almost 800 million annual active customers on the shopping platform.

What made Alibaba successful was by following a new philosophy called “new retail”. This refers to the smooth integrations of both online and offline worlds to give customers seamless shopping experiences.

The concept of new retail is to learn new ways on how to digitise, adapt and integrate the two worlds in order to overcome the obstacles that are common in both.

In the past year, the same patterns have happened all over the world. Some physical stores decided to shut down or reduced their workforce capacity, while others had to make hasty decisions to meet their growing demands.

Yet new retail goes beyond simply making physical store products available online. It is also about meeting the consumers through new online channels. This is especially important since many customers have experienced so much disruption in their routines and daily lives.

Today, consumers are finding brands in new ways and are looking for new conveniences to help with their shopping decisions.

In this post, we will talk about omnichannel in the retail industry, why it’s important and what strategies you can apply to succeed.

What is Omnichannel?

Omnichannel refers to transactions that can happen across multiple channels, which can include brick-and-mortar stores, social pages, marketplaces and more. The goal in omnichannel retailing is to be immersive and to prioritise the customer.

This means that customers are able to purchase wherever. Instead of using channels as independent steps, omnichannel takes into account the spillover between these channels and provides customer experiences in and between them.

Basically, omnichannel retail takes away the limitations between different marketing channels and sales to provide users with a unified and integrated whole. All of the distinctions between channels – whether that is on mobile, on-site, social, instant messaging and email – are taken away to give a single view of the consumer and gives them a single experience for commerce.

Compared to a multichannel approach, omnichannel retail combines the environments of emails, websites, social media marketing, physical locations and retargeting ads to show consumers personalised products, messages and offers.

What Do the Statistics Say About Omnichannel?

Before we talk about the strategies, it is important that we understand why omnichannel marketing is relevant in the modern world. If omnichannel unites all of the strengths of a brand’s channels, what makes it vital and why should businesses adopt it?

According to a survey, adopting an omnichannel strategy allows businesses to achieve a 91% year-over-year retention rate for their customers compared to those that do not. In another study, companies that employed a solid omnichannel customer engagement approach were able to retain as much as 89% of their customers, compared to just 33% of those with no omnichannel engagement strategy.

In terms of customer engagement, the majority of consumers will move between different ecommerce channels throughout the day. This means that although they have come across the latest sale you have on your website, they may return to it at a later time, like while they are commuting.

That is why the demand for great omnichannel customer experiences is vital in the coming years especially with more consumers moving across various channels and devices.

Below are some more important statistics of omnichannel.

Consumers Expect Brands to Keep Up

Closing the Gap Between Mobile, Online and Onsite

Omnichannel Activity is Present in All Industries

Many Businesses Are Not Yet Ready with Their Omnichannel Strategy

Why is Omnichannel Important for Retailers?

The behavior of consumers has changed since the pandemic started in 2020. Many retailers have found that following an omnichannel strategy is now more vital than ever.

In the world of retail, consumers are always looking to get better prices, selections and conveniences. Thanks to the Internet, the first two choices have already been provided and so customers are now looking for more in terms of convenience.

At the end of the day, an omnichannel strategy can result in increased sales and revenue because it caters to the convenience people nowadays are looking for.

Here are several factors that show why omnichannel is important for retailers in the coming years.

1. It Helps Retailers Meet Customers Where They Are

Consumers have long been engaging in transactions since time immemorial. The appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop people from these activities – it only diverted and dispersed most of these transactions to different channels.

Today, people are learning about products and brands in various new ways such as on Google Shopping, Instagram ads, Amazon and other marketplaces. They may learn about your brand through word of mouth or from product reviews.

By being able to show up where your consumers are, you can make the shopping journey for these people more convenient. This convenience is even more important especially in a world affected by the pandemic.

According to a survey, more than 80% of shoppers found that convenience, as they shop, is more important for them in the coming years.

As shoppers, these people want all of the logistics to be as simplistic as possible. Having a strong omnichannel strategy is vital to meet the changing consumer behavior by placing the operations and technologies needed to meet customers where they are.

2. Stand Out in a Saturated Market

As more and more retailers are trying to win online attention, having to stand out in a saturated market requires brands to offer great services and better shopping experiences.

In order to do that, your brand has to adapt to the new behaviors and needs of its customers. You will have to tweak the way you approach your target consumer.

Some of what you already know about your customers may have changed already. That is why you should do your research to understand if you need to recalibrate the following:

  • Messaging
  • Advertising channels
  • Sales channels
  • Product assortment

By being consistent and doing this well, you will have a better chance of overcoming any potential changes in your market.

3. Optimise Your Brand with Analytics and Data

With the surprisingly fast change in consumer behavior, many retailers will have to adjust their marketing and sales channels to become more optimised for this new reality. Analysing your brand’s data can help you discover which areas you should focus on.

Having an integrated and comprehensive omnichannel strategy will help you centralise data from all channels and sources. This will let you figure out the best ways you can balance your inventory, meet your customers where they are and provide them with the best experiences possible.

The Four Pillars to a Successful Omnichannel Strategy

Before we discuss strategy, let us talk about the pillars that can make one successful. There are four main pillars that lead to a successful omnichannel retail strategy: marketing and advertising, operations, sales channels, and fulfilment.

It is important that all of these functions work well together in order to give your customers the best omnichannel experience.

Pillar #1: Marketing and Advertising

It will be harder for your consumers to find your products naturally if you do not have an omnichannel marketing strategy for driving traffic and sales.

By bringing the right message to the right audience at the right time, especially with consistent brand messaging, you can make a huge impact on your bottom line.

Some of the most suggested advertising and digital marketing channels recommended by experts include:

  • Social media
  • Retargeting ads
  • Google Shopping ads
  • Marketplace advertising
  • Email and SMS

Pillar #2: Operations

The operations pillar includes all of the processes that happen in your back office – beginning from inventory management, order processing, logistics and fulfilment. That is why connectivity is the key to a functional omnichannel strategy.

What exact technologies you use for your back office operations highly depend on the scale and sophistication of your brand.

Visibility of the inventory is one of the biggest barriers to having the right omnichannel inventory management. If you do not have it, you will be unable to access data to report accurately or provide customers updates on when products will be back in stock.

When deciding to expand to other channels, you need to have a centralised inventory system that provides you with the visibility you need to streamline your supply chain.

Pillar #3: Sales Channels

Since there are many sales channels available to choose from nowadays, you need to carefully assess each one to match your audience. Check where they spend most of their time and where the products under your category are often sold.

These channels can include:

  • Mobile channels
  • Ecommerce marketplaces
  • Online storefronts
  • Social media platforms
  • Brick-and-mortar stores
  • Wholesale/B2B sales

It is not good to invest too much in just one channel when selling your products. You want to spread out since if one channel is shut down or struggles for any reason, you still have another to fall back to.

The great thing about an omnichannel sales strategy is that it is a mitigation approach as well.

Pillar #4: Fulfilment

With regards to shipping and fulfilment, retailers have the choice to use a third-party logistics company or shipping apps.

Shipping software usually comes with specially negotiated rates depending on the carrier. It also comes with reporting features, visibility on shipping status and the ability to forward orders to fulfilment providers.

How to Set Up an Omnichannel Strategy

Now that you know the important pillars that can help build a successful omnichannel approach, it’s time to look at the actual steps to take to get started.

1. Begin by Creating Buyer Personas

You will first need to create personas for your customers to gain insights into what they like and dislike. Creating in-depth personals filled with details on the buying habits, behaviours and preferences of your consumers is a good start.

Let your whole team join and come up with more than your standard customer, so you can have inclusive and diverse buyer profiles.

With regards to your omnichannel strategy, try to focus on your buyer’s journey. How frequently do they purchase? How do they accomplish these purchases?

By understanding their journey, you will be able to set up an excellent customer experience for each stage and persona. A good way of doing this is by playing the customer.

Experience their journey yourself starting from the first ad click to the final payment process. Go ahead and submit a customer support claim or purchase a product straight from a landing page.

Have you noticed any confusing steps? What were the pain points you encountered?

It is always important to gather data first so you can ensure that the user experience you make is frictionless, beginning with the channels your users love to use.

2. Work on Segmenting Your Customers

There are several ways you can start when segmenting your customers. You need to determine which of them will work best for your brand.

The approach is also called market segmentation and its goal is to help identify various unique groups in your target market. This lets you further personalise what you have to offer to your consumers.

Some of the elements in which retailers segment their customers include:

  • Geographic region
  • Online behaviour
  • Income range
  • Interactions with marketing campaigns
  • Values

Most marketing and CRM automation platforms allow you to segment contacts depending on the settings you have selected above. From there, you can start personalising your messaging for every segment.

After you have identified the right customer segments, you will then be able to go deeper on how you can present your offer to each one.

3. Learn Which Channels Each Customer Segment Uses

When a person is looking to purchase something specific, there are many places they could look into to find the type of item they want.

For those interested in an antique or pre-owned item, they can head to eBay. If a person has a more modern taste, then perhaps they can check Instagram for their needs.

This is how it is with any product and for any target market. In order to reach customers at the right time and place, you need to know their behavior. You should know where they browse, what motivates them to buy and where they do it.

Mixing quantitative and qualitative data can help you with your decisions regarding important channels to choose. Getting insights from customers themselves by talking to them can give you qualitative data and a sense of empathy for them. However, keeping track of KPIs will make it easier.

Make sure you leverage analytics to learn which channels you use are most profitable and efficient. You will want to prioritise these channels to ensure that you are giving your target audience the best shopping experience possible.

4. Map Out Your Consumer Journey

Consider that specific product again from the last step. This is how the buyer’s journey could possibly go:

  1. Search for the product name on Amazon.
  2. Check out a few brands that offer the product.
  3. Start receiving retargeting ads for a number of that item, which they will click on if they find it interesting.
  4. Sign up for the brand newsletter directly from their website.
  5. Search for reviews regarding the specific brand.
  6. Narrow down the options and make a purchase directly from the brand’s ecommerce website.

There are many ways this specific journey could be reordered or diverted at any time. However, the customer still wants to have a smooth experience. This is one of the major challenges of omnichannel retail.

That is why an effective omnichannel strategy requires having an in-depth understanding of what consumers truly want to acheive.

5. Be Ready with Cross-Channel Support

Many consumers look to buy where and how it is most convenient for them. The same is true with customer support.

If you wish to expand on having multiple accounts on different channels, then you need to ensure that you can provide your customers with the support they need. Be sure that you can cater to both mobile phone and social media support channels.

Giving your customers the support they want can help improve their lifetime value and contribute to making them, loyal consumers.

Here are a few statistics that show how important customer support is today:

There’s no denying that customer service is a cornerstone of omnichannel marketing strategies. That is why it is important for companies to communicate these findings to their support teams.

Ensuring that both your customer and marketing teams are regularly in sync can benefit your brand greatly.

6. Begin Integrating Your Existing Systems

One of the biggest reasons why you should integrate your tech stack is because of inventory. As you begin selling on different sales channels, you will want to have an in-depth, unified view of each piece of inventory you have available in real-time.

At the same time, you want to have a single source that will update you on product information. This can be a PIM or a similar solution, which can be very useful in helping you avoid having to re-enter product information manually.

There are other benefits as well. When your ecommerce and marketing efforts are closely integrated, you can gather all vital data to make a better assessment of your performance while identifying key opportunities.

Smooth handoffs between channels are also important in customer support. If one agent already knows what the topic is about on an email thread for a specific customer, they can pick up where the other agent left off and cater to their needs right away.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Is my social strategy capable of supporting my web strategy?
  • Does my email strategy contribute to my social strategy?
  • Is my web strategy helping my mobile strategy?

When you have all channels taking cues from each other, the customer experience you provide goes up a notch. Your customers are going to feel confident that you can provide them with the same great response wherever you meet them.

7. Leverage Automation

There is a productivity concept concerning $10,000-per-hour work. The idea behind this is for you to identify the work that offers the highest leverage – exactly just what moves the needle.

That is why the more you can prioritise high-leverage activities, the more you can push your business ahead. This is where automation comes in.

Here are some examples of how you can leverage automation for your business:

· Using a chatbot to provide answers to frequently asked questions so that your support agents can focus more on complex issues.

· Configure behavior triggers to bring more personalised marketing efforts to your customer’s journeys, letting prospective buyers see the right messages at the right times.

· Prioritise tech stacks that offer seamless integrations so you are always updated on your business in real-time while letting you make decisions based on in-depth data.

8. Make a Habit of Testing

Testing is not a one-and-done task that you do when you are close to launching. It should be done continuously as it is a systematic process of your business. This is particularly true when you are undertaking a complex omnichannel journey.

That is why obtaining data on each touchpoint is vital so you can make decisions that improve your business. Be sure to have the right platform and solutions available to make it easier for you to aggregate your data sources and obtain insights.

Conclusion

Customers nowadays are expecting ecommerce retailers to provide them with seamless omnichannel shopping experiences. That is why many are beginning to adapt to these new behaviors and needs of consumers. Countless brands are recalibrating how they understand their target consumers to keep up.

For your omnichannel strategy to be successful, it should be comprehensive and holistic. It should have a solid foundation that is supported by the four pillars of marketing and advertising, sales channels, operations and fulfillment.

With the dynamic market today, having an omnichannel strategy is the only way for brands to address the growing complexity of modern consumers.