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This post has been contributed by Oro’s technology partner, Marello.

Omnichannel retail, also known as a unified shopping experience across sales channels, is a buzzword that seems to have been around for ages. While it hasn’t been taken seriously over the last few years, things have changed remarkably over the past year. In 2021 and beyond, retailers will have to move quickly to avoid losing to the competition and keep up with quickly changing customer demands.

The biggest push from omnichannel comes from customers themselves. Omni-device customers are everywhere, relying on multiple tools and apps while expecting brands to follow their every move. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced the vast majority of shoppers inside, reluctant to return to physical stores.

In fact, Deloitte predicts that eCommerce sales will increase anywhere from 25-35% year-over-year through the 2020-2021 holiday season and beyond. It’s too early to say whether eCommerce will leave brick-and-mortars in the dust. Still, customers that relied on omnichannel services before will likely continue seeking them out due to convenience.

Now that we’ve agreed that omnichannel is good, how do you go about getting there? Where do you start? In this article, we present five steps that need to be considered when setting foot in the omni-channel world.

Contents:

What is Omnichannel Retailing?

Historically, omnichannel was a way for forward-thinking brick-and-mortars to blur the lines between physical and digital.

Back in 2016, comScore and UPS discovered that customers bought more products online than in brick-and-mortar stores. The survey, now in its fifth year, asked more than 5,000 customers about their purchases in a three-month period. The results showed that shoppers made 51 percent of their purchases online, compared to 48 percent in 2015 and 47 percent in 2014.

Since many physical retailers couldn’t compete with eCommerce giants such as Amazon, they had to innovate. By leveraging their physical and digital channels, forward-thinking retailers could offer something that would get their customers to stand up and notice. That is, a single brand experience instead of separate, disconnected ones.

The rise of B2B omni-channel retailing

Although omni-channel retailing originated in the B2C sector, we are now witnessing its steady expansion into B2B eCommerce. As B2B eCommerce eclipses B2C eCommerce in size in the coming years, the competition among retailers will also grow. Thus, brands must streamline their selling models if they want to maintain a competitive advantage – and omnichannel is one way of doing that.

An omnichannel strategy in B2B eCommerce means approaching B2B, B2C, and physical sales channels holistically. Traditional B2B sellers such as food industry manufacturers are pivoting into D2C and B2B2C business models alongside their main B2B businesses. Automotive parts distributors are also embracing D2C and B2B marketplaces in their bid to circumvent physical stores in the wake of lockdowns.

In many ways, omnichannel has become critical to retailing and is now making way into B2B commerce jargon. This trend is likely to accelerate as omnichannel becomes inseparable from retail in years to come.omnichannel -5-years-google

Google queries for omnichannel over the past 5 years. Even though many retailers understand the importance of an omni-channel strategy, it can be a challenge knowing which steps to take to successfully apply one to their business.

What Does Omnichannel Retail Feel Like to the Customer?

What does an omnichannel, unified brand experience feel like to the customer? According to one HBR survey, a whopping 75% of shoppers say they use multiple channels to compare prices, seek out the best deals – some even use their mobile phones while being physically present in stores.

Therefore, the customer experience could be vastly different from what the brand perceives it to be. Here’s an example of a well-executed omnichannel retailing experience:

  • You discover an interesting product from an Instagram ad or post.
  • After visiting Facebook, you see a different ad about that brand. This time the ad highlights some lifestyle aspects of the product.
  • When you follow the Facebook link to the eCommerce website, a tracking code takes note of the items you engaged with and launches a popup asking you if you’d like to be notified of similar products.
  • You decide to visit the store. As you enter the store, your phone shows you a personalized notification with items on sale you might be interested in. While you’re not ready to buy just yet, these items are right up your alley. You make a note to purchase these items online at a later date.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Retailing: What’s the Difference?

Digital commerce is confusing as it is, and with physical, digital, and hybrid selling experiences – things can get even more so. So what is the difference between omnichannel retail and multichannel retail?

Multichannel refers to the practice of offering customers many options to engage and purchase with your brand. These are native, branded experiences that allow customers to reach their goals. The brand is the centerpiece in this retail model, while each channel acts as its own silo. Ultimately, marketing, sales, and shopping experiences are different from one channel to the next.

For example, think of a brand selling via their Facebook page, Instagram Business, Amazon store, eCommerce website, and in-person at the same time, but with different shopping experiences.

omni-channel-marketing
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Omnichannel retail builds upon multichannel retail but has a completely different focus. Instead of placing the brand at the center, the customer is the central figure. The goal is to give the customer a seamless experience across all selling platforms.

An omnichannel brand will track customer activity on Facebook, Instagram, and their Amazon store to offer personalized suggestions via display ads, mobile notifications, or offer a personalized customer service experience.

Benefits and Challenges of Omnichannel Retailing

As the technological and economic landscapes change, so do customer behaviors. As customers look for streamlined and highly personalized services regardless of their environment, they raise the collective customer expectation bar. An omnichannel retailing strategy helps you meet and exceed these expectations. Here are some other benefits of omnichannel retailing:

smartphone-amazon-omnichannel

[Source]

  1. Greater reach. As lockdowns force customers to spend more time online, it pays to have a unified message across your selling channels. Messaging helps you stay top of mind along your customers’ digital journey and gives them more reason to give your brand a second look.
  2. More engagement. One of the biggest draws of omnichannel for retailers is it drives engagement. Whether it’s social media, website, or physical store, every channel works together to fill in the gaps of the other. Customers that want to know what you have in stock can just go online instead of calling the store or visiting it in person.
  3. Seamless experiences. Taken alone, no single channel is perfect. Customers don’t want to dictate their order numbers on the phone or walk through endless aisles to find what they want. Instead, they will gravitate to brands that help them reach their objectives faster and with minimal friction.

While omnichannel eCommerce is quickly getting on the radar of business leaders, it’s not without some challenges. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Adoption issues. Depending on their customer base and workplace culture, not all brands will fully embrace omnichannel retail. Some organizations are in highly regulated industries with specialized processes or complex products. Others may use unique selling styles and heavily rely on their sales teams. In such environments, introducing new omnichannel strategies could result in significant pushback from sales reps.
  2. Technology. A perfect omnichannel experience must work like a well-oiled machine, giving customers a personalized and seamless experience. To get there, you’ll first need to attract top tech talent, invest in future-proof software such as eCommerce solutions and scalable IT infrastructure. Then, as your customer base or product catalogs grow, you’ll need to be able to build upon your solutions without having it impact your omnichannel experience.
  3. Cost. Being an innovator in your industry requires investment. Any new strategy will require research and prioritization. You’ll have to stay on top of trends and the target experience your customers want. You’ll have to reevaluate your IT strategy and work with digital transformation consultants. Such large IT-centered changes can add up to a hefty sum, but don’t let it dissuade you from meeting your goals.

The 5-Step Omnichannel Retailing Strategy

No omnichannel strategy is the same. Your path to channel conquest will depend on your industry, business structure, and customer requirements. Carefully analyze your goals, capabilities, and company culture, and follow the steps below to craft a strategy of your own.

Step 1: Connect your online and physical presence

First, identify your sales and customer engagement channels. For instance, along with your brick-and-mortar store, you should also think about building a website, webshop, or mobile app, as well as engaging with your customers via social media.

Make sure that your content (such as product descriptions and pricing) is consistent across each channel. For example, when a product has a 50 percent discount in your brick-and-mortar store, it should have this same discount across all of your online channels as well.

Furthermore, any actions taken in one channel should be visible in the others. When a product has sold out in one channel, for instance, the other channels should also reflect this information. Any inconsistencies could lead to mistrust from customers, so ensure your information is the same across all channels.

blokker-omni-channel

The Dutch retailer Blokker Holding is an example of an omni-channel shop. Since October 2016, they have experimented with dynamic pricing. Electronic price tags in their brick-and-mortar shops are linked to a central system, making it easy to ensure consistency in the prices of products across channels. So whether customers access their online store on mobile devices, on a work computer, or in-person, they can expect to see the same product information.

Step 2: Build flexibility into your business model

One of the biggest advantages of omnichannel retail is that it generates customer trust, leading to customers that are engaged, loyal, and spend more. Furthermore, B2B buyers familiar with omnichannel experiences as B2C customers grow to expect the same from B2B businesses.

In addition, both B2C and B2B sellers are expanding into different models such as B2B2B, D2C, or a marketplace. Centralizing your selling channels not only gives you more control over them – it allows you to act on opportunities and pivot faster.

Invest in a future-proof eCommerce solution early on that allows you to expand into new channels. However, don’t forget about maintaining a personalized approach to every customer, regardless of the channel they’re on. For example, your B2B and B2C customers might have different site experiences and deal with different sales reps, but this shouldn’t get in the way of them engaging with your brand through various communication channels.

saltworks-showroom-salt

Saltworks is an example of a business that successfully unified its selling channels under one platform. One of the world’s largest salt manufacturers, they offer separate web experiences to their B2C and B2B customers. While B2B customers get a comprehensive view of the inventory and shipping options, B2C customers get a completely different payment and fulfillment experience. Lastly, an “Available at Amazon” button allows customers to purchase products from Saltwork’s Amazon store without leaving their website.

Step 3: Create a unified look and feel

Being omnichannel means having a uniform brand experience across every channel. Branding, messaging, style, visuals, and fonts should all match in order to establish a consistent look and feel across each channel.

Regardless of what channel your customers use to purchase, they should immediately recognize the style of your shop or brand. Design your omnichannel strategy to reinforce weaker ones. In the eyes of your customers, some channels will be better than others. It doesn’t mean that other channels are inferior. You want to give your customers the best of both worlds by offering them a more consistent and holistic experience.

apple-omni-channel

Apple is a great example of how a brand should look and feel across channels. Rather than being designed to drive sales, Apple’s brick-and-mortar stores showcase how it feels to use their products. Customers can also easily research their products online, then come to the store to experience the products before buying them. And because the visual experience is consistent across each of their channels, their products and marketing are instantly recognizable.

Step 4: Share data across channels

Maintaining an omnichannel retail experience requires brands to analyze customer journeys over physical and digital channels. To target customers with messaging that matches their needs, brands must maintain accurate and up-to-date data on customers. For example, integrating customer-facing eCommerce systems with backend systems like your ERP gets crucial data to travel freely to automate processes and experiences across channels.

For vendors, centralizing, and keeping data in one source of truth increases efficiency.  Increased visibility into customer activity allows them to offer better shopping experiences. Ensure your analytics and tools give you the right customer and inventory insights when they’re needed. You’ll be able to identify customer needs and act on opportunities to solidify business or customer relationships.

animal-supply-store

Animal Supply Company is a pet food supplies and distribution company that maintains a network of distributors, resellers, and thousands of retailers. By centralizing their ERP data in one place, they can change warehouses in a different region automatically. During times of demand spikes or unforeseen inventory fluctuations, this allows them to offer a better experience to their retailers, and by extension, their customers.

Step 5: Personalize the customer experience

Your customer data holds the key to personalization. CRM systems such as OroCRM, for instance, can reveal relationships between customers and shops in detail. Nowadays, it is possible to track customers across channels, see what products they look at and purchase, which products they add to their shopping cart, and so on.

When you understand customer behavior and what makes them happy, you can craft the desired experience for each customer. For example, channels should have the same look and feel and be specifically personalized according to each customer’s needs.

This could mean displaying products that customers have bought before or showing related products that might interest them. Analyzing and using all of this user data is the biggest advantage of omni-channel retailing. It is now possible to know more about customers than ever before!

related-products-store

Related products in the OroCommerce storefront

How to Implement Omnichannel Retail for Your Brand?

Omnichannel retailing has become a buzzword for a good reason: as retailers of all types begin to sell their products online, they are also discovering that, in order to appeal to customers, they have to meet them where they are. Increasingly, this not only means in the store and online but also across mobile and social media as well.

Growing demand for services like purchase online and pick up in-store, shop and ship from store, is proof of this trend. The proliferation of integration options and cloud eCommerce services become crucial links between the retailer and customers. Brands already on top of their customer behavior and inventory data will have an easier time translating the desired experience to the customer level.

As technology advances and new capabilities become possible, make sure to give your customers what they actually want. While the steps above outline the basics for a successful omnichannel strategy, one thing for certain: your customer must be at the center of it all.

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