Retail is clearly being shaken up by mobile-oriented consumers. Online sales are growing year-on-year and volume is expected to hit $523bn by 2020 in the US. This shift has compelled even established brick-and-mortar enterprises to shore up their online presence.
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However, one trap that many traditional businesses fall into when figuring out their online presence is failing to optimise their customer experience for both online and offline channels.
Businesses are often compelled to just put up online channels for the sake of having one, but they offer no difference between the two. The consequence of this is that channels may end up competing against instead of complementing each other. This is where an omnichannel strategy comes into play.
1. Decide if your business is ready
Having an online presence is pretty much a given these days. For brick-and-mortar, having a website and social media presence are essential to letting people know your business exists. With the tools available today, it does not require much in terms of investment to get into these channels.
Many think that online channels should be online stores, since many would want to anticipate the shift to web and mobile as channels for consumers. This is not necessarily the case. The experience you provide is actually dependent on your products and services.
If you have a purely online business, it is a very important matter to know why you are venturing into physical channels. The brick-and-mortar game might bear a significant difference to your current setup.
Either way, expect investments in people and infrastructure to be made when crossing over to different channels.
2. Rethink your customer experience
You should not be limited to an online store as your online channel’s function. You must think of an omnichannel experience as providing a complementary and seamless customer experience across the different modes of access.
For example, let us say your business is a service business. Unless you deliver to customers or provide offsite services, having a fully functional store might not be the best function of your web or mobile channel. In such cases, perhaps your online channel could primarily feature information about your services and a reservation system for them to book you. That said, you could still explore enabling online purchases for special token items or gift cards for purchase, but it might not be the primary function.
Take Starbucks for example. They have an online store where you can buy items like drinkware, which has a rewards app where you can top up your Starbucks card and check rewards. The brick-and-mortar stores are, of course, where you get your coffee. They have effectively compartmentalised the Starbucks experience so that each one serves a unique function towards the whole coffee experience with minimal overlaps.
3. Consolidate your online and physical systems
One of the tricky parts of managing an omnichannel experience is making sure systems for both online and brick-and-mortar channels work in tune with each other.
Inventory management might be a tricky area if you do not have integrated systems. If you are working with the same stocks and your online and offline channels are not synchronised, then you might have problems keeping track of what items get sold, where, and when you might run out.
Another way is to keep users updated with the status of their transactions. If your setup allows online ordering and physical pickup, perhaps you can deploy a mobile app that notifies users as the product progresses through your fulfillment process.
It would be advantageous to use an integrated retail management platform that consolidates your point-of-sale and e-commerce activities. Cloud-based services like Vend offers inventory management that tracks stocks, filled orders, and even returns.
Being cloud-based means these services runs both your online and brick-and-mortar and are synchronised at all times. You can check your system anywhere at any time.
4. Plan and launch your campaign
Having an omnichannel setup means your marketing and sales campaigns need not be compartmentalized anymore. Keep in mind that the best way you can reach your customers now if through your online -- especially mobile -- channels. Adults spend almost two hours online on social media every day. By 2017,75% of internet use is expected to be mobile. Thus, you need to design the flow for your customers around these channels.
Social media will be the best place to share information, engage with the audience, and generate interest. Your website or mobile app will be the best place to contain more information about your products and services. You can even ask users to subscribe to your newsletter for digital discount coupons, which they can use to buy items in your physical store. With your newsletter or app, you can keep them updated about what’s new with your business through email or push notifications.
Keep in mind that you would also want to inspire customer loyalty, so avoid viewing your flow as a linear process. Rather, visualise it as a cycle in which you can continuously interface with and generate business from your customers.
5. Track your progress with analytics
A clear way to see how your omnichannel strategy is working is by measuring it. Thanks to analytics, it is possible to see how well your campaigns are doing, even if they span across multiple channels.
Social media channels like Facebook have analytics available by default. Embedding trackers to your website can help track your traffic sources and your customer’s behavior while online. Retail management platforms also have analytics features. With these, you can actually see where your customers are coming from and if your flow works.
From these figures, you can then gain insights on which parts of your customer experience needs adjusting.
Improve your UI for seamless experience
As consumer behavior shifts and evolves, so should your campaigns. That is why it is necessary to plan, execute, and track your progress in implementing your omnichannel channel strategy. Keep in mind that customers want an effortless experience across channels, so you will need to continuously strive to provide a seamless experience for them. Later on you can even experiment with brick-and-mortar technologies like beacons and digital displays to provide a truly immersive experience.
Boris Dzhingarov graduated UNWE with a major in marketing. He writes for several online sites such as Tech.co, Semrush.com, Tweakyourbiz.com, Socialnomics.net. Boris is the founder of MonetaryLibrary.com and BlogForWeb. You can connect with him at Google +,Twitter, Linkedin or contact him directly at for tips regarding your SEO campaign.
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