What would omnichannel look like if money was no object?

Retail once took place in person – and only in person. But not anymore. Customers  routinely research purchases across physical and virtual stores, apps and social media, at the desktop and on their phone and, increasingly, in several places at once. Almost three quarters of shoppers use multiple channels in the process of making a single purchase, and eight in ten have used their phone in-store to check prices, reviews and availability elsewhere.

The brands set to thrive post-Covid will be those with omnichannel strategies, which gives them more opportunities than their competitors to capture – and hold – their customers’ attention. In doing so, they will present to those customers a unified image and a more personalised experience, regardless of media.


Omnichannel is omnipresent

“Omnichannel takes place on multiple channels, just like the multi-channel retail strategy,” says Intelistyle, which highlights the symbiotic relationship: without multi-channel, there can be no omnichannel. Yet, “the key difference is that [an] omnichannel retail strategy connects all channels for a fully-integrated shopping experience and a seamless transition across all platforms.”

By investing in omnichannel, brands can make any product available to each customer through every media and location. “This provides customers with the same user experience, products and service, regardless of the sales channel or touchpoint through which they engage, rather than the distinctly disparate channels of a multichannel approach,” explains Red Technology.

However, omnichannel can also be used to steer the customer in a particular direction, or towards a specific retail location. This will be of greatest relevance to stores that are saddled with long leases on retail real estate. Post-covid, “e-commerce has definitely won the [retail] race,” says commercial interior design studio CAAD, which has an understandable interest in seeing the return of real-world footfall. “Precisely for this reason, it is important to attract consumers to the store and make their experience unique and exclusive, for example, offering new products only in stores.”


Omnichannel is built on retail data

It is essential that omnichannel brands invest in gathering customer data, and mine it for insights. Only by building a unified customer profile will they be able to present the products each customer is most likely to buy wherever – and whenever – an encounter takes place. Ideally, the same recommendation will follow the consumer across different media and be threaded through both their digital and physical interactions.

When done well, the brand will seem more relevant to the customer, and the experience will feel more personalised. This is important when “thirty-three percent of customers who abandoned a business relationship... did so because personalization was lacking,” according to research from Accenture, which notes that “retaining those customers with personalised experiences would generate a significant revenue boost.”


Existing strategies still apply

Data collection and analysis can be expensive, but it pays dividends by reducing the friction in the shopping experience. A consumer that can source the same products through an app, website and physical store, and use the same saved payment mechanism (or points) at each will return many times over. A loyalty scheme that ties them together will increase recognition and fidelity, and grow the number of data points the brand can use to construct a consumer profile, which iterates and improves the retail cycle.

Loyalty programmes once only rewarded customers for shopping in person but, in an omnichannel world, that should no longer be the case. Such a programme should “include every action, such as when customers promote the product on social media, write reviews about their favourite items, take a product-related quiz, or refer a friend,” says Amber Nguyen at Magestore. “Also, you can engage customers in everyday activities, such as going for a run in their new shoes or wearing clothing items with smart tags in them.”

“The difficulty for retailers lies in having a single consistent source of data available to customers, regardless of how they contact the retailer,” notes Informatica. That is something they will only achieve if the data they hold is first “normalised and made universally available to all channel systems. A strong product information management practice can help retailers create quality, consistent data that works on all customer channels.”


The future of omnichannel

Customers that actively engage with omnichannel shopping tend to be bigger spenders, notes the Harvard Business Review. “Conducting prior online research on the retailer’s own site or sites of other retailers led to 13% greater in-store spending among omnichannel shoppers. This finding goes against the grain of the conventional wisdom that spur-of-the-moment, impulsive shopping bulks up the top line of traditional retailers.”

Omnichannel has the potential to blur the distinction between the physical and digital worlds. Gift cards and vouchers that work online and in store, click and collect, online reservations, live online stock checks for individual outlets, real world launches and events streamed to the web each connect with customers in a different way but, crucially, extend a brand beyond the potential of its physical aisles.

Covid is helping broaden customers’ experiences of alternative ways to interact with the brands they already know. “About 61 per cent of US consumers now make purchases within retailer apps, a significant jump from the 21 percent who did so pre-pandemic,” writes Blackhawk Network’s Helena Mao. “Meanwhile, the number of consumers who have never used a retailer app has dropped significantly, from 32 per cent pre-pandemic to only 13 per cent today.”

But experiences go beyond mere convenience. Online shopping has brought us rendered rooms in which we can arrange furniture we might buy, real-time virtual try-ons for glasses and clothes, and more in-depth manufacturing information than could ever be presented in a real-world store. Brands that want to provide a true omnichannel experience need to make sure such experiences are no longer confined to the digital world.

Almost half of the global population has a smartphone, and in countries like the UK, Germany and the US, penetration stands at around 80%. Few of us leave our phones at home when we go shopping, which gives retailers a further opportunity to blur the online / offline divide. Rather than adapting the physical experience for the small screen, they can subvert the norm, and use physical barcodes to present information on screen, and augmented reality to position digital products in a real world environment.

A large part of the investment required has already been undertaken by the consumer in buying their mobile device. Any brand that meets them half way will present a more engaging – and compelling – shopping experience than their closest rival. At that point they will realise the full potential of omnichannel retail.


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Gertjan Lansink
Sales Manager

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