We like convenience. We also value freedom of choice. This applies not only to leisure or work life, but also shopping. We want brands to adapt to our individual preferences. And it is these needs of shoppers that have contributed to the development of omnichannel in the world of e-commerce.
In this article, we will explain what exactly the omnichannel strategy is, how to implement it into your own business, what it entails, and how others implement it.
What is omnichannel and why is it worth becoming interested in it?
Omnichannel is a way of implementing a brand’s strategy, including all customer communication, the purpose of which is to improve the customer experience. Omnichannel involves multiple channels forming a cohesive whole.
In other words, it is the integration of all (online and offline) customer touchpoints that allows the customer to interact with the brand in a seamless way from the customer’s perspective.
Omnichannel gave birth to omni-commerce, which is associated with what is known as customer centricity, i.e., the focus on customers’ needs and adapting to their shopping preferences.
With this approach, the customer is able to switch between various sales channels during a single shopping process. This includes both searching for information about a product (e.g., online, using a mobile device), as well as browsing the retailer’s offer on its store’s website, trying a product on in a brick and mortar store, purchasing it using a computer and possibly returning it to a nearby store or via a parcel machine.
What omnichannel strategy requires first is a less advanced approach, namely multichannel. It differs from omnichannel in that the brand has several channels for sales and communication with the customer, but they are not integrated into one coherent system. An example here may be when a customer can make a purchase in an online store but picking the goods up or returning them is not possible in a brick and mortar store. Having started the purchase process in one channel, the customer has to finalize it in that specific channel.
Offering several sales channels has long since become almost a necessity. Consumers have different preferences, and the development of technology and the variety of devices we use also affect our shopping behavior.
This is confirmed by a number of studies, in which attention is drawn to the public’s growing trust in modern payment methods, willingness to use their favorite delivery methods, or simply the previously mentioned convenience.
According to the report entitled ‘Ecommerce w Polsce 2022’ (‘Ecommerce in Poland 2022) prepared by the Chamber of Digital Economy (Izba Gospodarki Elektronicznej) and Gemius Poland, the main factor motivating online shopping is the possibility of doing it around the clock. Moreover, the variety of available ways to deliver/pick up purchases, as well as offering various forms of payment, are of great importance. Hence, having, for example, a brick and mortar store or online outlet solely will not satisfy those needs.
When comparing the results of this report with previous years’ editions, it can be observed that the popularity of smartphone use is growing year by year, overtaking desktops and even laptops. Just a year ago, laptop was the most widely used tool for e-commerce. This may indicate that stores are increasingly adapting to customers’ needs and taking care of their mobile accessibility.
The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic speaks in favor of increasing sales channels for businesses operating on the basis of brick and mortar stores only. Stores previously operating only offline, striving to survive, opened up to e-commerce by starting online sales on their own store platforms, marketplace platforms, and in social media. The need for change affected consumers as well, who have been as if forced to switch to online shopping and trust online payments, even if they had previously avoided them.
The ‘Ecommerce w Polsce 2022’ report mentioned above shows that the ROPO (Research Online, Purchase Offline) effect applies most to those with shorter e-shopping experience, especially when it comes to product categories such as clothing, jewelry, books and records, tickets, and collectibles.
Showrooming, i.e., checking out products in brick and mortar stores before buying them online, is also becoming more and more popular. According to the ‘Showrooming and the Rise of the Mobile-Assisted Shopper’ study, as many as ⅕ of consumers use their phones while shopping in traditional stores to make purchasing decisions.
People are making less and less distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ shopping, and omnichannel is slowly becoming a cornerstone of a smoothly operating business rather than a competitive advantage.
How to implement omnichannel into your own business?
Implementing the omnichannel strategy is not a simple task; however, with proper preparation and planning, you can make the process much easier.
The omnichannel implementation process can be divided into 4 steps.
- Get to know your customers and their shopping behavior
The starting point for developing an action plan and optimizing processes is to know the needs, behaviors, and preferences of current customers.
Use the already available data (e.g., from Google Analytics, advertising systems, CRM), and ask your customers specific questions in online surveys, or through a salesperson in a brick and mortar store.
In the case of an online store or website, identify the sites the customers come from, how much time they spend on the website, how long it takes them to make a transaction, and what devices they use.
In the case of a brick and mortar store, ask about the improvements the customers would like to have, whether they use the Internet to shop, or what channels they prefer to communicate with the brand.
All the answers provided will give you a solid knowledge base for choosing communication and sales channels, including not only implementing new ones, but also eliminating those that will not work in your case.
- Analyze the nature of your industry, products and the business itself
It is also a good time to reexamine your business and reinvent it. It is especially useful if you have been in business for years and have not updated your observations in this area. Just like the world, businesses change constantly. Sometimes they even adjust imperceptibly to new technologies and the behavior of, for example, younger generations of consumers. It is probably the same with your company.
Therefore, you need to determine what processes you have in your company, how they work, and which of them should be given more priority. Moreover, you should see what is new on the market and how your competitors communicate.
Different customer behaviors in different industries are demonstrated in many studies, such as „Raport Omni-commerce. Kupuję wygodnie 2020” (‘Omni-Commerce Report. I Buy Conveniently 2020; Chamber of Digital Economy (Izba Gospodarki Elektronicznej) and Mobile Institute). These behaviors are related to where the customers search for product information, how they contact customer service, how they use social media or whether they make a single transaction across multiple channels or using various devices.
- Develop an action plan
Initiate the action plan, or implementation of the new strategy, only when:
- you know the company’s existing processes, the trouble spots or those elements that need to be optimized, but also the things that customers praise,
- you have updated your knowledge of the industry, competitors and new technologies that support the business,
- you have analyzed customer behavior and mapped the customer’s purchase path; you know where they look for information, what sales channels they use, whether they switch between them and how they use new technologies,
- you know what customers need, what your purpose is, and what goals you have set for yourself,
- you have identified the tools, systems, and competencies you will need.
Having the data, you can set an action plan with deadlines and responsibilities. It will be necessary to:
- determine the communication and sales channels in which you will be present,
- implement the necessary technical improvements and tools,
- establish the budget and allocate it according to estimates,
- determine which processes you will outsource (e.g., logistics, marketing), and which will be carried out within your organization.
And how should it work in practice?
- if you have a loyalty program, make sure that it is consistent in the online store and in your brick and mortar stores,
- do not divide marketing activities into online and offline ones,
- allow customers to pick up orders or make returns using any channel, regardless of how they placed the order,
- check whether your CRM (Customer Relationship Management; system for managing sales and customer relationship), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning; system for managing company resources, e.g., order quantity or data accumulation) or PIM (product information management system) allow you to maintain continuous communication with customer service across channels so that customers do not have to explain again what they are contacting the company about.
4. Train your staff
It is essential to explain to all employees why changes are being made to current processes and how important they are to the company.
This is especially vital for customer service departments and salespeople who have direct contact with customers.
It is important for them to learn how the new systems and tools work, to be able to collect feedback from customers, and to report any problems or suggest improvements themselves.
You need to remember as well that it is extremely important for all employees to cooperate and pursue common goals. They need to collaborate and support each other in the various stages of the customer’s purchase path.
Inspiring examples of omnichannel strategy implementation in organizations
Below you will find two interesting examples of cohesive omnichannel sales in various industries.
Decathlon is an international manufacturer and retailer of clothing and equipment worldwide. The company operates both online and in-store sales (1,647 in-store outlets in 57 countries). They owe their omnichannel strategy success not only to their focus on a good customer experience, but also to their organizational culture and employee satisfaction.
As part of the development of consistent communications, Decathlon introduced, for example:
- click&collect service – that is, possibility to shop online and pick up the goods at a brick and mortar store,
- possibility to return online orders at brick and mortar stores,
- for the fans of using mobile devices, they created an application that allows logging in with the same account as in the browser version of the store,
- possibility to make so-called e-bookings, i.e., to book products online and pick them up later at a traditional store,
- self-checkouts have appeared in some stores, for which no scanner is required – it is possible thanks to the use of the RFID technology,
- special places, so-called kiosks, have been created in some stores, allowing the customers to order products that are not available onsite. The products ordered can be delivered on the same day,
- innovative training and testing areas have been created for customers to try out the equipment offered,
- the equipment (currently mainly bikes) offered by Decathlon can also be rented to see how it works in practice and whether it meets the customer’s needs. On the other hand, customers who do not want to buy a bike can simply rent one from time to time according to their own needs,
- customers who buy a bike online and pick it up at a brick and mortar store are offered a service to assemble and bolt together all the components.
Timberland is a world-renowned outdoor clothing brand that takes a very modern approach to providing the best possible shopping experience to its customers.
In their brick and mortar store, they have created the so-called TouchWalls, allowing the customers to access exclusive products available online only and create a single shopping cart for products available in both channels (offline and online).
They have also made available tablets equipped with CloudTags technology and near-field communication (NFC) through which customers can access additional information about products or their reviews and ratings. They do not need to download apps to their own devices or create a store account.
Customers can also create a list of products online and sign up to receive personalized emails based on their preferences on the basis of their visit to the store and the list created.
The two examples above illustrate how brands are using modern technology to meet customer expectations concerning convenience, speed and consistent experience across different touchpoints with the brand.
These consumer needs, along with the increasing shift of channels during the customer’s purchase path, are an undeniable proof that the omnichannel strategy should be considered by everyone who want to be relevant in the market.
And what does the combination of different customer touchpoints look like in your company?