Approaching omnichannel strategies in 2018

omnichannel_shopping.pngLast year saw the world of retail suffer several high profile casualties. Joining Toys R Us was RadioShack, Payless ShoeSource, and a significant number of others who went into administration.

While a tough retail climate claimed many of these businesses, the consensus is that those aforementioned might have avoided bankruptcy had they been quicker to adopt an omnichannel strategy. That is, an integrated customer experience across all of their online and offline channels. How can brands implement their own omnichannel strategy?

The issue isn’t helped by the continuing confusion around what the differences are between multi-channel and omnichannel marketing strategies.

The easiest way to explain it is that multi-channel is about offering choice; a channel that customers can use to engage with a brand or make a purchase. If you have a store, a website and a phone number, that makes you multi-channel.

Omnichannel, while it literally means “all the channels”, effectively presents your business as a single, consistent experience, whatever the channel. Adding more channels does not make you omnichannel, unless they work seamlessly with all the others.

While Toys R Us did use omnichannel strategies (for example, click and collect and endless aisle options), it was late to the game when it came to its digital transformation.

To be fair, a 10-year contract to sell online exclusively through Amazon was partly to blame for this (it stopped Toys R Us from developing its own website, not to mention gave away extremely valuable data insight into the popularity of toys). Yet Toys R Us may have fallen into the same trap that caught out many other brands: to chase the latest new and shiny buzzword to say they are ‘doing it’, when they are really only paying omnichannel lip service.

The aim doesn't need to be to have as many channels as possible. Trying to be everywhere you believe a customer needs you, just because you think you should, isn’t enough. This alone does not improve the customer experience. The experience, really, is what the focus of an omnichannel strategy should be.

We often talk about how customers do not care about channels. They care about how things benefit them, and how a brand treats them. For example, one survey found that 88% of customers prefer doing business with a company that offers quality customer service, over a company that has the latest and most innovative products. Another report revealed that 55% of customers would pay more for a service if they received a better experience.

Retailers, then, should take the same approach to an omnichannel strategy as they do to any other strategy: to prioritize quality and relevance over quantity. If you’re going to connect your in-store and online experiences, make sure that it puts the customers at the center, benefiting them first and foremost. There’s no point launching your clever new chatbot if it doesn’t fit with the rest of your brand strategy, or if you do not have any human assistance to support it.

So, how can brands use omnichannel to their advantage, without overreaching in a way that is more likely to damage the customer experience than improve it?

Ensure everyone is on the same page

One of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of an omnichannel approach are siloes. Often the problem is that sales, marketing and customer service departments are working independently to each other. Inevitably, this also means that departmental data is disparate across organization systems, too.

Single Customer View should be a key first step to unifying and consolidating your data. As will reorganizing your business so key departments are working closely together and their goals are aligned.

Don’t forget an app

In 2011, The Guardian found that 91% of the world’s top 100 brands have some form of mobile app. AdWeek reported that mobile users spend 20 times more time on apps than they do on mobile websites. Elsewhere, one app developer found that 78% of users would rather use a mobile app than a mobile site.

However, outside the top 100 brands, only 22% of brands have a ‘shoppable’ app. Those that aren’t are not only missing the valuable data they capture, and the opportunity to improve the customer experience, but also access to the 199 million mobile shoppers in the US.

Refine your approach to bricks and mortar

Yes, Amazon is building bookstores and grocery stores but few online-only companies can pull off an approach to the same scale. That is not to say that online retailers cannot offer a similar offline, ‘showroom’ experience. For example, with a short-term ‘pop-up’ shop or a limited-stock store to let customers experience your key products in person, with your full inventory ordered in store but delivered via a fulfilment or dropship service.

This can work very well for high-cost items that benefit from letting customers interact with them (like shoes, handbags and larger electrical items), but come in a variety of colors or styles. Again, the likes of Toys R US and RadioShack suffered because of the costs associated with large, expensive stores carrying lots of stock.

Cater to the impatient

In 2015, Business Insider found that 96% of US consumers consider same day delivery as ‘fast shipping’. Just 18% consider 5-7 days fast enough. The same report found that a quarter of shoppers would abandon a cart online if same-day shipping wasn’t available. Stores including Macy’s, Best Buy, ASOS and Nordstrom have recently introduced same-day shipping, with others fulfilling this through click and collect-type services.

If the costs associated with same-day delivery are too great, a 2017 Ecommerce Study also found that many customers value free shipped (90.7%) and free returns (76.8%).

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This eBook aims to answer questions you might have, including:

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