In the past, shopping took a linear path. Whether in a physical store or on a brand’s website, the shopping experience was one-dimensional. This is no longer the case. An omnichannel experience is now the preferred shopping model. Omnichannel commerce is not a new trend; consumer buying habits have been changing gradually for years. But the past year, in particular, has accelerated the change.
An omnichannel commerce experience is extremely important to the customer, as it can provide a seamless and unified experience. For a business, though, it has become a requirement for survival. Just 15 years ago, a consumer used only two touchpoints when making a purchase. Today, nearly 50% of all consumers utilize four or more.
Companies that were early to adopt omnichannel commerce are already benefiting. In fact, those with successful customer engagement retain an average of 89% of their customers. However, some companies find the omnichannel commerce transformation challenging. And taking a haphazard approach can jeopardize the overall effort. Knowing the obstacles and following a proven strategy will help companies build a strong omnichannel commerce model and start reaping the rewards.
Obstacles that can Jeopardize Omnichannel Commerce Transformations
Omnichannel strategies can deliver many benefits for enterprises, but several obstacles can jeopardize success. People and processes often pose the greatest challenges to transformation success. An omnichannel transformation may require overhauling the organizational structure and redefining employees’ responsibilities. Management can facilitate this change by focusing on the main goal: creating customer value.
Lack of clarity on the transformation is a huge impediment. Companies need to create a long-term vision, prioritize items in the omnichannel strategy, and clearly communicate the plan. Strategic priorities prevent companies from investing in divergent technologies and ensure that internal processes are in place. The strategy should include the flexibility needed to address ever-evolving customer needs. Omnichannel commerce success depends on the strong partnerships between departments, stores, inventory management, fulfillment, etc. Find ways to strengthen inter-department partnerships to prevent undermining these endeavors.
Implementing an omnichannel strategy will also require process changes – logistical operations, managing products, aligning inventory and delivery channels, coordinating with suppliers, manufacturers, third-party logistics and more. Meet these challenges by focusing on the speed of delivery and optimal customer service. Designed processes should include ease of returns. If a sound reverse logistic process is not synchronized, the conversion rate might suffer.
Basic Strategy for Omnichannel Transformation Success
Omnichannel capabilities require careful planning and significant investments to deliver improved customer satisfaction and bottom-line results. It is important to follow a basic framework blueprint to transition through a period of significant change. Identify the business goals that provide exceptional cross-channel shopping experiences in-store and online. Then determine what technology, process improvements, and organizational changes are required to accomplish the planned omnichannel strategy. Creating a transformation roadmap can help keep goals and efforts aligned. The roadmap should focus on the strategy for business imperatives including operations, customer engagement, and customer experience.
Before any cross-channel engagement can be available to customers, operations must be in place to handle the new strategy. All inventory and order processes must be integrated for unified order fulfilment. Utilize technologies like RFID scanners to track inventory and shelf placements. Put proper reverse logistics in place to handle cross-channel returns, including coordination across teams for seamless customer service. And utilize integrated cross-channel data management and analytics to improve inventory flow.
Every company online is competing for customers’ attention, and customer engagement increases with personalization across channels. The goal is to make brand engagement seamless throughout the purchase journey. Integrate all shopping to allow consumers to switch easily between channels. Offer integrated loyalty programs that drive more visits to brand channels, and capture all touchpoint data to tailor targeted and relevant cross-channel engagement (including social). For in-store shopping, provide automated kiosks so consumers can get help quickly.
The customer experience is, in many ways, the cornerstone of the omnichannel strategy. Companies that get this right enjoy high brand loyalty and higher sales. To deliver the best experience, cross-channel visibility is a must. Customers should see all inventory available, regardless of when and where the engagement occurs. Cross-channel features should be personalized throughout the buying journey, including customer service. This feature is what drives a unified experience with the brand, so focus on the end-to-end experience. Offer buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and cross-channel return or refund options. Companies that simplify returns/exchanges will be rewarded with repeat business. Finally, consider using accelerated digital innovations like AI/ML, AR/VR for an immersive experience, and build a like-minded community within the brand ecosystem. Customers share information; get the customer experience right, and that customer will influence other sales.
Emerging Trends for Competitive Differentiation
What is next for the world of omnichannel retail? Some key trends are already emerging. To achieve true omnichannel capabilities, offer BOPIS or buy-online-pickup-at-curbside (BOPAC) order fulfillment. Retailers today are adopting these models to meet customer’s expectations and boost the bottom line. In fact, 43.7% of the top 500 retailers with physical stores were offering BOPIS — up from only 6.9% prior to the pandemic.
Another growing trend is semi-automated devices in retail. The AI-enabled automated and semi-automated solutions allow users to quickly place orders or switch between devices and continue with the previous shopping experience. This capability facilitates increased efficiency and cost savings.
Social commerce in retail is another trend gaining traction. Retailers can advertise on social media and utilize the native checkout capability of social platforms to provide a fast and easy sales channel for consumers. This is actually one of the fastest-growing trends; US social commerce buying accelerated 25.2% to $80.1 million in 2020, and it’s expected to reach $101.1 million by 2023.
In addition, accelerated digital innovation – leveraging digital technologies such as AI/ML, AR/VR, and IoT in mobile devices – will help engage customers across channels and achieve the personalization consumers expect. And integrated inventory management between online and in-store is helping expedite order fulfillment as more customers adopt digital commerce to place orders.
Omnichannel commerce is here to stay and will continue to evolve over time. But one thing is certain: omnichannel shoppers have a 30% higher lifetime value. Companies that implement successful omnichannel commerce will benefit from strong customer loyalty. And considering it can cost five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, companies that adopt a solid omnichannel commerce strategy can reap big rewards for years to come.