Co-author: Anurodh Agarwal
Omnichannel – The need of the day
Omni channel as the name suggests is a combination of two words- ‘omni’ and ‘channel.’ It is the existence of products and services at all modes or channels to provide customers a seamless and integrated experience of shopping. In today's connected and competitive world, retail enterprises want their customers to remain loyal to them and the same is true vice versa, wherein customers expect best-of-class services and products from the retailers. This shows that retailers must offer their customers the same experience across all the modes as in brick-and-mortar stores, mobiles/tablets, PC, and offline.
From multichannel to omnichannel
Multichannel is extremely important to tap customers of different age groups and interests but seamless integration of these channels can't be neglected. As the technology is growing and customers are moving toward faster channels for shopping, retailers need to not only make their products and services available to all these channels but also need to ensure the seamless integration of these channels. In addition, retailers must also ensure that as technology advances, new modes and services are integrated with existing ones without any hassle. This is where the omnichannel strategy for an organization comes into the picture and takes the customer interaction to a whole new level.
What customers are looking at today?
More customers are leveraging different channels throughout their buying experience and, so, it becomes extremely important to provide them consistent information seamlessly across these channels. As an example, someone looking to buy a cell phone might research and compare features and prices on a mobile app, may visit the store to look at the products and may call the helpdesk to understand features, return policies, and after-sales service and then may come back to the app for buying it to ship it to a nearby store and may go to store for pickup. During the shipment, he/she may want to check the status of the order on the app and may also call the customer service. In case of issues with the product, the buyer may look to return it by shipping it back or to return at the store. These are some very basic scenarios but can be achieved only with the right omnichannel strategy.
This all is becoming possible with the omnichannel approach.
How retailers are approaching
The retailers are now investing heavily on these lines. Some retailers are starting and some are ahead in this.
Based on the product and services to be offered and customer segment, retailers need to look at technology as well as business policies to come up with omnichannel strategy roadmap. The first step would be to baseline the channels and build systems and processes to achieve consistent information across all of them. Consistent information across all the channels is basic but is a key step toward the omnichannel journey. This is typically required for traditional channels.
Once the consistent information across channels is achieved, retailers start looking at more engaging experiences for customers like cross-channels buy, ship, pickup, and return. This involves breaking transactions further to lower levels and visualizing them executed across different channels.
The last phase of the roadmap could be more omnichannel marketing focus where customer mapping, loyalty, rewards, and target advertising and promotions can be looked at leveraging all channel’s intelligence of customer behavior. Omnichannel marketing is enabling retailers to differentiate themselves from their peers. The most important aspect of driving the shopping experience is identifying the customers and their behavior across all channels and leverage that information for omni channel marketing. Unified systems, interfaces, and data is the core to omni channel customer experience.
Thinking ahead, this roadmap would be the key specially while designing the infrastructure for this strategy. Enabling IT and designing business process in line with this approach will deliver the best results. These phases can be looked at overlapping phases also where retailers continuously work toward creating consistent information, engaging experience, and omnichannel marketing in parallel.
Traditional channels need more focus
As new online and mobile-only retailers are growing and online and mobile channel’s sale continues to grow, these channels are mostly omni-ready. Traditional brick-and-mortar formats also continue to build these modern channels as part of their strategy to tap into this segment of byers. It is important to leverage the capability of each channel in order to maximize the potential of all the channels. Even though websites provides at-home product research, ordering and delivery experience, mobile provides the same experience on the move, there is still a significant value that traditional store formats deliver in terms of buying experience. Product feel and human touch are the most important offerings of store formats. Buyers feel more connected and secure when they leverage the traditional store channel. Store interface is not going away. Online buyers continue to leverage pickup from store and so store as a touch point is still significant. In-store experience with the Omni channel store systems help driving customer experience and connect. On these lines, some of the largest retailers in US are shifting to being an omni channel marketing enterprise. They are fusing their ecommerce site, mobile/tablet app, and brick-and-mortar stores into a simple shopping experience. In this way, they are offering users excellent services, such as customer loyalty programs, local store ads, and offers. The store associates are now equipped with next-generation mobile devices featuring user-friendly software, which is allowing for better customer service. This is enabling an associate to order an item for a customer that may be out of stock right from the mobile device. In current scenario, store associates role is changing and it is no more limited to assisting the buyer to complete the purchase. Associates are more like product owners who can help guide and make the buying decision easier for customers by providing personalized experience.