Let’s rewind the journey of a retail customer in India by a few years.
Not so long ago, buying clothes or shoes online seemed like an odd thing to do. How could you buy something without trying it on or getting a first-hand feel? Making a purchase usually meant visiting a neighborhood store, speaking to a salesperson and making a purchase. That would be the end of it.
Fast forward to 2019 and shopping has become a multi-layered and dynamic experience. Thanks to rapid digitalization, the mobile revolution, and rise in e-commerce, people can do much more now from the comfort of their homes. They can look for a product online, compare prices, and read reviews to make a well-informed choice. As a final step, they can go to the physical store, try the product there, apply online coupons and get it delivered to their home from the store.
According to a report by Epsilon, 79% consumers compare prices on their mobile phones when shopping in a physical store.
It is evident by now that the lines between online retail, social selling, and brick-and-mortar stores are blurring.
The result is the growing popularity of omni-channel strategies which are redefining the retail experience.
What is Omni-channel Marketing?
Omni-channel marketing, at its core, is defined as a multi-channel sales approach that provides the customer with an integrated experience.
Your customer could be shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, or in a brick-and-mortar store – but the experience would be seamless. By reaching out to customers at multiple touch-points, you try to offer them a superior shopping experience.
“The Indian consumer is inherently omni-channel. They’re walking into the stores, looking at products and pricing, comparing what the same brand and its competitors are offering online and then making a purchase decision. So, from a brand perspective it is important that they break the silos and take a highly integrated approach, not just from a product perspective but also from pricing perspective.”
VP, Digital Experience, Epsilon
However, it's very important to distinguish an omni-channel experience from a multi-channel experience because even though most companies are investing in multi-channel experience today, they do not understand the essential edge an omni-channel experience has over it.
Essentially, all omni-channel experiences will use multiple channels, but not all multi-channel experiences are omni-channel.
For instance, you might have an amazing multi-channel experience with mobile marketing, engaging social media platforms, and a well-designed website. But, if they don't work together seamlessly, it adds no real value to customer experience. That’s why you need an omni-channel experience.
Here’s what a seamless, unified omni-channel experience means:
- A person visits your retail store and browses through the products. He scans it through your app, adds it to his cart and makes a purchase from home later.
- Or, a person visits your offline store and purchases a trouser. He then gets notified about the availability of similar styles of trousers on the online store.
By using the omni-channel approach, you should be able to integrate your online and offline properties and provide such seamless experiences to your customer. But, it’s not something that can you can implement in a single day. As much as it requires technological efficiency, you’ll also need time to understand the needs of your customers to create a seamless experience.
The Benefits of an Omni-channel Approach
An omni-channel approach focuses on providing a personalized experience to the user. It uses the customers’ perspective and his interest to deliver an interesting and effective brand message and experience.
Let’s go through some of its benefits one by one:
Stronger brand identity: Omni-channel stresses on enforcing a consistent brand image and creating a sense of familiarity with the customer to forge a stronger bond.
Since there is no great contrast or conflict between the user-experience on different channels in an omni-channel marketing approach, the consistent brand identity established is very concrete and stays for a long time in the user’s mind.
Personalization according to consumer touch points: Customers engage with your brand in different ways across different platforms. Their habits and preferences may vary from one channel to another. An omni-channel strategy factors in these insights and tailors the communication for each channel accordingly, while retaining the essence of the core message.
When a customer receives a personalized experience they get a clear message: the brand cares about them. This inspires customer loyalty and goes a long way in establishing a recurring customer base.
Customer at the core: Omni-channel strategy can be compared to a spider web. The customer, who is at the heart of it, uses different channels to interact and can effortlessly switch between them. All communications are designed and executed in one voice to minimize any confusion in the customer’s psyche regarding the brand identity.
Enhanced consumer experience: Omni-channel is a smart approach that uses data to analyze a customer’s behavior and aims to eliminate effort from their shopping experience.
For example, Orvis, a sports good retailer, analyzed its data to find out that most of their target customers are affluent people 50 years of age or more. This demographic, while not being extremely tech-savvy, is still interested in using modern e-commerce tools. So, Orvis equipped its store employees with tablets that had CRM and e-commerce tools pre-installed. These tools can order out-of-stock products to the store and they charge customers for both online and in-store purchases. Also, if the customers need some assistance, they can find an employee and use their tablet to learn more about an offer.
In addition to improving customer experience, this approach provided Orvis with important data. Through the CRM tool on the tablet that records customer information, Orvis employees can now recognize loyal customers who walk into a store. Employees can also record customer shopping history and habits to provide the marketing team with insights relevant to planning more effective offers.
Offline Isn’t Dead: The Omni-Channel Approach Knows And Uses That
Despite what you might’ve heard, brick-and-mortar isn’t dead. While people continue to shop in stores often, they’re searching on their smartphones beforehand to make sure it’s worth the trip. In fact, 61% of shoppers would rather go with brands that also have a physical location than ones that are only present online.
It's true that online shopping continues to grow. It’s easier for people to find the right item at the right price online. But ultimately, people are looking to meet their needs in the most efficient way possible. Whether it’s by shopping online or researching online before heading to the store. And that’s where the true test of your omni-channel strategy stands; how efficiently can you unify these experiences.
A great example of this is the approach adopted by Timberland to use cutting-edge technology and a digital experience in sync with their physical stores.
Using NFC (Near Field Communication technology, used most famously by Apple Pay and Android Pay), Timberland provides its shoppers with tablets which when pressed against products and signage presents the shoppers with more information on the product and the deals, if any, available on it.
This removes the customer’s need to seek out store employees for information, thus improving the shopping experience. Further, as the shopper browses different products, the data gathered from this browsing history is analyzed to suggest other products to them. This results in a personalized experience for the customer and is also helpful if the brand wants to push some specific products.
A Peek into the Future
Certainly, omni-channel user experiences still have a long way to go. The scale integrations happening today might make it feel out of reach for smaller companies. But we're not that far away from a world where omni-channel approach will be accessible to brands of all sizes. At the current pace of technological advancement, it’ll be soon be possible for even the smallest companies to engage directly with customers and deliver consistent, personalized experiences across channels — no matter where they are, what they're doing, or what device they're using.
But it’s important that you start right now, however small.
Take the smart approach to different retail channels, and create diverse opportunities to connect with your customers. Make customer convenience the driving force, and start gradually moving away from the ‘one size fits all’ theory to create a lasting impact.
Do you think retail brands should make omni-channel a priority for the next few years? Let us know in the comments.