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The omnichannel gap

Two enigmatic buzzwords and a gap

Even though “omnichannel” is a buzzword from a while ago, there is no ecommerce conference or any other session without it as one of the main topics. It creates some kind of fascination that comes from the fact that it is known that omnichannel delivers an amazing customer experience. But what is takes to make it heavenly work and deliver those great results you hear about in conferences might still be a fuzzy subject. 

Ecommerce companies added to their businesses locations catalogues, transactional websites and (maybe) other channels, so they became multichannel retailers. Every channel worked as a different entity. But, in time, in common terms, multichannel became omnichannel, even though they are not synonyms. 

So where exactly is the gap between these two concepts that lures ecommerce retailers?

Once there was multichannel

According to Wikipedia, “Multi-channel marketing is the blending of different distribution and promotional channels for the purpose of Marketing. Distribution channels range from a retail storefront, a website, or a mail-order catalogue.”

So multichannel is about choice. The retailer puts a series of channels at the customer's disposal, so they they could buy from wherever is more comfortable and effective. Born as digital creatures, people used every single way they had to interact with their favourite brands: brick-and-mortar stores, website, catalogues, smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.

Businesses put the product in the middle of their activity. Customers became more and more comfortable interacting with businesses across a wide range of channels, so ecommerce retailers positioned their product in the center of every channel.

In visual terms, multichannel looks like this:

Mind exercise

So, a multichannel approach offers starts, for example, on a company’s website (first channel), and offers a discount. If the client leaves the site without buying something, you send him an email (second channel) offering them an extra discount or a gift - the client still does not buy a thing. If the business has many marketplaces (third channel), let’s take Amazon as an example, and the client searches there for some related products, the first sponsored results should be yours. Furthermore, if your customers log into Facebook (fourth channel), your business should meet him first in his news feed. Social media could be extended even up to Pinterest (fifth channel): your customers could find a buyable pin of your product.

Of course there are various approaches of multichannel, this is just an example. The thing is you have to experiment each channel and see on which your target group responds best. You have to think them over: did you do everything right? Did you consider your audience when using those channels? Is the ROI satisfying?

After performing a thorough analysis, cut the channels that don’t work out.

And then omnichannel appeared

Customers’ expectations are increasing year by year. They tend to look for information in the stores while they are getting information from their mobile devices about anything regarding the product. Not only they do that, but they expect to interact with the brand regardless the channel they choose.

Omnichannel means offering consistent, yet unique customer experience across multiple touchpoints, including  brick and mortar stores, marketplaces, web, mobile and social media. In this way, boundaries between channels are removed, providing an integrated experience.

Considering that, we can say that omnichannel approaches put the customers in the center of every activity. Visually, it would look like that:

We can say that omnichannel is actually a multichannel sales approach, but the difference consists in the depth of the integration. For an approach to be omnichannel it is necessary the customers’ experience to be seamless, whether he buys from a desktop or a mobile device, from the physical shop, from a catalogue or by telephone. All these channels have to be perfectly merged.

A successful example

As a successful famous example is Disney. They start their omnichannel approach on a great responsive website, offering the customers the same experience, whether on desktops or smartphones. After the client books a trip, he can use My Disney Experience tool to plan the entire trip. Once there, he can use the mobile app to locate the attractions and see the estimated waiting time for each of them. Furthermore, Disney released the Magic Band program, a tool that acts as a hotel room key, photo storage device for any pictures taken of you with Disney characters, and a food ordering tool. This is a true omnichannel experience.

As a conclusion, in an omnichannel approach, the customer is in the center of every action the business takes and every interaction is aligned with the customers actions, both online and in the real life.

And then...there was the omnichannel gap

Multichannel and omnichannel still need further clarifications regarding their particularities. Most businesses have a multichannel approach. Despite their efforts to bring digital in store or any other customer related experiences, the touchpoints are not integrated with the ecommerce system.

The gap appears when the businesses fail to align and integrate their channels in order to offer a seamless experience. For example, a lot of companies provide wishlists, but few of them sync the lists across mobile apps. Fewer support in-store retrieval through a digital kiosk or offer an in-store tool to guide customers where the products are.

The difference is all in the seamless integration between the channels.

Bridging the gap

The good news is that it is possible to bridge this gap: marketers need to rethink the digital tools they use in order to provide their customers an amazing integrated experience.

How can they do that:

Reimagine the shopping experience through digital experiences

Customers’ lives changed in the past years. They are constantly shuttling between their homes and workplaces. They do it in a connected state and this affected their shopping behaviour. Customers search online, compare prices, read reviews regardless they are stuck in traffic or in-store. They are always short of time and their attention is hard to gain/maintain. So you have to create a memorable shopping experience.

Tesco is a great example for that: they eased the grocery shopping stress of people in South Korea bringing them Home Plus. It was launched in a crowded subway station. It allowed customer to shop while waiting for the train by scanning the QR codes. And that’s it - they had their orders delivered.

Provide engaging, content-rich experiences for the customers

Rich-content goes way beyond product description, picture and price. Rich-content is that ingredient that engages the customer to a personal level showing how and why the product will perfectly fit  in his life. A great example of providing rich-content is offered by Chatbooks’ viral video.

Establish the perfect tools for managing and approving product information and content

Keeping track of product data while the business is expanding proves to be a difficult task. You need a tool that centralizes and manages all products’ information to provide you a single accurate view of product data. An effective PIM software should allow you to:

  • collect product information from various, separate files into one source
  • identify and fix inconsistent data
  • automate data and e-commerce business processes
  • search or filter products
  • categorize the products
  • push products/information out to retail, social media, marketing or sales channels

There is a wide variety of PIM softwares to choose from: Salsify, inRiver, Akeneo, Agility Multichannel etc.

Create a consistent library for product specifications, images, prices and other supporting information and use it across all your channels

Brands have to help their customers make informed decisions. Customers need multiple information sources in order to purchase a product. They watch TV ads, Youtube ads, websites, read reviews or talk to family members. This is why brands have to make sure customers have enough information to buy and that that information is extremely accessible.

Make sure you have a single view of your customers across all your sales channels

To gain a single customer view mean to collect all data about customer intent, interactions and transactions with a brand across all channels or touchpoints. This is the secret that will make you drive a perfectly personalized, unique experience for your customers.

Implement in-store pickup processes and ship-from-store options

In-store pickup is a win-win situation:

  1. Shoppers do not have to pay high shipping costs nor they have to wait to receive orders. They can pick up their purchase at the store they choose and at their own schedule.
  2. In-store retailers have a competitive advantage over exclusive online players by offering a differentiated level of convenience. Early adopters also realised an increase in their sales: Apple, Nordstrom, Walmart etc.

Even though the benefits are great, retailers face a lot of decisions to make in order to successfully implement in-store pickup (where they will fulfill the merchandise, which products are profitable for this strategy etc.)

A top notch choice for your omnichannel strategy is enabling ship-from-store capabilities. This can reduce the delivery timeframe and also save money by using shorter delivery routes. Another benefit is moving out over-stocked merchandise to another warehouses, avoiding markdowns. Walmart is a successful example for ship-from-store.

All the steps need to be backed up with great technology knowledge. Becoming an omnichannel retailer requires the implication of people with expertise in different areas of activity: marketing, sales, sales representatives, warehouse managers etc.

A story becoming reality

At Xcommerce we are proud to actively take part in the transformation of Impermo into an omnichannel retailer. A bond was created between us and our client, so we were able to gain clean insights to build a solution that meets their needs. Read the successful story of Impermo here.