Rajneesh Kumar
Rajneesh Kumar 24 February 2021

Omnichannel Retailing Has Leveled up: Here’s a Blueprint for Retailers

Omnichannel has been a strategic priority for retailers for a few years now. However, with economic uncertainty and mutable consumer behavior, omnichannel has leveled up. Take, for instance, Lululemon’s acquisition of Mirror, an at-home exercise startup, for half a billion dollars. Or Costco acquiring Innovel, a leading provider of last-mile logistics solutions, for a whopping $1 billion.

These mergers and acquisitions are symptomatic of the new omnichannel retailing – one that goes beyond the physical-digital divide. While billion-dollar acquisitions are only a part of the narrative, the underlying shift in focus pivots away from ‘products’ to ‘seamless experiences.’

Here’s how retailers can ensure they remain relevant to customers and differentiate themselves in the market by getting omnichannel retailing, right. Albeit all over again.

The Blueprint to Selling Experiences

It all comes down to customer journeys, which have become more adventurous. A customer could see a product of interest on a personalized e-mail, add it to a cart, and be seamlessly redirected to the mobile app’s checkout page. Or he/she could be checking reviews online while considering a purchase in-store.

Touchpoints such as web, mobile, social, and marketplace are now profoundly interconnected, in an increasingly complex way, and play a crucial role along customer journeys. A seamless shopping experience speaks for the brand, not so much for the product, and determines customer loyalty and retention.

To pivot to the new omnichannel paradigm that elevates shopping to experiencing brands, retailers need a renewed focus on the below levers:

  • Customer Dimension: The classic omnichannel 101 – customer-centricity – still holds. Consider, a customer comes across a product via a Facebook advertisement and then goes to the retailer’s mobile app, uses a coupon code received as an e-mail at checkout, and opts to collect the product in-store. To ensure that the customer journey stays seamless, retailers need to anticipate the customer preferences, attract attention via the preferred social network, and ensure a coupon/voucher is handy to spur the customer to purchase. Also, the usage of location data helps the customer select the nearest store. It’s about making the customer feel empowered and making shopping a memorable experience throughout their buying journey.
  • Data Management: A lot depends on seamless coordination across engagement channels, which requires expert hold on data coming in from various sources. Retailers in this day and age cannot hope to operate with data that exist in silos. For instance, retailers can customize the product recommendations on a customer’s mobile app based on past purchases. Streamlining data across channels gives retailers the ability to draw insights into customer behavior. Spending trends arms them with real-time decision making to anticipate customers’ needs and deliver a seamless experience.
  • Unification and Consistency: With multiple touchpoints along the customer journey, retailers must ensure consolidation and consistency in information and user experience. For instance, if a customer sees a social media advertisement for an online flash sale, the prices should remain consistent across the ad and the app. A mismatch could derail a sure-shot purchase. Similarly, if the online app shows a product as in-stock, with the option for in-store pickup, retailers need to ensure the product is available at the store as well.
  • Order Fulfillment: The need for reduced wait times, faster returns, and try-it-on services has exponentially grown as customers turn to online shopping. Order fulfillment is more about delivering the product to the customer and requires close coordination across an ecosystem of warehouses, delivery partners, customer support, and marketing teams. Bringing together these diverse stakeholders is crucial for a seamless shopping experience.
  • Point-to-Point Integration: The proliferation of devices, e-commerce applications, and platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram) have redefined the way customers shop. Retailers have to orchestrate experiences in an ecosystem with players outside the industry, such as third-party payment gateways. For instance, a customer opting to pay via PayPal need not navigate away from the retailer’s mobile app and can use the integrated PayPal functionality to complete the purchase. Point-to-point integration across touchpoints and plug-and-play functionalities help retailers deliver a harmonized selling environment, ensuring a seamless customer journey from product discovery to sale.
  • Manage and Monitor: Real-time insights into customer behavior can be channelized into merchandizing and inventory management. Retailers with a tab on the customers’ pulse provide relevant products and services and keep customers engaged for assured retention. Since customers leverage new digital avenues into the picture as they interact with retailers, a good practice would be to continuously hone and assess the digital integration landscape for improved service and high performance.

Greater Play with a Console-Like Platform

Let’s all agree; consumers are now buying into the experience, not so much the products on the shelf. The omnichannel shopping experience is no more a one-to-many paradigm. It is now the many-to-one model, with the customer at the core.

Orchestrating a seamless experience requires retailers to adopt an ecosystem outlook towards touchpoints, third-party players, and supporting stakeholders (such as delivery partners or players with allied interest, similar to the Lululemon-Mirror acquisition).

By overlaying these diverse elements with a platform that gives retailers a console-like functionality with end-to-end visibility across the customer journey is one way to go. The platform could plug in data from various sources, leverage artificial intelligence and advanced analytics to generate real-time insights, and allow retailers to target and engage with customers in a meaningful way.

In the end, it is about nurturing customers by heeding their preferences, considering their convenience, and listening to their opinions. It is about making retail all about the customer, and omnichannel is the way to go.

The post already published on CIO WaterColler.

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