SEE ALL POSTS FROM BRYAN'S BLOG Blog

Is It Time To Hit The Restart Button On Omnichannel? Take Our Quiz

Pop quiz: If 74% of shoppers prefer to receive promotions by direct mail, but 69% prefer email and 62% want offers via a website, then is the future of omnichannel a gold mine or a pipe dream?

Pixabay

The answer has nothing to do with numbers; it hinges on sentiment. Several years after the term “omnichannel” hit the retail circuit, its pursuit has really only served to make brands more tentacular, not more meaningful or even desirable.

Back in 2014, when MIT reported $12 billion in sales were made through smartphones, and the web influenced $1.1 trillion in in-store sales, lots of retailers considered omnichannel marketing necessary for maintaining shoppers. The problem is too many used it like a tool for maximizing logistics and communications, not as a strategy for propelling the brand experience to meet channel-specific preferences.

This does not bode well for retailers trying to achieve omni marketing strategies in 2018. For all the channel cohesion omnichannel requires, there is little cohesion in what the strategy has become. Moving forward, will retailers deliver the same offers across channels, or move toward channel-specific offers and experiences that are unique and take advantage of a channel’s capabilities?

Or is the best future a mix of both?

Seeking Omni Harmony

In truth, the answer rests in the shopper’s reaction to the specific channel encounter at the precise moment she makes it. No amount of seamless integration will matter if the experience isn’t at first intriguing.

Yet brands still struggle to connect their back-end and front-end, customer-facing systems, said Ulf Tillander, global industry director of retail and wholesale at IFS, a software firm.

“The challenge … will be in harmonizing the digital and physical sides of their businesses to create unique customer experiences in-store,” he wrote in an email.

But what’s the correct experience, when should it be deployed and where? As Katie Smith, retail analysis and insights director at the retail analytics firm Edited, put it: “There now needs to be a meticulous and unique approach for offline versus online, both at the point of purchase and at the point of collection.”

Six Questions

Let’s put that to the test. This quiz can help gauge a brand’s omnichannel preparedness in 2018.

Q: What is your investment in digital compared with your investment in physical stores?

Unless a retailer plans to close all or the lion’s share of its stores, it should be investing in both its physical and digital channels and experiences. Most shoppers under the age of 45 (60%) first look online and then buy products in-store, according to a 2017 report by Alliance Data. In this capacity, digital channels should be used like front lawns in home tours – as curb appeal. The store should top off that experience.

Q: What does your long-term omnichannel strategy look like?

A multiyear program should be informed by a mix of data that reveals how shoppers interact with the brand’s many touch points so it can guide appropriate investments into preferred channels. This entails looking deeper than even core shopper segments. While useful for setting broad strategies, machine learning and artificial intelligence are enabling the retail universe to finally get to the individual level. Brands should keep this in their sights from a strategy/execution perspective in the coming years.

Q: Follow-up question: To what degree do you invest in shopper data across all channels?

Multichannel shoppers tend to spend more per transaction, but that does not mean the retailer will understand their motivations unless it has reliable data. The magic capable through artificial intelligence will be best delivered if the brand can create even more expansive views of customers and their underlying motivations. Additional customer data, from psychographic and demographic attributes to membership and loyalty programs, will help hone a retailer’s ability to identify and understand the potential motivations of its customers — and think bigger.

Q: What percentage of your budget is invested in experiences, versus product?

Omnichannel strategies could help change the expectations or roles played by different channels in the customer experience. Take a page from Nordstrom. Its inventory-free concept store, Nordstrom Local, invites shoppers to socialize with a glass of wine, indulge in a manicure, get free personal styling tips and order items to be delivered. By learning more about how customers interact with it by channel, a retailer can refine and test how to modify those experiences, while still ensuring the experience includes a way to close the deal.

Q: Do your various digital channels offer the same promotions and experiences, and how do they sync up with the in-store promotions?

There is nothing wrong with all promotions being the same, but a brand should know why the shopper chooses a specific channel and apply that understanding to promotional considerations. Shoppers at self-checkout, for example, may not be interested in receiving coupons at 6 p.m. on Tuesday when they are rushing home to get dinner on the table. A coupon at 3 p.m. on Saturday, however, may be welcome.

Q: What problems do you want to solve for the customer?

This answer comes down to examining the architecture of the brand experience by channel to ensure it is fully servicing customer expectations. Omnichannel should enable seamless customer experiences across multiple channels that may serve very different purposes in the customer’s path to purchase. However, individual customers may have different expectations of what each channel will do for them, leaving the merchant with a significant puzzle to solve.

The solution? Design an experience for the customers. Ensure the purpose of each channel in achieving that experience is clear and that digital interactions and in-store support provide the right level of data, communication and consistency so customers do not feeling like they are engaging with different brands simply because they moved across different channels.

And Your Score Is …

The answer to the quiz is basically all of the above. Omnichannel isn’t a trend; it’s a term applied to an evolution. It’s fluid.

Channels don’t matter to shoppers, unless they delight them. To this end, the most important question a retailer could ask itself is not simply where to cross the shopper’s path, but what it is doing to make her take a second look.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience. 

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Linkedin Plusone Reddit Email

What do you think?