Editor's Note: Not to be confused with multi-channel or cross channel marketing, an omnichannel experience is what brands should be aiming to activate in order to best meet consumers' expectations today: a frictionless shopping experience. This type of frictionless experience is not just about ease and speed, it's also about having the same consistent experience no matter where they are interacting with you, online and offline.
I like to think of omnichannel as an evolution of the aforementioned marketing approaches. It's not about the quantity of active channels, rather the quality of the customer experience through the channels your customers interact with in their buying journey.
If you've got mobile positioned as a primary channel for your customer experience strategy you're already ahead of the curve - not only is mobile a purchase-driven channel on its own, it also influences the customer journey because every person's mobile device is on them at all times. Keeping the following pillars of omnichannel success in mind will help ensure you don't lose steam.
Creating a successful omnichannel experience, though it might sound complicated, is simply the practice of seamlessly integrating the multiple channels through which organizations interact with their customers. The goal of such an approach is to ensure that shoppers receive a consistent and smooth experience at every stage of the customer journey, regardless of whether they are shopping online or in-store.
Retailers, however, have one of the hardest jobs when building an omnichannel strategy. Typically, the customer experience between online and in-person shopping is vastly different, so ensuring cohesion between the two can be a challenge.
Sadly, many businesses try to do too much too soon, starting with elaborate changes to processes that end up falling flat because the basics simply aren’t in place.
To help retailers figure out how best to optimize their customer-focused strategies, the following three pillars of omnichannel success act as a good foundation from which to build.
Identify Channels and Measure Impact
It may sound obvious but make sure you are able to identify which channels your customers are utilizing. Many businesses fail to do this effectively which results in them being unable to achieve a singular view of their customers. Identify which channels customers are using and, when looking specifically at online channels, which devices those customers are using, too.
For example, some customers may find the business via a search engine and then buy from your online store on the web, while others may have found you on social media on their phone but decide to order for collection at their local store. Identifying these channels is the first and one of the most important steps on the journey to omnichannel success.
Another crucial step revolves around touchpoints and a business’s ability to measure them. If we’re looking at the company’s online presence, these touchpoints might include product pages, customer service chats, checkout pages, and even follow-up order tracking emails. In-store, they might include the storefront itself, employee interactions, checkout lanes, and the point-of-sale system.
Naturally, omnichannel success requires businesses to have their fingers on the pulse of every touchpoint and, more importantly, have a way in which to measure how customers are interacting with the business across channels.
For the most part, this means ensuring the business has a fully integrated tech stack. Marketing automation solutions, CRM systems, telephone analytics, and all the other solutions that the business uses must all be woven together.
Once complete, an intelligent system can be implemented to measure the effectiveness of customer-focused strategies on different cross-channel touchpoints. Consequently, organizations can then offer a much more personalized customer experience, rather than trying to create a ‘one size fits all’ strategy that inevitably favors one channel over another.
The channels through which an organization communicates with its customers are ever-growing and ever-changing, so it’s important that businesses stay on top of current trends. When you compare the channels that existed 20 years ago with what’s available now, the difference is striking. Of course, it’s completely natural for the popularity of certain channels to ebb and flow over time. Postal advertising used to be hugely popular, now you rarely see it, but that’s not to say it won’t be popular again in a year’s time. Even brand-new channels are popping up that people hadn’t even thought of a year ago, such as shopping in the metaverse.
But the important thing to remember is that, with customer habits and preferences changing all the time, communication has to be consistently adapted in order to ensure that customers are receiving the absolute best customer experience possible.
For each channel that has been identified, make an assessment as to how the brand is presented and the story that’s being conveyed. In a world of perfect omnichannel harmony, messaging across channels should be unified so that what each audience sees is both personalized to them, but also to the channel in which it appears.
Getting this right on the first try, however, is near enough impossible. This is why many organizations will turn to things like A/B testing to figure out which sets of messaging are the most effective. A/B testing is effectively an experiment whereby two variants of the same messaging are delivered to customers and then later analyzed to see which performs better. This could mean presenting customers with two different versions of a webpage or sending out two versions of the same newsletter.
Performing simple experiments like this will help businesses better understand their audiences and ensure that they don’t fall victim to tunnel vision when it comes to the expectations of the customer.
Cross-team coordination is also key here to ensure that, in the case where multiple teams are in charge of different channels, regular internal communication is a high priority. Though easy to do in principle, many retailers struggle with team cohesion. This is first and foremost a failsafe to ensure that tone of voice and timings of communications are synchronized and customer experience remains consistent across channels.
Complete operational efficiency is hard to obtain, and often it’s only through trial and error that a business discovers how best to optimize processes in order to positively impact both the company’s bottom line, but also customer experience. The goal here is to be able to consistently stay on top of what needs changing and how their efforts are impacting each channel. If, for example, the company’s in-store presence is immaculate but the website is clunky, resources need to be allocated to ensure the experience matches up. But how do you do that?
This is where retailers must look to technology for the answer and the investment that comes with it. Don’t be afraid to spend money smartly. Connectivity is key, which is why retailers should invest in the right solutions to help reduce overheads and lower customer acquisition costs.
In an omnichannel setting, retailers need to ensure that all stock checking, order fulfillment, even things like picking and packing are as automated as possible and consistent across channels. Spending the money now will have an ROI later down the line that’s greater than just increased revenue.
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that whether customers are popping into a brick-and-mortar store, or buying online, the business can easily and efficiently present the customer with up-to-date multichannel inventory, delivery times, and logistics information for whatever they want to purchase. Order management systems are therefore a retailer’s best friend, helping teams manage complex workflows involving order routing, inventory, shipments, in addition to also supporting third-party logistics solutions.
Moreover, investing in operational efficiency within delivery is also key. The delivery experience is one of the most important facets of the customer journey and with lots of new digital-first companies entering the space, existing brands need to ensure that they are doing everything they can so to ensure they aren’t outshone in the logistics and fulfillment department.
All these elements have a direct impact on the success of an omnichannel strategy. By implementing better workflows and improving business processes, organizations are better positioned to reach the ultimate end goal, which is to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention.
Ultimately, omnichannel success is no easy feat, but ensuring these pillars are executed effectively, retailers are able to not only ensure they are providing customers with a smooth and consistent experience but also a personalized one that sets them apart from the competition.