1st April 2021
The events of 2020 put the spotlight on digital, but not necessarily digital as most organisations knew it. It is no longer enough to be simply digital; customers expect a frictionless, omnichannel approach that offers them a consistent, on-brand experience as they move smoothly between laptop, mobile device and physical shop. This demand increasingly extends beyond the retail sectors into other, traditionally less digital, industries.
There was a time when organisations with a high street, web and call centre provision could legitimately believe that they had achieved the pinnacle of customer experience and retention. This multi-channel approach may feature the same branding, but separate strategies and management mean that the customers don’t get a cohesive experience. Omnichannel takes the multichannel approach one step further by enabling the customer to glide seamlessly between mobile, home and high street store.
The rise of omnichannel demands
Today, hyper-connected customers expect personalised, integrated and proactive interactions across all touchpoints, be that online, in-store, via social media platforms, SMS or good, old-fashioned telephone. So, it is not surprising that the strategic demands on organisations have changed in line with these evolving expectations. It is no longer sufficient to have discrete teams to handle separate communication channels. If a customer needs to contact customer services, it is no longer sufficient that they can choose between email, telephone call, SMS or social messaging. They expect to be able to follow up on a different medium, and for that follow up to be a continuation of the original enquiry. Similarly, customers expect a cohesive shopping experience; with omnichannel retail comes an expectation of the same offers, promotions and customer service both online and in-store.
The advantages of omnichannel retail
Omnichannel retail offers a range of benefits for customer and retailer. One of these is the ability to buy now and pick up in-store (BOPIS). While multichannel allowed the consumer to browse or buy online or instore, omnichannel allows you to buy online and pick up in-store, a service that allows them to avoid shopping in-store while dodging longer delivery times and delivery charges, and which is expected from at least 50% of shoppers in this digital age. One recent study found that high shipping fees and more than two days’ delivery time would stop 90% of online consumers from making a purchase.1 BOPIS offers the perfect balance between the convenience of shopping at home and the rapid purchase to acquisition time now expected as a result of 24-hour delivery from organisations such as Amazon.
Another significant benefit – for the retailer, this time, is long term value. An omnichannel approach allows the organisation to reap information at every point of the journey; information that can be utilised to drive meaningful interactions, improve UX and increase revenue. In fact, shoppers who use a combination of in-store and online purchasing have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who purchase via a single channel2. This can be partly attributed to the convenience of shopping in a familiar environment where your details are already securely held, and partly due to the improved shopping experience that comes from using in-store and online concurrently. Shoppers can buy online, delivered to their door, and return in-store, or they can research via their smart device while in-store to secure the best deals or research alternatives. The smartphone has become the personal shopping assistant of the 21st Century; in fact, 71% of customers who use smartphones for in-store research say that it is an essential part of their experience.
While multichannel did most certainly have its advantages, organisations focusing on long term engagement must focus on creating a unified, omnichannel strategy.
Delivering The Omnichannel Experience Pre and Post-Purchase
The impact of omnichannel ultimately lies with its functionality. There is no point in a platform looking good if customers can’t get the information and complete their interaction with minimal effort. The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in not only increased demand for an omnichannel experience but increased expectations; a combination of restrictions on movement, a ban on non-essential journeys and general fear meant that more customers than ever before turned to e-commerce for essential and non-essential shopping. Having converted even the most digital resistant customers to the convenience of omnichannel retail, the retail industry can expect customer engagement levels and expectations to remain at an all-time high for some time to come.
This swift change in consumer behaviour and expectations has forced organisations for whom omnichannel was part of, but not the key to, their marketing strategy. All retail and communication channels must be united by a single strategy and connected via a central system to offer a 360° aspect of the customer’s journey. In doing this, customers benefit from a tailored, frictionless experience, whether they choose to engage in-store, online, via social, or a combination thereof.
After-sales care is critical, too, in order to maintain reputation and ensure that all-important return custom. Digital has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 7 years, but as far back as 2014, 91% of customers expected to be able to pick up where they left off when speaking to customer services across devices, and 89% hated having to repeat themselves3. With omnichannel communications extending beyond retail platforms to drones, watches, white goods and even central heating and home security, these expectations for seamless, cross-channel interactions can only have risen in the intervening years.
Reaping the rewards
While the logistics of implementing an omnichannel strategy may seem daunting, the benefits for consumers and retailers alike will be significant. Once new technologies have been implemented to establish a centralised routing system and staff upskilled to maintain the omnichannel provision, customer relationship management will be significantly streamlined, eliminating double handling and offering substantial cost reductions. What’s more, sales and customer retention will rise as the seamless nature of the omnichannel experience becomes so convenient that customers don’t feel the need to look elsewhere.
In order to achieve this, it is necessary to look beyond events and technology alone, focusing instead on how the user responds to and interacts with them. In order to make the most of omnichannel marketing, we need to look at the sentiment behind customer interactions and engage with customers on a more emotive level. If you succeed in achieving a sentiment-focused omnichannel strategy, you will increase customer loyalty and engagement through the emotional bond that has been created between your customer and your brand – across all channels. By driving this positive emotional response, you extend your interaction with a customer from transactional to personal. And personal, emotive engagement leads to better long-term results.
Digital expectations are moving far beyond what even the most forward-thinking retail organisations could have anticipated. Fortunately, true digital specialists pride themselves on being well ahead of their time. Video interactions, virtual shopping assistants and remote access to and control of devices, from home security to automated vehicles, will soon be the norm. As a result, it is essential that your omnichannel marketing strategy doesn’t address what is needed today, but what will be needed in 1, 5, 10 years. Only by factoring in the capacity to grow, move and adapt will you truly be able to stay abreast of industry growth and consumers’ ever-changing needs. And devising a strategy that is deliverable today, robust enough to meet rising demand, and flexible enough to accommodate changing needs and advancements in technology is no mean feat.
At Volume Up, we have worked with leading organisations to seamlessly fuse the digital and in-store experiences for customers of major retailers. We pride ourselves on disrupting the industry with our forward-thinking, customer-focused innovation. If you want to know how to create meaningful, positive customer reactions across every stream of your retail activity, drop us a line.
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