Omnichannel Retailing: How to Get Started
Omnichannel retailing isn’t just the future of commerce. It’s something that customers already expect in their shopping experience. According to a 2017 study, 73% of shoppers use multiple channels during their shopping journey. We can only assume that number is higher today.
Most retailers are already familiar with the trend. In fact, one survey determined that 81% of retailers planned to deploy some form of unified service across platforms by the end of last year. This goal became especially important for retailers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting spike in eCommerce shopping.
In this guide you’ll learn the definition of omnichannel retailing (as opposed to single- or multichannel), the pros and cons of omnichannel retail, and how to get started.
What is Omnichannel Retail?
Your retail channels are the platforms through which you sell your products. They can include brick-and-mortar stores, websites, social media, ads, and more. Single channel retailing simply refers to using one platform to get your product in front of your prospective customer. Multichannel retailing, in the same vein, refers to using more than one platform in your sales strategy.
So, where does omnichannel retail fit in? While omnichannel is a type of multichannel retail, the emphasis is different from a strategic perspective. The focus of multichannel retail is getting more eyes on the product, by using multiple platforms. However, these channels usually aren’t integrated with one another. There also might be gaps in a multichannel strategy; i.e. a brick-and-mortar and Amazon presence, but no direct-to-consumer website.
Omnichannel retail, in contrast, refers to unifying and integrating your online and offline retail channels, systems, and data. By doing so, omnichannel strategies provide customers with the best and most consistent experience possible, no matter what platform they’re using to view or buy your product.
For example, let’s say a customer puts an item in their cart while on their phone, but they get distracted before completing their purchase. If they later view the website from their computer, an omnichannel solution would ensure the item would be in their cart already. Perhaps they call customer service about a purchase they’ve made. Your team should be able to immediately access their entire purchase history, including in-store and online purchases. The same should be true in your stores, or on the go via your mobile POS.
The Pros of an Omnichannel Strategy in the Retail Industry
Implementing an omnichannel strategy has tremendous benefits, and enables your business to:
- Improve the customer experience: Streamlining the buying experience across your platforms simplifies your busy customer’s life. Omnichannel retail provides more flexible accommodations for your customers, from BOPIS to one-click purchasing, and more.
- Build customer loyalty: 72% of consumers expect companies to know their purchase history regardless of the method of communication. It’s empowering for the customer to know that your brand pays attention to them and it’s one strong way to create a warmer, more human connection to them.
- Offer a better fulfillment experience: An omnichannel approach combined with the right fulfillment solution can increase your team’s efficiency by automating the process, improving transparency, saving time, and reducing costly shipping errors.
- Make more sales: A better buying experience equals more sales. Omnichannel customers generally spend more than their single-channel counterparts, spending an average of 4% more on each shopping occasion and 10% more online.
- Stand out from the crowd: A surprising number of businesses aren’t practicing omnichannel retail strategies. If your competitors aren’t on the trend yet, creating your own omnichannel experience can put you head-and-shoulders above your rivals.
The Cons of Using an Omnichannel Strategy
Just like anything else in the world of retail, omnichannel strategy is not without its challenges, which fall into two primary categories: expense, and execution/maintenance.
Expanding into new channels always comes with setup and maintenance fees. Truly omnichannel strategies also include implementing a unified commerce system that synchronizes and integrates all your platforms. That is going to be an investment, and the initial cost may be a hard pill for some to swallow.
However, the most important thing to consider is not the outright cost but the potential ROI. You’d be surprised how quickly adopting an omnichannel solution quickly pays for itself by increasing sales and retention, creating a better customer experience, increasing your efficiency, and building brand loyalty.
Many brands try to create an omnichannel experience by working with multiple vendors. They might have one vendor for electronic data interchange (EDI), another for shipping integration, another for their eCommerce platform, and yet another for product information management. But implementing, integrating, and managing all of these can be a time-consuming, overwhelming task.
Finding a partner that offers pre-integrated, omnichannel solutions is crucial to successfully implementing this kind of strategy. With a unified commerce platform, it’s much easier to manage the many moving parts that have to communicate with each other. Plus, if you can find an experienced provider that offers a managed service approach, you can actually expand your channels without adding strain to your team.
How To Get Started with Omnichannel Retailing
Getting started is as simple as following a few steps and choosing the right technology providers. Here’s what that looks like broken down into five straightforward steps:
- Start with your customer
- Look at your channels
- Select your solutions provider
- Connect your channels
- Maintain and optimize your channels
1. Start with Your Customer
The best place to start is with your customer base. You likely already have scores of data you can leverage to understand:
- Who your customers are
- What they buy
- How they buy
- What channels they use (this is particularly important)
In fact, you might already know what channels you want to grow into, and how to optimize them. You can also glean useful insights from them from reviews of your products of brand, whether positive or negative. You can then use your data to build your customer profiles, and prepare to select your most impactful channels.
2. Look at Your Channels
Just as you took the time to examine your customers, look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of your channels. You’ll want to emphasize and focus on improving each existing channel to offer the best possible experience. Then, you’ll want to identify the channels you need to add to create seamless omnichannel shopping for your customers.
3. Choose Your Solutions Provider
It’s crucial that you choose the right provider to work with on your omnichannel strategy. This will ideally be a firm with years of experience in cloud technology, who understands the landscape of retail and how to effectively implement an omnichannel strategy.
How do you know which one to choose when there are so many? A simple way is to look at providers’ experience and expertise. To find an experienced provider, you can look at their website—but you’ll also want to consider reviews on third-party sites and information from analysts. You’ll also want to find a provider who regularly works in your industry, especially if they have a wide range of services and solutions for businesses like yours.
There are plenty more criteria to consider, but experience and expertise should help you to narrow down your focus.
4. Connect Your Channels
With the help of your solutions provider and the right solution to integrate and unify your various channels, you can proceed to connect them together. You can work with your provider to integrate across the board, from your business system, to eCommerce platform, to your marketplace listings. Your provider will also help ensure that channels are communicating properly, and implement automated processes where possible to truly streamline your business.
5. Maintain and Optimize Your Channels
Once everything is automated and integrated, your customers can enjoy an omnichannel experience that makes buying from your brand that much easier. Feel free to take a moment to celebrate!
If you’re managing multiple channels yourself, you’ll need to create a plan to maintain and regularly update your channels. You’ll also need to keep optimizing those channels for even better performance.
However, if you’re using a managed services provider, you’ll be able to leave much of the maintenance and updates to them. That way you can spend your time working on other aspects of your strategy, like your marketing ideas, new product development, and more. Plus, you’ll be able to work on optimizing your channels (think: SEO for your eCommerce store, or photo and video creation for Amazon) to stay ahead of the competition.
Begin Your Omnichannel Retail Strategy with TrueCommerce
There you have it - a straightforward guide to getting started with omnichannel retail. Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about this guide. Our goal is to help you do business in every direction while making the process simple for you. So, if you’re interested in beginning or optimizing your omnichannel efforts, we’d love to help. Contact us today to speak with an omnichannel expert!
About the Author: Ryan Tierney is the VP, Product Management focused on Integrations at TrueCommerce. He has spent the last 17 years with TrueCommerce in various roles with services and Product Management. He and his team are responsible for the TrueCommerce TC.Net platform, Business System and Channel Integrations as well as Trading Partner Mapping. Ryan enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 sons and in his spare time enjoys golfing.