Consumers nowadays demand convenience and a more unified shopping experience. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, the vast majority of shoppers these days are not using a single channel or touchpoint. On the contrary, 73% of them prefer to purchase products and services through multiple channels. That’s the reason why an increasing number of e-commerce businesses of every type and size are implementing omnichannel retail strategies.
A successful omnichannel e-commerce strategy can indeed be a particularly complex, time-consuming venture that requires a substantial capital investment to work correctly. As a result, many start-ups or small e-commerce companies may assume that the cost outweighs the benefits. But for companies aiming for a sizeable growth in the near future and desire to be at the top of the market, the latest statistics can straightforwardly convince anyone that omnichannel commerce is the way to go.
Omnichannel retailing is the unification of every sales channel a company is operating in order to create a single, fully integrated, consistent shopping experience. Through that, the consumers can browse your online catalogue and purchase products from any channel and device, deliver or collect from wherever is most convenient for them, and return products they don’t want immediately and with minimum effort. In essence, no matter how your customers decide to interact with your brand, their shopping experience should be unified, consistent, and in sync; the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to omnichannel retail.
And although by definition, omnichannel retail is about providing a unified shopping experience across all channels, a successful omnichannel strategy does not require you to be everywhere. Instead, you need to be wherever your customers are. There is absolutely no reason to focus your efforts, time, and money on a specific social media platform if none of your customers is using it, for example. It is therefore vital to know your audience and utilise data from existing customers’ profiles and online search activity to anticipate consumer behaviour.
A great free tool that provides valuable information on which of your channels and touchpoints customers are interacting with before they make a purchase is Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels. The Multi-Channel Funnels reports are generated from conversion paths (the sequences of interactions that led up to each conversion and transaction). They give you an insight into what role did prior website referrals, searches, and ads play in that conversion as well as how much time passed between the user's initial interest and their purchase.
Besides enabling brands to acquire additional customers through the use of integrated sales channels, an omnichannel retail strategy can also deepen relationships with your existing ones. It allows your company to get a holistic view and understanding of your customers’ shopping journey. That way, your brand is able to comprehend your customers’ shopping patterns and preferences and be able to provide personalised, immersive shopping experiences across all channels available. Omnichannel retail must be consistent, but also unique and tailor-made to each customer, and allow you to communicate with them in a way that is in tune with their needs and likings, as well as the respective channel they are using at that moment.
Having a successful omnichannel strategy in place means to be able to integrate three key areas:
1. Sales channels
From a front-end point of view, the customer must have a single view of the business through a seamless, unified experience. That means, your brand must have a strong presence at every online channel that is relevant to its target market, and shopping carts, statuses, accounts, order histories, etc., must be consistent throughout these channels. But integrating your channels is only the first step. Executed properly, an omnichannel strategy can leverage data from your customers’ activity on one sales channel in order to seamlessly transition them to another.
On top of that, a successful omnichannel strategy does not merely allow your e-commerce business to be wherever your customers need it in terms of sales points; it also provides your customers with flexible, personalised delivery and returns options. Standard shipping services are combined with the possibility of having multiple delivery addresses, delivering to lockers or pick-up points, offering premium delivery options (getting free, unlimited delivery by paying a small annual fee for example), and more.
Analogously, when it comes to returns, your company must be able to offer multiple return options; from the good old ‘drop at the nearest post office’ return, to options like courier collection, various drop-off points, and more. Last but not least, your business should adopt an omnichannel approach to customer service that ensures your costumers are receiving the same high-quality support no matter what channel they use and that they don’t have to repeat any information if they need to switch channels.
Indeed, managing a successful omnichannel strategy cannot be done manually. Elaborated operational integrations need to be in place, for all available channels to communicate with each other, customer support channels to be fully integrated, inventory levels to be updated in real time across all sales channels, and more. Getting the right technology in place is therefore crucial.
Ultimately, an effective omnichannel strategy is the one that allows your customers to: browse for your products everywhere, buy them everywhere, deliver them everywhere, and return them everywhere if necessary; it offers the customer precisely what they need, whenever and wherever they need it. Ten exceptional examples of brands that have successfully implemented an omnichannel strategy can be found here.
Implementing an omnichannel strategy can be a completely different journey for each e-commerce company, so the above examples are not for you to copy exactly in your business. Nevertheless, they can work as an indicator of how much an omnichannel approach has helped these brands to accelerate growth, increase profit and customers’ retention rates, and eventually become tremendously successful. Therefore, it is essential to research your market, identify your target clientele, plan out the omnichannel strategy that suits your business, and then implement it over time using the right tools.