Technology has transformed the shopping experience.
Customers can take advantage of multiple channels, such as web, mobile, social media and in-store tools, in ways that work best for them. But when retailers lack strategies for connecting those channels, shoppers are unable to move among them seamlessly.
This is where omnichannel retailing comes in.
Under an omnichannel strategy, a company’s store, website, mobile app and social media presence all have the same look and feel. They access the same customer information, and they’re designed to be used together so that consumers can begin the shopping experience on one channel and switch to another without having to start all over.
The value is undeniable. Retailers report that omnichannel customers spend 30 percent more than single-channel shoppers. To fully grasp the value of omnichannel retailing, businesses should understand how it works in different channels.
Despite the convenience of online shopping, most customers still like to go to stores to try on clothes or ensure that a product is solidly built. Fortunately, store visits can give customers the best of both worlds — the technology to arm them with comprehensive information as well as face-to-face interaction with knowledgeable sales associates.
Thanks to location-based technology, such as beacons, businesses know exactly when customers come into their stores — or even when they’re window-shopping outside. They know how long they stay and what parts of the store they visit. Beacon systems use Bluetooth low energy (BLE) — or “Bluetooth smart” — technology to transmit signals to and from mobile apps and a network of beacons within a store. These signals can give retailers information about shoppers, which they can use to push out location-based ads. For instance, if a customer begins looking at headphones, he may get a coupon for 10 percent off audio accessories. Such tactics can help retailers reduce “showrooming” — the practice of visiting stores to interact with products before buying them online.
Another valuable in-store tool is a mobile point-of-sale solution, which associates can use to look up customers’ shopping history and check product information. This is especially important for consumers who have already done their homework online and expect sales associates to add to their knowledge. Associates can also use mobile POS devices to conduct purchases with customers on the spot rather than sending them to stand in line.
Online shoppers can research products, find competitive prices and order merchandise without leaving home. Despite these benefits, online shopping represents only 8 percent of purchases. That, however, doesn’t mean that customers aren’t shopping online; they’re just not making their final purchases through that channel. At least 33 percent of in-store purchases involve some online activity, and analysts expect that figure to climb to 60 percent in the next few years.
This illustrates the importance of omnichannel communications. If a sales associate knows that a customer has spent the past two days looking at gaming systems, for example, he or she can call up information about the customer’s purchase history and online searches and then, armed with promotions, engage the customer in a conversation about gaming systems. This speeds up the process for the customer, because he doesn’t have to explain where he is in the research process. It also enhances his experience, because the sales associate has gathered information geared specifically toward his needs.
While most customers do the majority of their shopping in stores or online, mobile devices play a big role in connecting those channels. Mobile transforms the multichannel experience into an omnichannel one, letting customers combine available channels to create a richer process. With a smartphone or tablet, customers can carry the work they did at home into the store and every place in between.
Retailers are picking up on the importance of mobility. In fact, among retailers surveyed for the 2015 State of Retailing Online report (conducted by Forrester Research for Shop.org), about 58 percent say mobile is their top priority, and 45 percent say they’re focusing on omnichannel.
Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram let retailers expand their online marketing beyond their own websites and mobile apps. When tied to a well-planned strategy, social media can play a mutually beneficial role in the omnichannel experience. Targeted promotions can convince users to follow a company’s social media feed, which can build brand loyalty.
By its very nature, omnichannel retailing is complex. It’s not only about adding technologies, but also about the nuances needed to integrate tools and policies to create a new retail ecosystem. A trusted partner can help retailers manage these nuances, providing the experience and knowledge to help businesses craft a comprehensive omnichannel strategy. For most retailers, this is a brave new world, but it won’t be long before omnichannel retailing is business as usual.
To learn more about how technology can transform the shopping experience, read the white paper “Creating the Omnichannel Retail Experience.”