If you’d have claimed ten years ago that retail shopping would be conducted on phones, social platforms, tablets, interactive kiosks, and more you would have been laughed at.
Today, that’s exactly what’s happening. Retail is anything but dead. And, yes, people still buy in-store.
But people don’t just shop in-store … even when they’re inside a store.
Instead, shoppers check prices, compare products, research reviews, and consult social media before buying. If you’re not available everywhere, your limited presence will derail both the user experience and your bottom line.
You’ve probably heard someone, somewhere utter: omni-channel. It sounds hip, new, and revolutionary. But what exactly is it?
In a growing online world, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate real tactics from buzzwords. To add to that, “multi-channel” often gets thrown into the mix, making it even more confusing to understand how the two are different.
Here is the why, what, and how of an omni-channel retail strategy to cover your customers from beginning to end.
What is an Omni-Channel Retail Strategy?
An omni-channel retail strategy is an approach to sales and marketing that provides customers with a fully-integrated shopping experience by uniting user experiences from brick-and-mortar to mobile-browsing and everything in between.
Omni-channel retail focuses on every customer interaction and their overall experience of your product and brand.
Pressing questions surround a truly omni-channel retail strategy:
- Can your customers browse a product in-store, scan it with your app, and then add it to their bag to purchase later at home in a different size?
- Can they browse your online store for new styles, explore those outfits on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and then get an in-store coupon to redeem?
- Does your data connect in-store purchases so that loyal customers get notified via Messen when similar similiar styles are released online or off?
They should be able to do all those things and more.
To illustrate, let’s start with an example everyone can relate to …
Disney’s app is one of the best examples of a full-fledged omni-channel experience.
Disney’s various customer touchpoints are so interconnected that the user experience never ends.
You don’t buy a ticket online, show up at the park, and take a gamble on lining up anymore.
Now, you buy a ticket, download the app, scan your Fastpasses, check ride times, and explore customized content before even setting foot in the park.
Once you're at the park, you can locate Disney characters on a live, interactive map.
You can get your picture taken at the store, have it show up on your app, and purchase when you get home.
The entire experience is a never-ending sensory overload of the Disney brand that contains one critical factor: Consistent, seamless integration.
Everything carries over to the next platform and connects to the last. And Disney isn’t the only company creating an omni-channel empire:
When you sign into your account online and make a purchase or adjust your cart, those changes reflect in the mobile app too:
This leads to a seamless experience where your content and actions transfer from platform to platform. No matter how or where a customer interacts, the shopping experience is the same.
In fact, that is the fundamental difference between an omni-channel vs multi-channel strategy:
The big idea is that in omni-channel, every customer interaction changes their overall experience of your product and brand.
Why Create an Omni-Channel Retail Strategy?
Recently, the Harvard Business Review studied 46,000 shoppers to gauge what impact (if any) omni-channel retailing had on their experience:
- 7% shopped online exclusively
- 20% were store-only shoppers
- 73% used multiple channels
Another study by Business Insider found that shoppers who engaged on multiple channels made purchases more often:
More importantly, HBR noticed a glaring trend:
“Our findings showed that omnichannel customers loved using the retailer’s touchpoints, in all sorts of combinations and places. Not only did they use smartphone apps to compare prices or download a coupon, but they were also avid users of in-store digital tools such as an interactive catalog, a price-checker, or a tablet.”
Beyond having multiple channels and points of contact, shoppers loved when an integrated omni-channel experience was available.
Customers interacting with an omni-channel experience spent 4% more in-store and 10% more online, too.
The power of omni-channel experiences can lift sales dramatically. This analysis corroborated a study from 2013 that found a key data point.
Companies with omni-channel retail strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers from channel to channel.
Meanwhile, businesses with weak omni-channel integration retain 33%.
Creating a more seamless transition from channel to channel has the power to help you retain the majority of your customers.
A prime example (pun intended) is the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods.
Amazon is taking their digital marketplace to the streets and creating an experience that flows naturally from online to offline (O2O). You can now order your groceries directly on AmazonFresh and pick them up at local stores.
The experience transcends typical barriers and allows the customer to keep their experience the same throughout each touchpoint. They no longer have to go to the store and spend hours looking or forget to buy.
Instead, they just log in to Amazon and order their groceries, finding the same, seamless pickup experience when they arrive. That data then gets transferred back to their app or account online for even deeper integration.
The same was just seen recently with the acquisition of Bonobos, where Walmart is looking to expand their typical sales (brick-and-mortar) into new online channels.
Previously, Bonobos eschewed the typical brick-and-mortar retail strategy for “Guideshops” and pop-up shops. Customers wouldn’t actually walk out with any inventory. Instead, they could try on clothes, place an online order, and their goods would be immediately shipped out to their home or office.
Walmart’s one-stop grocery and goods changes the game for Bonobos, too. Their distribution outlets just received a massive upgrade.
Are you ready to create your own omni-channel retail strategy? Here’s where to get started.
How to Develop an Omni-Channel Retail Strategy
Research Where Your Customers Already Are
The first step in creating a flawless omni-channel retail strategy lies in figuring out which platforms, mediums, and devices your customers use on a daily basis. That includes where they like to shop, to hang out, and what experiences motivate their daily lives.
If you know that none of your customers use eBay, there’s no point in wasting your budget on it. So don’t guess. Analyze, instead.
A quick way to figure out popular channels for your business is by looking at the Acquisition reports inside Google Analytics. There you can see which specific places are driving people to your site. Meaning you can see how customers are discovering your business.
If you want to go a step further, you can run different attribution reports in your Multi-Channel Funnels section to see the typical ‘funnel paths’ (or steps) people take prior to converting.
Looking at the entire conversion path like this helps you properly identify marketing attribution; or which channels and campaigns deserve proper ‘credit’ for driving the sale (as opposed to just looking at the final site that sent a customer).
Shopify Plus users can add the Attribution Connector to side-step this manual labor. It will provide similar graphs, charts, and analysis, pulling in cost data from your advertising channels and then comparing that cost with individual customer activity.
Best of all, though, is the in-depth customer view. You can zoom in to see the exact path each individual customer took before buying. It will show you how much each customer is worth. And Attribution Connector will even show you the multiple devices, phones, and apps a customer used throughout their journey.
Poring over this data will help you gain a general understanding of the most important touchpoints for your business.
Now that you’ve nailed down specific platforms to streamline or improve, it’s time to build off of that understanding for an omni-channel buying experience.
Make Every Touchpoint Shoppable
One major key to designing an omni-channel retail strategy is making every touchpoint shoppable. Just like Disney does with their mobile app, website, and theme parks…
Every time you have an experience with Disney, they have the opportunity to make sales.
If someone adds a product to their cart from your website, it needs to be in their mobile app too. If they land on Facebook, they need suggested products based on that previous product viewing.
With Shopify Plus, you can integrate your store directly into Facebook allowing fans and followers to check out natively.
You can use the same exact strategy on platforms like Pinterest, too. They now support buyable pins, giving you another touchpoint that connects back to your online store:
With these deep, symbiotic connections between channels, you could run promotion campaigns on social media, drive traffic to your site, have users explore how others use your product through Pinterest, and check out directly from there.
The potential to make all of your customer touchpoints shoppable is almost limitless.
Bridge the Gap Between Online and Offline
If your retail strategy involves any sales that aren’t offline, connecting the two is critical. Just being present in both channels isn’t enough. Not in today’s world where consumers don’t make a purchase instantly at your store.
Consumers want to connect with your brand both on and offline. They want to know what’s in stock before they come to visit. They want to add that item to their cart on the way to the store and have it sitting at the register for pickup.
Big box stores like Office Depot are already making moves in the omni-channel world using this approach. They currently use Local Inventory Ads on AdWords to bridge the gap between online traffic and offline traffic.
Using this omni-channel integration, they’ve seen a 3X higher return on investment with seamless user experiences from offline to online and vice versa.
Creating product catalog feeds that work with AdWords Shopping campaigns like this is often a messy, time-consuming, and technical issue for large inventory retailers.
Shopify and Google’s direct integration makes it easy for shoppers to discover and buy your products with Google Smart Shopping campaigns.
A user can go from keyword search to product location to buying it and picking it up in-store while hitting multiple, interconnected touchpoints in the process.
You can see another fantastic example of an online-to-offline relationship with the Sephora mobile application.
When you shop in-store, you can use their app to find out-of-stock items or look for special discounts via their loyalty program. With the app — out of store — you can test the colors of their products virtually, adding them to your cart for later in-store pickups.
With that, the cycle repeats and continues to generate sales.
Your physical gift cards are now connected to the app. Whenever you spend money on it, your balance updates online.
According to an IDC study, shoppers who have the ability to convert on any channel have a 30% higher lifetime value.
A successful omni-channel retail strategy is one that doesn’t focus on a specific end destination. As Google’s Omnichannel Shoppers: An Emerging Retail Reality puts it:
The most sophisticated retailers are ensuring their marketing strategies are geared toward enabling customers to convert on any channel.
You shouldn’t have the end goal of producing sales on one specific platform. Instead, sales should have the ability to naturally occur on every platform, syncing perfectly between them.
The goal is to unify your marketing and sales structure. Making each touchpoint shoppable and integrating online traffic with offline visits is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ten years ago, omni-channel strategies would have seemed absurd.
But now it’s the norm. The majority of shoppers hit multiple touchpoints before making a purchase.
Limiting yourself to one or two platforms and lacking the seamless integration you’ve seen here can be detrimental to your long-term growth.
These tips should serve as a jumping off point for your omni-channel retail strategy.
Always look for new outlets and ways to connect each and every channel. Create an experience that isn’t locked into a single platform. Rather, create an experience that can be completed and repeated on each.