What’s next for the world of omnichannel retail?
You may be tempted to look back over 2021 (or even 2020) and expect the same trends to continue into 2022.
In some ways, you’d be right: many of these trends are persisting and growing in popularity.
More people than ever are shopping online—2.14 billion, nearly 30% of the world’s population.
Alternatively, rising digital ad costs have made it more affordable (and, in some cases, preferable) for digitally native brands to enter physical retail.
These changes aren’t temporary, nor are they still just a response to the craziness of 2020. Customers are fast adapting to a retail new reality … and so should you.
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To help us figure out which omnichannel trends will come to define 2022, we asked some of the top omnichannel retail experts for their predictions. Here’s what they see on the horizon.
- More digitally native brands entering the brick-and-mortar space
- Consumer journey continues to become more omnichannel
- Retail store associate roles going omnichannel
- Continued growth of showrooming
- Social selling through video content
- Multichannel attribution
- A greater emphasis on community
- Applying customer data offline
- Touchless/contactless transactions
1. More digitally native brands entering the brick-and-mortar space
Ten years ago, it was much more affordable to connect with customers online versus paying rent for a storefront. Today, this isn’t the case.
With rising digital ad costs, it's pricey to acquire new online customers. This means that many brands may be able to decrease expenses through a brick-and-mortar storefront.
Brands are listening, too. According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, 32% of brands said they’d be establishing or expanding their use of pop-up and in-person experiences in the next year, while 31% said they planned on establishing or expanding their physical retail footprint.
Don’t worry—moving into physical retail doesn’t take away from your DTC status.
The acronym ‘DTC’ also includes sales through stores that you own. What few consider is that customer acquisition costs are typically lower in owned, physical footprints. But for [brick-and-mortar] to work, the brand must be strong. And no Facebook ad can buy a strong brand.
Consumers want in-person shopping after the pandemic
A year ago, we loved browsing our favorite products from the comfort of our own homes. As we enter 2022, however, the potency of that dream is dwindling.
Consumers are hungry for in-person shopping experiences and the camaraderie that comes with them. According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, over the next year, 59% of consumers say they’re likely to look at a product online and buy in-store. This is otherwise known as webrooming.
Alternatively, 54% are likely to look at a product in-store and buy online—a.k.a. showrooming. Regardless of where customers place their purchases, though, they at least want the option to visit your store.
Not only does in-person shopping give customers a chance to touch, feel, and try on your products; it also creates a sense of community that’s been sorely lacking since COVID-19 hit. Whether you launch a pop-up shop or consider opening a brick-and-mortar store, keep the in-person shopping element in mind.
Physical stores give digitally native brands a way to engage locally
Digitally native brands can access and appeal to customers worldwide. That's the dream … right?
In some ways, yes. Location-agnostic ecommerce brands have a certain leg up. However, they do miss out on a certain perk of brick-and-mortar stores: the local community.
As our society—from shopping to socializing—becomes increasingly digitized, local brick-and-mortar stores hold a unique flair. They provide shoppers with the in-person experience they crave, and they rally around the community in a way that builds loyalty and camaraderie.
Retailers don’t have to choose between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar. Opening a physical store or launching a pop-up shop gives your company a way to engage with the local community and mix up how customers interact with your brand and products.
2. Consumer journey continues to become more omnichannel
Not even a decade ago, the digital and physical shopping experiences were two separate entities. Today, they’re blended together in such a way that retailers can no longer find the dividing line. This seamless shopping phenomenon manifests itself in a few ways:
Buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS)
If you’re tired of shipping costs and/or wait time, you’re not alone.
Thirty-seven percent of consumers become frustrated when they have to wait too long for a purchase to arrive, and 23% dislike when they have to pay extra for shipping.
BOPIS is the retail resolution to these frustrations. Retailers can offer BOPIS to satisfy consumers who prefer to browse online without having to wait for shipping.
Moreover, a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify found that 43% of brands are focused on enabling the ability to see available inventory in nearby stores, something 56% of consumers find valuable. This means shoppers can see product availability across multiple store locations to hopefully find the product and size they want.
💡 PRO TIP: Offer in-store pickup to incentivize more online shoppers to visit your store. Customers get fast and free shipping, while you save on shipping costs and get an opportunity to build rapport and increase order value. Everyone wins.
Buy in-store, ship to home
In 2022, more brands are embracing the showrooming trend literally—they’re opening product showrooms rather than traditional stores.
Showrooms typically carry less inventory (a strategy on its own), instead offering customers the option to buy products in-store and ship their purchases directly to their house.
Not only does this alleviate the pressure on retailers to overstock their inventories, but it also offers an added convenience for shoppers who 1) may not be able to find their preferred product in-store, and 2) don’t want to carry around their purchases.
Buy online, return in-store
Increased shipping costs have trickled down to consumers, especially the rates associated with online returns. Stores are now offering customers the ability to return unwanted items in-store, effectively saving on return shipping costs and inadvertently helping retailers balance out their inventories.
According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, 51% of consumers said the ability to check out online and return items to a physical store had a significant or very significant influence on their decision to order a product online. In response, 44% of brands said they planned on prioritizing this in 2022.
3. Retail store associate roles going omnichannel
In years past, one perk of visiting brick-and-mortar stores was to access knowledgeable sales associates. This was especially true for apparel stores as well as big-ticket retailers like furniture or appliance stores.
Today, however, virtual shopping has allowed shoppers to enjoy the perks of in-store shopping from home. Through real-time connections, shoppers can ask questions, virtually try on products, and get recommendations from experts—just as they’d do when browsing live. Forty-one percent of consumers said they find it either valuable or very valuable to be able to live chat with a brand while buying products online.
In 2022, more brands intend to offer virtual shopping. A commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify reports that 52% of brands will be investing in enabling online customers to easily connect with brand representatives on their channel of choice (e.g., chat, social, text, video).
Appointment shopping was a popular way for retailers to adhere to social distancing guidelines during 2020 and into 2021. With more customers craving in-store experiences, why would appointment shopping continue into 2022?
Well, appointment shopping is about more than keeping foot traffic at a healthy level—it's also about building relationships with customers that can extend into the digital realm. Through virtual shopping and other technology, associates can maintain strong relationships with their customers and continue to customize their service.
Whether shopping online or at a physical store, customers’ expectations are rising. Personalized experiences can translate into more sales in the future.
In today's saturated retail environment, this level of customer service can set your brand apart—both physically and digitally.
4. Continued growth of showrooming
Showrooming has grown steadily over the past decade, and 2022 will be no different. As customers bounce back from shopping purely online, they’re craving various in-person brand experiences—including showrooming.
This phenomenon allows customers to visit your store to test products, try on apparel, learn from your associates, and generally experience your brand … before returning home to complete their purchase online. Moreover, that purchase isn’t always from your store.
Showrooming is a tragedy, right? Not so fast. Instead of resisting this modern shopping trend, retailers can lean into it and take advantage of the behavior to better serve their customers.
One way to do this is to improve your in-store experience, from your customer service to your merchandising and checkout process.
According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, when brands were asked where they were investing in improving their in-store experience, the most popular answer (46%) was showrooming (e.g., letting customers come in and experience the brand and product while allowing them to seamlessly complete purchases online).
5. Social selling through video content
By 2022, videos will constitute 82% of all online traffic. Moreover, the average person is predicted to spend 100 minutes per day watching online videos.
Video consumption heavily influences buying decisions, too.
Fifty percent of consumers say videos have helped them figure out what product or brand to buy, and 55% of consumers say they watch videos while shopping in-store.
Suffice it to say: this is a perfect time for social selling via video to become a major trend.
We already see [social selling in the form of video content and live selling through apps like CommentSold] gaining popularity. I think influencer selling will begin to be monitored more closely by brands with a core concentration of omni-centric management.
“Selling direct to camera via livestream will continue to grow,” says David Whitcroft of Full Stack Finance. This is ideal for influencers with an engaged following who are interested in selling via live videos on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and other social platforms.
We’re all familiar with the trend of tapping on an Instagram post to buy the products we see on our phone screens. Now, the same applies to Instagram videos.
Similar capabilities are now available via TikTok, thanks to Shopify's latest partnership with the social media giant. Merchants with a TikTok For Business account can add a shopping tab to their profiles, sync their product catalogs, and create a mini-storefront that links directly to their Shopify store.
The twist will come from the omnichannel approach: selling via video content has been around for years, but technology lets sellers monitor the success of video sales across multiple channels.
The result: more accuracy when tracking your campaigns.
6. Multichannel attribution
Attribution has made social selling with an omnichannel approach possible.
With the rise of omnichannel, marketers will increasingly seek verification that their online campaigns are resulting in offline sales.
“Companies who embrace multiple sales channels will pursue analytics that inform a more holistic view of customer journeys … which may transition from online to offline and back again.”
According to Cantino, the most important piece of multichannel attribution is meeting customers across channels, wherever they are. From there, you can deploy cross-channel analytics to study your omnichannel performance.
This is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this environment, small businesses can only thrive by getting creative with their approaches. Along the way, multichannel attribution lets you track omnichannel success with greater accuracy.
7. A greater emphasis on community
It’s impossible to ignore the psychological impact of a worldwide pandemic.
Polling firm Gallup noticed an uptick in feelings of disconnectedness less than a few months into the various lockdowns. These feelings especially hit the 18 to 34 age group, meaning this trend may have staying power well beyond 2021 and 2022.
Is it any surprise that customers will look for a sense of community from their favorite brands?
She believes this trend will lead to higher expectations for the customer experience. This is especially true when it relates to returns and shipping notifications.
In our post on businesses creating a sense of community, we dove into a few possible omnichannel approaches, including:
- Minimizing the distance between business and consumer. Social distance is a good idea, but logistical distance is another matter. Velasca, an Italian shoe brand, fostered a sense of community with its customers by paring away the layers of distributors and resellers and showing how its products go straight from warehouse to buyer.
- Giving customers a role. Purpose Jewelry uses artisans to craft its pieces, employing survivors of human trafficking. It incorporated this element into an omnichannel approach. Purpose Jewelry’s #SparkofHope email campaign included direct quotes from its artisans, displaying the community behind the brand. This invites customers to see their role in employing these at-risk artisans with every purchase made.
Omnichannel technology paired with a greater emphasis on community is a viable antidote to isolation and customer disconnect.
Remember: community varies by country. If you sell products internationally, your community approach needs to be localized, too.
Localization isn't only changing the code that powers your website to match the language and design of each country. It also includes understanding your global audience and the differences between each culture.
For example, western cultures prefer minimally designed websites with less imagery, while Asian cultures respond better to busy, image-heavy websites and designs.
Recognizing these differences can help you build stronger communities for each culture represented in your global audience.
8. Applying customer data offline
“Direct-to-consumer brands have always leveraged data and customer relationships to their advantage,” says Cantino. “Applying this framework to other sales channels will result in increased conversions, more effective promotion, better-informed product development, and stronger customer relationships.”
Cantino adds that every customer has a lifetime value. Mixing omnichannel marketing with steadily improving technology will make it easier to measure all customers in terms of lifetime value.
How will this help?
- Customers are increasingly omnichannel themselves. A few years back, a Harvard Business Review study found that 73% of customers use multiple channels in their buying journey. In other words, this reality already exists. Applying customer data offline simply acknowledges this fact.
- Customers prefer it that way. Research has shown that as many as nine out of 10 customers prefer the omnichannel experience.
- Digital habits still apply offline. We’re all familiar with the fact that customers will research a product online before clicking Add to Cart. But increasingly, customers apply the same logic to their offline experience. Fifty-nine percent of customers use Google to research a purchase they want to make in-store.
It’s wise to track and leverage the data behind consumer behavior across various channels.
9. Touchless/contactless transactions
We already know that retail store owners like to create in-store apps for their customers. Retail and consumer goods strategist Matt Marcotte says, “Brands will use these apps to provide even more touchless and contact-free transactions. This includes options like local pickup.”
In one survey, 67% of respondents said they would likely continue using curbside pickup, even after the pandemic. This is more than just an indication of a trend that’s extending into 2022; it’s indicative of overall buyer psychology.
Retailers and brands will still push their in-store apps. And if these apps improve the customer experience enough, customers will still enjoy using them. But without these new safety-driven options as part of the package, brands could miss out on omnichannel wins.
This isn’t to say that retail store owners should expect fewer touchpoints for their customers. If anything, transitioning to a more open and less socially distanced economy will only make omnichannel offerings more relevant.
Consider that just 15 years ago, the average consumer only needed two touch points when buying a product. These days, the average is six.
Customers with that many touchpoints are going to expect more options at every stage, including:
- Delivery and logistics
- Point of purchase
- Pickup options, such as pickup lockers
- Social distancing protocols
- Self-checkout options
The surveys show customers are already preparing for this new reality. The only question that remains unanswered is: Are you?
Plan your 2022 omnichannel strategy
According to Google, omnichannel strategies drive an 80% higher rate of incremental store visits.
Some omnichannel trends are obvious: buying online and picking up in-store or social selling, for example. Others—like the growing affordability of brick-and-mortar retail—may have come as a surprise.
Regardless, we hope we’ve spotlighted a few trends and expert insights that you may not have considered.
This post was originally written by Kaleigh Moore and has been updated by Allie Decker.
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