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How to Think Like the Customer in Omni-Channel Commerce

September 28 2016

What is Omni-Channel Commerce?

In today’s technologically driven world, marketers increasingly need to provide a more seamless buying experience, regardless of the customer’s channel or device. Whether in store, online or on a mobile app, through a catalogue or social media, a customer can now engage with a company in a number of ways. Now, marketers have to step up their game and make the buying process seamless and invisible to the customer. This is what has become omni-channel commerce.

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Omni means all or universal. This is in contrast to multi-channel commerce which means to cross different channels, not seamlessly using all of them. Omni-channel is about the true continuity of your customer’s experience.  

Omni-channel embraces personalized messages to the consumer. As a result, longer-term loyalty and value is fostered. 

Why is it Important?

The omni-channel experience is important for two reasons. First your customer is expecting a shopping experience, which is both cohesive and connected.  By giving your customer an omni-channel experience, you can increase satisfaction, loyalty, and brand perception.

Providing this experience is becoming increasingly critical because without it there is a noticeable disconnect or even friction in the path to purchase.

Take the perspective of the customer. They are not thinking about each channel as a different entity, therefore if there is a promotion offered online, but not honored in the store, or when the website promises something is in stock and it turns out to be inaccurate, this causes frustration. In turn, customer loyalty decreases.

According to one UPS study, the number of channels used throughout the buying process and the buying stages they are used for is changing fast and not necessarily the way you would expect.

  • 38% of consumers use multiple chanels to purchase
  • 42% search and buy online
  • 20% search online but buy in-store
  • 31% of consumers use retailer-owned channels to search for products, but 27% go to Amazon.
  • 1 in 6 visit showrooms without inventory
  • 34% of consumers go in-store to gather new ideas

These trends are particularly interesting when looking closely at millenninals.  


So, What Needs to be Considered?

Keeping the customer at the centre gives focus to your omni-channel strategy. The process should reflect how the customer wants to buy, not how your company is organised. Therefore, the following needs to be considered when formulating strategy.

First, the omni-channel customer expects everything to be readily available at his or her convenience. Customers are not thinking about the fact that your retail and online stores may have different stock. If it’s under one brand, then to your customer it is one experience.

Secondly, each customer has his or her own preferences, purchase history and unique relationship with the brand. Whether it’s mobile or web, seamless continuity is important to the omni-channel experience.

When only a third of retails have operationalized the basics like store pick-up, cross-channel inventory visibility or even store based fulfillment, losing out and possibly frustrating customers in the process.

Retailers who struggle to implement these initiatives online and the like will end up experiencing challenges with the customer in offline channels as well.

Figures from a Forrester report reveal that 71% of consumers expect to view an in-store inventory online, while 50% expect to buy online and pick up in-store. And 39% of consumers are “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to visit a retailer’s store if the online store does not provide physical store inventory information.

How to Get Started

It is often simpler to understand that we need to make changes in our strategy then to get started and implement those changes. In this next section we will provide you with what to consider when changing your strategy.

As stated earlier, the process must reflect how your customer wants to buy, not how your organization is shaped. Therefore the following should be considered:

  • Integrated pricing across online and offline channels:
    • Prices shouldn’t change between channels. When a customer walks into your store after doing some online browsing on your website and see that the price has risen. This creates a sense of lack of professionalism within your organization and confusion for the customer.
  • Visibility into product availability across channels
    • Online shoppers want to know if they can buy a product in store, but they also want to know it’s available or if items like it are available before they go to the store. Clichéd as it is, time is money and the displeasure of a customer searching for an item online and not finding it available in store is something that can be prevented.  
  • Single view of the customer across channels
    • Customers see the organization as one unit so the in-store sales person should know about the deals online. Even if there are special online offers, employees should be aware of those deals in an effort to make the customer experience more enjoyable.
  • Flexible ordering options built around your customer’s needs
    • Companies should make sure they are using technology to make the customer’s life easier, instead of forcing the customer into prescribed situations. This includes easy search, flexible pick up options and payment options.

Now that you are aware of what you need to do and why, how can your organization get started, practically speaking?

How is This Done Practically?

  • Invite more groups into the room when setting an omni-channel strategy and action plan. In order for this to work within your organization it is vital for everyone who has a stake in this approach to be heard; a culture change within every organization. Furthermore, each stakeholder has a different understanding of the customer journey and insight into behavior, blending this knowledge will enhance your strategy.
  • Have a clear, integrated approach to pricing.
    • Customers will find the cheapest prices anyway; it is better to have a uniform approach that does not confuse or annoy them.
  • Assess incentives for the sales team.
    • When changing the ways by which customers can purchase, this should be reflected in the compensation for sales teams. 
  • Develop an integrated digital platform benefiting from technological innovation.
    • Irrespective of the size of the company or number of resources, there is a need to focus on developing an integrated digital platform that is well understood by the entire organization. If you need help with this, consider talking to an outside organization that can assist in the development.
  • Create a flexible external infrastructure to engage the customer and collaborate with partners.
    • This means creating ways to engage with partners, affiliates and franchises that sell your products or services. For example, should you be selling your coffee through resellers, you can create and share your product info with your resellers. This benefits your customers and enhances the relationship between you and your partners. 

Over time, technology will enable consumers to be more efficient. Therefore, companies must ensure that their online and offline presence remains flexible. Remember once again that companies need to take into consideration how the customer is buying and have their organization and processes set up to reflect this.

By creating a strong omni-channel experience your organization sets itself up to move into the future with loyal and happy customers. 

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Retail Omnichannel

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