Buzzwords are all the rage in the corporate world. From ‘360 reviews’ and ‘hyperlocal’ to ‘synergy’ and ‘customer-centric’, hundreds of business concepts have been distilled into catchy words or phrases and gathered momentum as they swept offices across the world. Some come and go. Others become cliches. Then there are those that so perfectly capture a concept that their importance grows rather than fades.
Omnichannel is one such buzzword.
Defined as a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, omnichannel solutions have evolved in recent years to cater for the growing number of ways people interact with retailers. Whether shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a brick-and-mortar store, it’s all about allowing customers to get what they need when and where they want it without disruption.
For example, step inside the world of outdoor wear retailer Timberland and you’ll find a company that knows all about the importance of omnichannel marketing. Upon entering one of their physical stores, customers are handed tablets boasting ‘near-field communication’ technology that allows them to interact with the products they are interested in. Product information and special deals are only a tap of the screen away – reducing the need to interact with sales staff - while personalization software collects and stores information from shoppers’ searches to promote related products.
Better still, shoppers can use the tablets to create wish lists to be sent to their email addresses. That’s right – browse instore, place orders from home. It’s all about creating a personalized shopping experience and increasing the chances that browsers will become buyers.
While omnichannel eCommerce is nothing new for many retailers, it was only a couple of years ago that the concept tended to refer to a combination of store, website and app but with limited interaction between the channels. A 2019 study showed just 30% of retailers allowed shoppers to reserve an item online and pick it up in-store, while a mere 7% provided customer support through video chat.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and retailers were forced to rethink their omnichannel efforts or risk being left behind. With many physical stores forced to close or in-store traffic dramatically reduced, there was a greater need to embrace eCommerce and it was the nimble and progressive organizations that were able to provide unified omnichannel experiences that shone, while less agile operations struggled to keep pace.
Strategies such as ‘buy online and pick up in-store’ and implementing third-party delivery channels have become the norm and it’s not just retailers that are upping the omnichannel ante. Some financial services and banks were forced to temporarily close physical branches and have increasingly pushed for contactless interactions such as online banking and ATMs. Similarly, the healthcare industry is meeting the growing demand for virtual transactions by offering secure online payments and medical appointments via video conferencing.
COVID-19’s impact on omnichannel was reinforced in the Voice of the Retail Industry Survey conducted in July 2020 as the pandemic took increasing hold. Despite the uncertain financial outlook, countless respondents said their organizations would accelerate investment in key aspects of omnichannel, with many turning to third parties to drive digital sales. More than half also predicted that a likely effect of COVID-19 would be their business looking to sell through digital channels such as marketplaces or social media sites.
With the lines blurring between online and in-person purchases, it was – and continues to be – increasingly important for retailers to no longer think of customer engagement in silos but as one best practice omnichannel approach.
A customer journey is as it sounds – the path a person takes from when they first discover a brand or product until they make a purchase. Ideally, they would be predictable journeys and therefore make it simple for retailers to cater for their needs. However, the omnichannel era has ensured that is never going to be the case.
Once customers may have browsed a catalogue or encountered an advertisement before visiting a bricks-and-mortar store to make their purchase, today’s consumers are engaging with the likes of search engines, social media, paid ads, email marketing, YouTube videos, influencers, bloggers and brand advocates. Then, when it comes time to purchase, they have a myriad of options – many that do not even see them connect with the actual retailer of choice.
By mapping a customer’s journey – be it a specific group, a prospect/target or a customer segment - businesses are better positioned to create an experience where their expectations are met when buying a product. Accenture has found that 68% of customers have changed a provider because of bad service and that is why it is essential businesses do everything they can to bring better value and improve customer satisfaction. Building a customer journey map that, among other things, highlights where customers interact with a brand and defines their intentions at each stage allows organizations to clearly identify what works, what doesn’t and what needs to change.
With the rise of omnichannel, it has never been more important for businesses to create and roll out plans that facilitate seamless experiences for their customers. When looking for ways to improve in the space, consider the following tips:
Establishing omnichannel support teams is too important to be left to chance. That’s why an increasing number of businesses are outsourcing to experts in the field to ensure they can access top resources at lower costs. Benefits include:
A smarter approach to omnichannel strategies is within reach. It’s just a matter of knowing where to turn. Read this case study to get an insight into how one company achieved 24/7 customer support via offshoring.
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