Successful Omnichannel Means Focusing on the Customer

doing omnichannelBy Kirsty Tull

Omnichannel is the buzzword of the moment in retail circles, and with good reason. Brick and mortar has given way to eCommerce which has in turn given way to mobile shopping. The new reality is a customer journey that has buyers crossing back and forth across these channels, at different times and for different reasons.

You may be tempted to think that a customer who shops in one channel stays in that channel, but that’s not the case. Not only do customers research and make purchases from multiple channels, but those who do have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop only online or only in-store. Single channel stores have been struggling, and will continue to do so, but multichannel and omnichannel aren’t quite the same thing, despite the resemblance. Understanding the difference between these two strategies is crucial.

Centering on the Customer

So how do you distinguish between multichannel and omnichannel strategies? Multichannel is simply that. It is a business with multiple sales channels available to their customers. These channels are partially or completely siloed from one another, many times separated by internal corporate structures and cost centers and with their own revenue goals and budgets. Multichannel mirrors the structure of the organization, putting the company’s needs at the forefront.

Customers, however, don’t care about your internal structures. When they buy a shirt online, they want to be able to walk into a store and return it, and not be told that they can’t be accommodated because of disconnected backend systems. Customer centricity is the foundation of omnichannel. While it presents a holistic experience to the customer, it also provides the retailer with the benefits of customer data across the brand landscape, providing insight into their shopping habits and desires.

Getting Omnichannel Right by Catering to the Customer

Data that retailers collect will flow back to the customer in the form of a seamless, relevant, consistent and personalized shopping experience.

A seamless and consistent experience starts for customers with a single view of your brand. In short, this means that what they see in the store is what they will see in your mobile app or eCommerce site. This certainly includes what is in stock, but goes beyond that.  Customers want to see all order information across channels. From the customer point of view, whether they go online or call customer service for updates about an order placed in store and shipped to their home, the ability to have all the information available anywhere is critical. To the customer, this is one purchase experience. From the retailer’s perspective, the single view must work both ways. A retailer’s staff must also have a single view of the customer and their orders, which requires breaking down the walls between previously segregated data sources internal to the company.

Capture, Analyze and Act

One of the benefits to retailers of an omnichannel strategy, beyond a happy customer, is access to an unprecedented quantity of data. While the integration of customer data may be costly and complex, it enables touchpoints along the entire purchase ecosystem to be identified and tracked.

Without proper analysis, however, all of this data may become wasted data. Once available, companies must mine the data for insights to a better customer experience that helps to shepherd the buyer along the customer journey and on to the purchase. From there, the data must be acted upon. Noticing a trend in customer data is one thing, but its true value lies in how merchants can leverage this information to enhance the buyer’s experience and be in the right place at the right time for your customers.

Personalize the Experience

Customer insights based on trends, demographics and life events allow businesses to better understand their customers and their needs. Through these elements, retailers can personalize information and offers that are relevant to the customer exactly when they are needed and with the right tone.

For instance, the types of offers that would attract a couple with young children moving to the suburbs from the city would be much different than those of an empty nest couple downsizing after their kids have grown.  While both may receive an offer from a home goods retailer, the messaging can be targeted to suit the specific type of customer.

The result is a customer who is connected with an offer when they need it most, and a retailer that can move the buyer through their purchase journey more quickly and effectively.

With a consistent and seamless experience, customers have a single window through which to view the brand. This clears the way for them to travel the buyer’s path in the way that best suits them, while providing customer data that can be used to further improve and refine all aspects of the business. This data feedback loop, with customer data feeding improved customer experiences, is the true power of omnichannel strategy.