Omni-Channel Finally Becomes Mainstream In 2015
With the lines between channels becoming increasingly blurred, contributor Allan Haims argues that the time to invest in an omni-channel strategy is now.
While “omni-channel” has been a buzzword for the past few years, it’s fairly acknowledged in the retail and marketing worlds that very few companies are actually doing it — or doing it well. It’s clear from the Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday sales that in-store and online sales are no longer two distinct experiences. Retail technology advances are beginning to connect all aspects of the overall shopping experience. Yet, even though nearly $600 billion of in-store sales are influenced by mobile devices or other digital methods, many retailers are not truly harnessing the power of omni-channel marketing to create a seamless shopping experience across all channels: digital, mobile and brick-and-mortar.
Unify The Customer Experience
The concept of omni-channel has elicited many definitions from industry pundits and analysts alike, but in reality it means engaging the customer throughout the full shopping experience, whether it’s an online ad, email promotion or an in-store experience. Taking this a step further, marketers need to consider where the customer’s experience begins and how their overall path to purchase looks based on demographic and behavioral profiles, which often include multiple touch points on digital, mobile and in-store fronts. It’s already widely accepted that many consumers conduct product research before they visit a store (and oftentimes while actually in a store). Yet, many retailers haven’t yet communicated digital promotions to in-store sales associates, creating a disjointed experience when customers attempt to use them in the store – often told the promotion isn’t accepted or the price online is different and can’t be used in-store. This disconnect disrupts the customer experience and creates a significant barrier to closing the sale. To combat this issue, retailers such as The Art of Shaving, proactively inform their in-store sales associates of digital and mobile promotions that are intended to drive brick-and-mortar transactions. When a shopper walks into a The Art of Shaving store, smartphone in hand with a digital promotion already accessed, their experience is extended by the sales team, not just those managing mobile or digital programs at the corporate headquarters. To tie all consumer engagement elements together into a holistic cross-channel market strategy, savvy retailers are empowering their chief marketing officer – who often already has a 360° perspective – to unify the overall approach across all touch points. This enables the brand to drive the overall process and messaging through a centralized leader, target digital promotions and in-store events around the complete path to purchase, and bridge the gap between marketing and operations teams.
Create A Seamless Shopping Experience
Retailers must think like their customers to create seamless omni-channel shopping experiences that keep customers engaged at all stages. As an example, Nordstrom, among a few niche retailers, just began testing digitally connected fitting rooms enabling in-store shoppers to digitally contact a sales associate from the fitting room when they need a garment in another size or color. This marriage of a digital asset with an in-store asset makes the fitting room experience more efficient for the shopper, improving the shopping experience overall and making it easier for the associates to close the sale. Some brands are also arming their sales associates with digital access to inventory so they can immediately check if a size or color is available at another location or warehouse. However, instead of having to drive elsewhere to close the sale, they can pay for it on the spot and have it shipped for free to the store or their home. Another key element to creating an omni-channel approach centers around payment options. As many shoppers are already using their mobile devices to conduct product research and access promotions, either prior to an in-store visit or at a retailer’s location, the opportunity for retailers to support mobile payment options including ApplePay and mobile POS systems like Square are further simplifying the shopping process to enable more sales. Linking credit card promotions and promoting “instant credit” on mobile devices will not only drive transactions, but offer a built-in loyalty component, as well. A successful omni-channel marketing program creates a seamless customer experience, communicates strategies to all team members, and removes friction points that create barriers to closing the sale. It also yields more in-store transactions by utilizing digital assets. To drive increased brick-and-mortar sales, CMOs and marketing teams must create digital and mobile opportunities customers can opt-in to every single time they engage with a store. Shifting your marketing strategies that recognize the interconnected nature of the diverse platforms with the customers experience as top of mind will afford a rich, personalized experience for a shopper and ultimately end in a closed sale – regardless of whether it is in store or online.