Omni-Channel Retailing: The Future of Commerce

29th August 2014

A few years ago, industry wisdom held that opening up multiple retail channels to the consumer would cannibalize in-store sales and push profits down, but today it’s clear that an omni-channel approach, far from jeopardizing sales actually creates a new class of uber-customer who purchases considerably more across multiple channels than the single-channel customer will buy. There is clearly a synergistic effect when someone becomes an omni-channel customer.

That said, the right mindset is key to omni-channel success. Adapting to an omni-channel approach will require retailers to retool much of their business, including the retail value chain, order management, logistics, inventory systems, merchandise presentation, and much more. Yet all these things are tactics to achieve a higher-order strategy. Omni-channel requires a fundamentally altered way of thinking about our retail businesses – and that change in perspective must happen first: where the head goes, the body will follow. Get your head in the game by applying some of the key principles of an omni-channel true believer:

Be available everywhere, all the time

Today’s 2.0 customer wants to be able to make a purchase on her laptop, receive the order confirmation on her smart phone, have her purchase delivered to her doorstep, share the purchase and shopping experience via social media, and if necessary, have the ability to return it to a brick–and-mortar store. As a result, retailers have to be prepared to bring the store to the consumer rather than the other way around. You don’t necessarily need to offer unlimited functionality on every conceivable platform: you need to have the right capabilities in the right places. Ask your customers what they want, and also observe what they actually do.

It’s important to know whose needs and wants you’re trying to meet, and to focus on doing an amazing job with those. If you can delight your core audience, build loyalty and advocacy, and keep them coming back to buy, then you win. Be there for them, and everything else will fall in line.

Make it seamless

Omni-channel isn’t really a new concept — it’s just a new label for something that’s always been true: customers see a brand as a singular thing and they expect it to function like one. Even though your company may have multiple divisions and operating units, customers expect it to act as a single entity that is behaviorally consistent across the board. If your internal structure is obvious to the consumer because they get disjointed stories and interactions depending on whom they’re talking to, then you’ve got work to do. When the seams don’t show, when a customer crosses several channels or talks to several employees and has a completely consistent experience, then you’re on the right track with omni-channel.

Keep in touch and be in touch

Keep in touch by engaging your customers across a multitude of touch points — email, social, mobile and in-store — and provide an integrated customer experience that aligns your in-store activities, online promotions and omni-channel programs with the ways your customers prefer to interact with your brand. As traditional advertising and marketing techniques lose ground to content, story, and word-of-mouth, it’s essential to ride the trend. Focus on being where your customers go, and providing content in the proper context. Vary the type and nature of your content to be relevant in the context where your customers are, and always make certain your communications align with the core values of your brand, too.

Be genuine

Nothing rings more hollow than a disingenuous interaction. As we’ve already noted, it’s vital to know who you are as a brand and to know who your core customers are, too. Once you know these things, always stay true to them. This will strengthen your voice and deepen your rapport with your core customers. Assume your customers are smarter and more savvy than you give them credit for. Be real, be genuine, and treat them the way you’d treat a guest or a good friend. Success here is grounded in your attitude and philosophy about who your customers are to your brand. Make sure that philosophy is part of all your internal communications and training, so everyone who interacts with customers will take this to heart.

Design the experience

We all know great customer experiences don’t just happen. They have to be planned and very intentional. Focus on solving the customers’ problem before they know they have a problem. This requires design thinking and discipline. By focusing on desired outcomes, leaving nothing to chance, and designing all interactions with the same attention to detail as one might design a new product, we can craft experiences that surprise and delight customers in little ways they don’t expect. Those delightful surprises are the magic moments that customers remember, that they share with their friends, and that turn them into loyal brand advocates.

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