Traditional retailers are feeling the pressure as the number of shoppers’ visits to retail stores continues to decline each year. That’s the word from Harvard Business Review in their article on omnchannel marketing, which also notes that online retail is thriving. In fact, says Harvard Business Review, “Retail sales through digital channels (including mobile sales) increased by a massive 23% in 2015.”
Before we explore the concept of omnichannel marketing any further, though, let’s make sure we all have a clear idea about what it means.
An Explanation of Omnichannel Marketing
According to Marketo.com, “the term “omni-channel” refers to how marketers now need to provide a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device”. Today’s consumers are able to engage with companies through a physical store, on an online website or mobile app, through a catalog, or through social media.
Additionally, they can access products and services by contacting companies on various devices, by using the phone, apps on their smartphones, or with tablets, laptops, or desktop computers. Regardless of which channel or device they use, each facet of the consumer’s experience should be consistent and complementary.
That being said, here’s what Marketo.com says a seamless omnichannel experience should look like, according to John Bowden, Senior VP of Customer Care at Time Warner Cable:
“Multi-channel is an operational view – how you allow the customer to complete transactions in each channel. Omni-channel, however, is viewing the experience through the eyes of your customer, orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated, and consistent. Omni-channel anticipates that customers may start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a resolution. Making these complex ‘hand-offs’ between channels must be fluid for the customer. Simply put, omni-channel is multi-channel done right!”
What’s The Difference Between Multchannel and Omnichannel?
It used to be that if a consumer was interested in buying a television, he would go to a local department store, check out the available options, and purchase the television of his choice. With the emergence of the Internet, consumers were provided with more opportunities to browse, research, and make purchases online.
Later, laptops, tablets, and mobile smartphones would give consumers even more shopping options, including viewing customer reviews, connecting with users and companies through social media, checking inventory and local store locations on their smartphones, etc. Of course, while added channels means more opportunities for marketers to connect with consumers, it also requires more work to ensure that interactions are consistent across multiple platforms and provide seamless consumer experiences.
“The difference between multichannel and omnichannel really comes down to a company’s approach to digital channels,” says Stacy Schwartz, a digital marketing expert, consultant, and adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School. “Companies that focus on maximizing the performance of each channel—physical, phone, web, mobile—have a multichannel strategy.
“An omnichannel approach puts the customer, not corporate silos, at the center of its strategy,” Schwartz says. “It acknowledges that mobile and social have enabled customers to not only quickly switch between channels, but actually use channels simultaneously. For example, checking out product reviews on their mobile phone while evaluating a product on a physical retail store shelf.”
In other words, omnichannel marketing acknowledges that customers engage with brands in multiple ways—across diverse platforms—and understands the underlying challenge this presents when it comes to ensuring consistent experiences.
“Omnichannel marketing, says Darr Gerscovich, VP of marketing at a digital marketing agency in San Jose, California, “ensures that customers receive a personalized conversation with your brand.”
Is an Omnichannel Strategy an Effective Remedy for a Challenging Marketing Environment?
Today, traditional retailers recognize the need to invest more time and resources into omnichannel retailing. This means that their strategy must be contingent on the concept that “providing a seamless shopping experience in brick-and-mortar stores and through a variety of digital channels not only differentiates retailers from their peers, but also gives them a competitive edge over online-only retailers by leveraging their store assets,” says Harvard Business Review.
This idea suggests that “there is significant economic value to be gained from providing digital channels to traditional store shoppers, and fusing the shopping experience across channels, ” Harvard Business Review points out. Retailers are counting on an omnichannel strategy to be their superhero, where retail shoppers are concerned. But is this approach realistic?
In a study of the shopping behavior of approximately 46,000 customers who had made a purchase between June 2015 to August 2016, customers were questioned about every aspect of their shopping journey with the retailer, with a special emphasis on which channels they used and why.
These same customers were also asked to evaluate their shopping experience. Only 7% of the study’s participants were online-only shoppers, while 20% were store-only shoppers. The remainder—which also happened to be the majority—or 73%, used multiple channels throughout their shopping journey. Harvard Business Review refers to these participants as omnichannel customers.
The study’s findings showed that omnichannel customers loved using RTP’s or retailer touchpoints. Not only did the study participants use mobile apps to compare prices or download a coupon, but they also used in-store digital tools like interactive catalogs, price checkers, or tablets. These customers either bought online and picked up in-store, or bought in store and had their purchases shipped.
The More Channels Customers Use, the Greater Their Value
The study also revealed that the retailer’s omnichannel customers are more valuable on numerous levels. In addition to spending an average of 4% more on every shopping occurrence in the store, they spent 10% more online than single-channel customers. Furthermore, with each additional channel they used, the shoppers spent more money in the store.
Conducting prior online research on the retailer sites led to 13% more in-store spending among omnichannel shoppers, suggesting that purposeful searching beforehand does lead to greater in-store purchases. Where previously it was thought that traditional shoppers conducted their research in-store prior to purchasing online, the study showed that omnichannel shoppers are “window shopping” online instead, a habit that appears to be especially popular with Millennial shoppers.
Omnichannel shoppers tend to have larger shopping baskets and exhibit more loyalty. In fact, six months after an omnichannel shopping experience, these customers charted 23% more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s stores, as well as being more likely to refer the brand to friends and family than their single channel counterparts.
Today’s marketing environment is rich with multiple channels for retailers to connect with consumers and encourage purchases. Omnichannel capacities drive engagement between shoppers and the retail brand, drawing them to the physical store.
Retailers with traditional brick and mortar stores need to leverage the power provided by the online world by integrating physical and digital spheres into an omnichannel experience that provides shoppers with a seamless and consistent experience. Doing so will differentiate retailers from their competitors as they struggle to attract customers in the midst of a challenging retail blitz, and increase retail sales.
Also published on Medium.