February 2, 2022 By: Girish Kumar
The pandemic has created a tectonic shift in the way people buy and consume products and services. The retail industry, in particular, observed this shift even before the pandemic, with the proliferation of digital and mobile technologies. Furthermore, competitive markets; the increasing footprint of tech-savvy customers with a digital-first mindset; the advent of new-age technologies; demand for elevated customer experience; and disrupted supply chains are compelling retailers to adopt an omnichannel approach.
An omnichannel strategy enables retailers to put the customer at the front and centre, with the added ability to achieve higher availability, enhance sales, and integrate the physical and digital touchpoints. At the heart of this strategy, it is all about engaging customers at their convenience, whether online or in-store, ensuring a seamless experience.
An omnichannel approach ensures integration among multiple sales channels to meet customer expectations and provide a personalized experience. A customer’s journey today includes multiple touchpoints, and omnichannel retailing aims to deliver a flawless customer experience regardless of the device and channel of choice, ensuring a cross-device as well as a cross-channel experience. For instance, a customer adding items to the cart while browsing from a mobile phone would be able to pick up where s/he has left while going through the purchase journey from a laptop. It provides a consistent experience through well-synchronized content across channels and a 360-degree view of the customer.
Imperatives for Retailers Adopting an Omnichannel Approach
Consistency in messaging across multiple integrated channels boosts homogeneity of the brand image enhancing the customer experience. Some of the key imperatives that a retailer should adopt in order to curate an omnichannel strategy are:
- Seamless and unified customer journey through cross-channel content and data management with strong automation.
- Machine learning models to map user journey and provide a 360-degree view of the customer.
- Customer-centric experiences through UI and UX analysis across multiple applications and platforms.
- Real-time customer analytics to monitor and react to abrupt shifts in consumer demand. The insights can be further used to optimize promotional investments to contain churn and retain profitable customers.
- Strong online store and robust application infrastructure that empowers businesses to create personalized and differentiated experiences.
- Cross-channel inventory visibility to enable customers to complete their purchases through different devices or channels.
- An intricate web of supply chain processes is triggered by every customer action during the omnichannel journey. Hence, an omnichannel experience can only be as strong as the supply chain that supports it. The capabilities such as decentralized distribution, dynamic pricing, advanced logistics and fulfillment, warehouse automation, real-time inventory tracking, etc. strengthen the supply chain and enrich the omnichannel journey.
Delivering the Omnichannel Experience
Omnichannel retailing requires a retailer to create multiple touchpoints, integrate their online and in-store presence, and personalize the customer experience. The process of integrating an online store with a CRM system, a mobile application and social media platforms can be challenging. Retailers can homogenize their online retail experience through API-led connectivity across various applications and systems. Customer data must be unified across different channels, with a centralized repository. The capabilities of next-generation technologies to seamlessly merge data and create a strong data architecture helps in increasing customer engagement.
An omnichannel approach is customer-centric and relevant more so during and post-pandemic era. It can be profitable by understanding customers’ needs and delivering relevant messages to generate action-oriented communication. Hyper-personalization leverages AI to define the target audience based on certain parameters like purchase history, brand affinity, income levels, etc. An effective hyper-personalization strategy involves delivering personalized messages (appreciation/apology, anniversary messages, etc.) and actions (special offers) to retain existing customers, acquire new customers, and strengthen customer relationships.
The Future of Omnichannel Retail
Gartner forecasts that 50% of the brands will fail to unify customer engagement channels by 2022. To mitigate the issue, retailers need to deliver superior omnichannel experiences to their customers, focus on engaging methods, ensure consistent communication across various touchpoints and drive digital commerce. Today, technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) are enabling retailers to provide cutting-edge customer experiences. While VR enables an excellent user experience through a 360-degree view of products, AR virtually provides an in-store experience to the e-commerce customers, through real-time interaction with the products. In-store mobile connectivity would enable the customers to place online orders for out-of-stock items from within a store for in-store pickup. A holistic approach towards omnichannel would involve the right blend of technology, human understanding, and creativity that can improve brand identity, develop brand loyalty and attract new buyers.