Our Thinking

Why Customers Demand an Omnichannel Retail Experience

By Ed Higdon. Posted in Insight

September 22, 2014

Smartphones are on an irreversible upswing; over 50 percent of Americans, Canadians, Britons and Australians own smartphones, and those numbers are only growing. The fact is, smartphones make smart shoppers: it gives them the power to research, review and compare your company in real-time, which can be as dangerous as it is helpful.

As a retailer, you shouldn’t shy away from the omnichannel retail movement, even though it requires significant cohesive branding efforts and logistical competency. The shift is worth it, if for no other reason than it’s what customers now demand.

Understanding Omnichannel Retail

Omnichannel retail is the natural evolution of multichannel retail, a concept that brought stores into the 21st century by demanding a full presence in every aspect of customers’ lives: websites, mobile sites, phone calls, newsletters, you name it.

The omnichannel philosophy changes the relationship between those channels. It’s crucial for companies to offer a streamlined, cohesive retail experience, so that customers never notice a transition—they should be able to scan a QR code in a newsletter to download a coupon to use in-store or online, for example, without hitting a snag that disrupts the experiential flow.

How to be an Omniscient Retailer

Customers crave being online now—why not cooperate? Retailers that offer complimentary WiFi (even if it’s limited at 15 minutes or an hour) instantly win the favor of their customers, and can even create new opportunities for people to seek them out, the way people have begun popping into McDonald’s to use the WiFi and wind up buying a coffee.

This also gives retailers the opportunity to analyze their customers’ online patterns in-store, in order to gain insight into customer habits, personalize the shopping experience and possibly even track their movements.

Make it Work Behind the Scenes

The key to a smooth omnichannel experience is seamlessness: make the strings invisible. Disregard the logistical difficulties and make it work on the surface for a clean user experience from start to finish. Your in-store promotional and product experiences should work cohesively with the experience you provide online.

If there’s a discrepancy between the web and brick-and-mortar experience, customers are likely to start showrooming (the practice of researching a product in-store, only to buy it later online elsewhere)or webrooming (the opposite, whereby customers research online before buying in-store). A consistent, omnichannel user experience on and offline can help alleviate these practices: whatever platform customers choose to use, their experience with you is pleasurable and smooth, so they do not feel compelled to try elsewhere.

One key way to ensure this is by keeping your stores, both online and off, connected and with constantly-updated communication. If one store doesn’t have a product, it should be easy to find another store that does, or find out how many there are sitting in the warehouse. Consider shipping it to the customer’s house to save them time, or help them purchase it from the online store then and there. The key is for the experience to be unified, easy and simple.

Creating a full-scale omnichannel user experience means more work for retailers and vendors; all the ease and simplicity the user experiences takes quite a lot of effort and planning on the part of business owners. But today’s businesses cannot afford to overlook this new retail movement: savvy customers have more options than ever before – streamlining your on- and off-line presences gives them the reason they need to choose you.