Omni-channel retailing is on the rise, and there’s little surprise why. Defined as a consistent approach to marketing and shopping where all shopping channels—web, mobile, social, in-store, customer support, and more—interact with the customer simultaneously, omni-channel retailing translates into 15-30% more customer spending than multi-channel retailing, which engages customers one channel at a time. While omni-channel retailing promotes customer retention and increases profitability, it also brings along new challenges.
Operations require extensive planning and prioritizing.
Integrating omni-channel retailing requires extremely detailed operations planning. All departments, from web to in-store operations to delivery, must work cohesively to generate a sale. This means that retailers should prioritize the most important steps in the buying decision process, starting with an understanding of who their customers are and how they interact with every department.
Depending on the retailer’s overall business strategy, they may aim to seal the purchase in-store by inviting customers to visit the physical location for more information, or encourage them to shop online by offering exclusive discounts through their social media channels. Inventory may need separate distribution networks, each customized for a certain type of customer. While omni-channel includes a range of platforms, retailers do not need to give the customer all the pieces on every level, just enough to encourage them further down the sales funnel.
Customer service must be excellent across all channels.
Sales associates are trained to greet customers and help them find products, but omni-channel retailing requires them to have access to expertise that matches expertise demonstrated online. Training should therefore teach sales associates how to quickly find answers along with a special focus on how to personalize product recommendations. At the same time, customer service on social media and web channels adds a human element to the retail organization for primarily online shoppers.
Aside from responding to Tweets or interacting with customers on the Facebook page, retailers that integrate live chat on their website reduce customer wait times and allow the customer service representative to handle multiple inquiries at once. The challenge for retailers is in determining their most popular channels and the staffing levels needed to meet the needs of customers.
Is omni-channel retailing appropriate for your business?
Omni-channel retailing works better for certain types of retailers than others. For example, apparel companies with a large online customer base and social media presence will benefit from having a streamlined sales model that promotes to all customer channels. Grocers, on the other hand, use cross-channel retailing more. A customer can order groceries online and pick up the purchases in-store, and migrate back and forth from online and offline platforms depending on their needs.
Before implementing omni-channel initiatives, you must look at your existing online and offline offerings and see if there’s an opportunity to give customers a better experience through integration. Here are some questions to ask:
- Does your store have the infrastructure for omni-channel retailing?
- Is your loyalty program accessible where customers are most present (online, in-store, mobile)?
- Can you motivate employees to push sales across all channels?
Consumers are adopting new technologies that change and challenge retail practices. While these developments may be daunting to keep up with, the two ingredients to retail success will always remain the same: effective management of operations and people.