What is omnichannel retail?

what is omnichannel retail

From a brand’s perspective, omnichannel retail means that you have one view of your customer, no matter which channel(s) you do business in. It doesn’t mean you’re present in every channel, simply that whenever you engage with a customer, you’re engaging with a customer and not engaging just with an e-mail address, physical address, or cell phone number.

From a customer’s perspective, omnichannel retail should just be a customer interacting with a brand on their own terms. Buy online, pick up in-store? Cool. Shoppable Instagram? No problem! Buy in-store, return online after a quick chat on WhatsApp? It’s all good. Your customer feels known, and your employees don’t have to pull up 12 different systems and look them up in each.

It’s the concept that no matter how a customer chooses to engage with you, you can handle it. It means connecting your inventory systems across every place a customer can make a purchase. It means having a record of that online order available to your in-store cashiers. It means that when you sell out of an item, your shoppable Instagram post knows and the link directs to something in stock.

For newer businesses, this is considered status quo and fairly easy to do from the get-go. For a business that’s been around awhile, especially if it started as a physical store, it’s often hard to make that transition.

What’s the difference between single, multi, and omnichannel retail?

Multi-channel refers to businesses that can be engaged with across channels (e.g. online and in-store), but one hand isn’t aware of what the other is doing. Of the three, multi-channel is the riskiest since customers expect to interact with your brand in the same way everywhere you exist, and multi-channel doesn’t allow for that without a bunch of extra work on the part of your teams.

Single-channel is pretty self-explanatoryand some businesses can thrive in that environment, focusing just on an incredible in-store experience or having a robust online-only presence. The transition from single to multiple channels must have a focus on making sure that your customer is at the center of the experience you’re building.

Omnichannel retail puts the customer at the center. Shopify says it best: “Omnichannel retail is immersive and puts the customer, not your product, at the core. It’s about communicating in ways that are aligned with why they use a given channel and showing awareness of their individual stage in the customer lifecycle.”

According to Shopify, customers spend more on brands with a smart omnichannel strategy, but only 22% of retailers make omnichannel a top priority.

What does it take to create an omnichannel retail experience?

A single view of your customer that everything else is built around. There is no "online shopper" vs "in-store shopper"there is just "the shopper." A solid Customer Data Platform (CDP) is a great start. Once you have that part down, the next step is to ensure that your inventory systems at the very least talk across channelsbut ideally, have one single view of inventory as well.

Going from single to omnichannel is fairly straightforward. Some data migration might be required, but it’s not going to be as complicated as going from multi-channel where you may already have different systems in place.

Ultimately, it takes making your business focused on creating the best customer and employee experience possible. It is not the cheapest or quickest thing to do, but ultimately it will set you apart from other retailers who haven’t made that commitment.

Companies that have built out their infrastructure with omnichannel as a focus are able to rapidly respond to crises and adopt new technology as it emerges. For example, retailers with a BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store) system in place hit the ground running during the COVID pandemic. After seeing 35% year-over-year in January 2020, BOPIS grew 259% compared to the prior year by August 2020.*

Start with a single source of truth for your customer

Creating a great customer experience starts with reliable data from a single source. A CDP serves this purpose well by aggregating data from your systems and condensing it into a single customer profile. This enables more effective and unified marketing campaigns, helps your teams better customer support, and increases visibility into your customer’s behavior.

A single source of truth for your product data

A Product Information Management System (PIM) is the source of truth for your product data. This enables your teams to update product data once and have it be consistent across every channel where it appears. Whether you’re pulling info into a shoppable post on social media, adding a new item to your website, or providing an employee with item lookup tools, the data is the same because it comes from the same place.

Tie it all together

Pipe that product data, customer data, and measure the interactions your users have with your brand on your owned properties via well-implemented site telemetry and actionable analytics. Keep an eye on how customers come into your site and what they do once they’re there. Figure out your sell-through rate of products to more intelligently offer promotions and pricing that encourages your customers to shop at the price points where they’re most likely to convert.

Then focus on providing value. Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) is about the long game, not the quick sale, so find ways to invest in your customers. That might be offering them specific deals tailored to their price point. It may be a curated email of products they'll love. It might be a birthday promotion. It's not about making a single sale, it's about building a relationship with your customer so they keep coming back to you.

How to build your omnichannel retail experience

Hopefully, if you’ve gotten this far, you have all the tools you need to get started down the road of becoming an omnichannel powerhouse. If you’ve got questions or need a partner to make it happen: we’re here to help.

At Assemble, we’ve built a world-class team of engineers who love taking technology and applying it to solve problems and achieve missions. We partner with retailers to take their existing technology to the next level, integrate it with new pieces of a tech stack, and enable their teams to provide a best-in-class customer experience. We focus on the long-term value we can offerbringing in more loyal customers and reducing Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC). 

We start with a technical assessment called the Everyday Retail Blueprint, which helps us create a plan to enhance your tech stack and resolve any lingering tech debt. We take an objective look at how your customer experience, supply chain, and business intelligence functions are working together, and work with you to create a way forward. From there your team can implement our recommendations, or we can implement changes to help create or improve our omnichannel retail ecosystem.

*ROI Revolution Blog, March 2020