Omnichannel Marketing Strategy: How to Leverage For Better Retail CX

SoftwareSuggest

SoftwareSuggest

Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: May 20, 2021

The customer, today, is the lifeblood of the retail business, and for a good reason. Gone are the days when you could bank on an excellent product to draw customers. That kind of approach will put you in direct competition with every other retail business online or in the neighborhood.

In 2019, customers can shop for anything from anywhere. The days of maintaining contact with the customer through just snail mail, the phone, or face-to-face are long gone.

There are far more ways for a customer to come in contact with brands today. Along with the good old face-to-face interaction we now also have digital channels such as email, social media, and official company websites.

Looking for Marketing Automation Software? Check out SoftwareSuggest’s list of the best marketing automation software solutions.

The technological landscape has changed dramatically, and brands are talking to customers like never before. The customer’s expectations have evolved and so have business practices and marketing strategies, as a result.

In this article, we will talk about marketing strategies and their impact on the all-important customer experience.

What is Customer Experience in Retail?

Customer experience has become so crucial that the product has become secondary. A brand cannot just rely on the right product. Products must also come with a delightful shopping experience.

The aim to provide an experience that is memorable and will keep customers coming back for more. It is not uncommon today to hear someone recommending a product to a friend and also mentioning a salesperson from a particular outlet that could help them make the purchase.

Customer experience must not be confused with customer service. Watch this video to understand how they differ from each other,

Creating a great customer experience broadly involves 3 steps:

  1. There is no room for errors. Eliminate anything about your product, service or operations that may cause a negative experience. The customer today is very unforgiving.
  2. Next, you must aim to at least meet the expectations of the customer. Customers today are well-informed and have a lot more exposure. They have come to expect a certain level of experience by default.
  3. Finally, to truly gain a competitive edge, you must exceed their expectations. Delight the customer with an experience unique to your brand of product or service, that they may not have anticipated.

The Importance of Customer Experience in Retail

Hyper-adoption and also hyper-abandonment, have crept into the customer’s buying behavior. The digital age has made the business environment very competitive and the buyer that much more complex. With so many options and mediums, the attention span of the customer is the smallest it has ever been.

Providing an outstanding customer experience is essential to secure that elusive customer loyalty. It is impossible for retail businesses to remain profitable without a loyal customer base. Depending on the industry, increasing customer retention by just 5% can increase sales by 25-95%. It can also cost five times less to retain customers instead of acquiring new ones.

Watch this video to understand the impact of excellent customer experience as opposed to a bad one,

Building Customer Experience in Retail

Doug Stephens, the author of the ground-breaking book “Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World,” in his blog on the Retail Prophet, says that designing a great retail experience goes beyond aesthetics. He uses a quote by Steve Jobs to highlight this: “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”.

He further highlights this by observing that Apple’s products did not just look different; they behaved differently too. He points out that many in the retail industry fall prey to the same misconception. He says that retail experience goes beyond things like creating a great-looking mobile app or an expensive store.

He explains that there are five elements of brilliant customer experience. He observes that remarkable customer experiences are engineered to be-

1. Engaging: They intuitively connect with customers. They engage all the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch for an experience that genuinely stays with the customer.

2. Unique: These experiences are generally unique to the brand and are yet authentic and natural.

3. Surprising: They delight customers when they do not expect it.

4. Personalized: They lead the customer to believe that the experience was created just for them.

5. Repeatable: Although these experiences appear spontaneous, they are executed using prescribed and tested methods for a consistent level of consistency and excellence.

Marketing strategies used by retail businesses must, therefore, be designed and implemented to reflect these elements for achieving remarkable customer experience.

What is a Marketing Channel?

To understand marketing strategy and its relationship with customer experience, we must first understand the channels used to implement these strategies. Retail businesses primarily use two channels for marketing their products or services and communicate with customers,

  • Offline Marketing Channels: These include things such as event marketing, face-to-face interactions, direct mail, print advertisements, etc.
  • Online Marketing Channels: These include social media platforms and e-commerce websites. They also include mobile apps and display ads.

What is Marketing Strategy?

With a view of achieving a sustainable competitive edge, retail businesses adopt a long-term, forward-looking approach or a strategy, to sell their products and services. They use the marketing channels that we have discussed to execute this strategy.

Types of Marketing Strategy

With the new and evolving technology, there are two popular marketing strategies that retail businesses use to communicate with their potential as well as existing customers.

1. Multichannel Marketing Strategy

As the name suggests, a multichannel marketing strategy uses various channels to interact with a customer. Customers shop across multiple channels, and it is essential for retailers to reach them there. Even the smallest local organization, typically uses the various channels at its disposal to promote and sell its product or services.

For example, an artist may use an e-commerce website to sell paintings. He also promotes these paintings on social media and has pages on Facebook and Instagram. The artist also exhibits the pictures in an art gallery. There also uses a Public Relations agency to promote his work. Here, we see that he uses a combination of offline and online channels to improve and sell the paintings.

2. Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

An omnichannel marketing strategy also uses multiple channels- offline and online- to interact with customers. However, it does this intending to provide an integrated shopping experience. It is a unified approach that creates a seamless journey for the customer across all channels. Customers could be shopping from a laptop or an iPad or a smartphone, or even from the retail store itself. As customers switch between them, they find that they can pick up right where they left off, also when they use a different channel.

For example, a customer is looking to purchase a garment. She visits the website of a retailer and shortlists some items and adds them to her cart to review them later. On her way to work the next day, she finds an email from the retailer reminding her that she has some items lying in the cart. She uses the mobile app of the same retailer on her smartphone and decides to make the purchase. She chooses the option of trying the garment in the store before paying for it. When she visits the store, she visits the pick-up counter. A sales representative promptly hands over the clothing to her once the customer shares the order number. The customer tries the outfit and decides to pay for it.

Differences Between Multichannel and Omnichannel Marketing

It is easy to confuse one for the other, as both the multichannel approach and the omnichannel one use multiple channels to reach current and potential customers. The differences may not be apparent immediately, but they are distinct and separate strategies.

Let’s take a look at these diagrams to understand better,

multichannel_marketing

When you adopt a multichannel marketing strategy, you conduct marketing activities through a variety of channels. You may interact with the customer and boost your sales through any of the platforms mentioned above. Your events across these platforms or even the communication may not be similar across the channels. A customer’s experience may vary based on the circuit. The customer and their purchase are connected in a straight line.

omnichannel_marketing

Omnichannel Marketing and the Customer Journey

While the same channels are used in this instance, the omnichannel marketing strategy integrates the customer’s journey through each of these channels. This strategy recognizes an important fact: a customer does not interact with a brand on just one channel. It takes into account that a customer’s journey is not necessarily direct. In the diagram, you will see that the customer may interact with the same channel more than once. The omnichannel marketing strategy creates a journey that is non-linear, fluid and connected.

The fundamental difference between both approaches is that with a multichannel marketing strategy, your efforts as an organization do not have to be coordinated. The goal is to reach the customer through as many channels as possible and disseminate communication as many times as likely to as many people as you can. The omnichannel marketing strategy, on the other hand, seeks to understand the path a customer takes to make a purchase and how I must interact with the customer at each point on that path.

The following table will further highlight the key differences of both the distinct marketing strategies, 

Key Points of ComparisonMultichannel Marketing StrategyOmnichannel Marketing Strategy
The Channel and The CustomerThe aim is to spread communication far and wide to reach as many customers as possible. The focus is on getting the word out.Every channel is inter-related to engage with the customer holistically and provide excellent overall customer experience, irrespective of the channel. The focus is on building a relationship with the customer.
Consistency in EngagementThe customer’s experience may differ with each channel. The information that a customer receives may also vary.The same experience and also information is consistently received through every channel.
Customer ExperienceThe customer is required to put in more effort to interact with the brand and make a purchase. This is more of a sales-focused approach. Not much is done to understand what can be done to make things easier for the customer.The omnichannel marketing strategy seeks to make the customer’s journey effortless and straightforward. It aims to understand where customers are required to put in the effort and how that effort can be eliminated. It is a customer-centric approach.
Channel OptimizationSince all the channels work independently, the use of each channel may not be fully optimized. The customer’s journey relies heavily on the channel that the customer is using.Here, all the channels work together efficiently. The use of each channel is optimized. The business is generated independently of the channel.
The Customer’s Relationship with The BrandThe lack of consistency in the communication and the information across the various channels does not allow a relationship to form with the customer. The customer does not receive consistent notification or assistance across all the channels, which further affects the customer’s familiarity with the brand and its image.The customer develops a relationship with the brand due to the consistent information and communication with the brand across all the channels. They enjoy a heightened sense of familiarity with the brand, as a result.
Customer RetentionThis strategy is all about casting a wider net to reach current and potential customers. It does not proactively work towards retaining customers or building brand loyalty.The omnichannel marketing strategy actively focuses on fostering a relationship with the customer and retaining the customer, in the process.
Cost-BenefitIt may seem like a relatively cheaper approach at the start. However, in the long-term, it is not a beneficial marketing strategy, as it is not very useful in retaining customers. It is much costlier to acquire a new customer as opposed to retaining one.While this strategy may require a more substantial investment in the beginning, it is more beneficial in the long-run as it actively focuses on creating an enjoyable experience for customers and retaining them.
Organizational ApproachThe teams within the organization, such as those handling public relations, social media, sales, etc. do not require much coordination with each other as the marketing channels are not quite inter-related.All the teams within the organization have to work together, coordinate with each other and be on the same page to provide a consistent experience to customers across channels and project a stronger brand image.

In a nutshell, both strategies use multiple channels to reach current and potential customers. However, the omnichannel marketing strategy is a customer-centric approach that can increase customer retention and in turn, revenue.

The Customer Journey and Omnichannel Marketing

Now that we understand what an omnichannel marketing strategy is and how it differs from a multichannel marketing strategy let us know how the omnichannel marketing strategy impacts the journey of the customer.

Think about your journey from your home to the office every morning. You ensure beforehand that you have enough fuel in your car and air in your tires so that you don’t have to bother about that during the rush hour traffic in the morning. You sleep on time and set the alarm so that you can get up and be ready on time. You even put your coffee in a travel mug so that you can leave quickly. You take the best route available to reach your office to avoid any traffic. You listen to the radio for real-time traffic updates, and in case, you have to make a diversion from your regular route to avoid any unforeseen issues. You reach your office building, flash your ID card at the entrance gate, and park in your designated spot.

In short, you do everything you can to make your journey as uncomplicated and straightforward as possible. Imagine if you didn’t proactively do anything to ensure the same. You sleep late and forget to set the alarm. You get up late and don’t have time to make the coffee. You rush out of your door and get into your car to realize that you might need to stop at a fuel pump. There is construction work underway along the route, and you get further delayed as it is too late to make a diversion. You reach your office building and realize that you’ve forgotten to carry your ID card. When you finally manage to enter the building, you find it challenging to find a parking spot because you are so late.

Anyone would prefer the first scenario over the second. We all want to get from one point to another with as little interruption as possible. The same is true for customers in their buying journey. For the customer, convenience reigns supreme. According to the Simplicity Index, 64% of customers will be willing to pay more for a simple experience.

This example will help make it more transparent

You are on your way to work in the morning and are scrolling through Instagram. You come across an ad which shows that your local grocery store is running a sale on all items just for that day. You are on your way to work and do not have the time to go to the store during the day personally. You click on the ad which takes you to the grocery store’s website. You select the items that you want. The grocery store is on the way to your home. You decide that you will pick up the items from the store itself on the way back home.

You also decide that you will inspect the items and then make a payment at the store. On your way to work that evening, you stop at the store and find that there is designated parking for in-store pickups. You quickly park your car. The signages in the store lead you to the in-store pickup counter in no time. You share your order details with the person at the table. Your items are brought to you. You take a few minutes to inspect them. You pay for them and are soon on your way home.

In this case, it did not matter which channel you used, be it social media, the company’s e-commerce website, or even the actual store. The journey was seamless and completely hassle-free. This is what the omnichannel approach seeks to achieve.

Steps in Implementing an Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

Implementing an omnichannel marketing approach is all about focusing on the customer and adopting a customer-centric approach in everything that you do as an organization. The following steps are the key to setting up and executing an omnichannel marketing strategy,

1. Build a Customer-Centric Organization

customer_centric

Create an organization that has a high-level of inter-departmental coordination and agility. Everything that you do as an organization must put the customer and the customer experience above all else. As discussed, earlier, it is all about making the customer’s journey simple and delightful. This may sound simple in theory, but it is may not necessarily be easy to implement across the organization.

Departments within an organization do not always collaborate as much as they should. In this case, it becomes challenging to create a seamless experience for the customer. It is not just crucial for a few departments such as the marketing department or the sales team to work together. It is also vital for departments that may not come in contact with the customer at all, such as the human resources department, to work well with the other departments to offer the best customer experience. 

For example, if the human resources team does not address employee issues well, it may lead employees in the marketing and sales departments to perform less than satisfactorily and will ultimately impact the customer.

It is essential to understand what each department does. Once you know how they contribute towards the customer’s experience, you must help them see that. It is not always possible for departments in an organization to see the role they play in the larger scheme of things.

It is also essential to listen to your employees. You must encourage them to share what they need to do their jobs better. You also must invite suggestions from them about what can be done to create a better customer experience.

The common objective of the organization must be to achieve business goals by serving the customer. Everyone within the organizations must be on the same page regarding this. This must even reflect in performance objectives of every employee, every department and the management.

2. Manage Inventory Well

manage_inventory

You do not want to sell an item to a customer, only to realize that it is not in stock. Nobody wants to spend hours browsing and finally purchase a piece only to receive a mail a few minutes later saying that the thing is not in stock or may not be available immediately.

This is especially true when customers purchase an item online and choose to pick it up from the store. When people decide to buy online and pick up an item from the nearest store, it is usually because they need it immediately and do not want to wait for it.

You may try to remediate the situation by offering free home delivery or discounts or even freebies, but it does put a dent in the customer experience. It does not precisely give them what they want, how they wanted it in the first place. Therefore, it is crucial to stay on top of inventory management when it comes to the omnichannel marketing approach. Using Inventory Management Software may be an ideal course of action.

3. Use an Integrated Marketing Technology Stack

marketing_strategy

As a business, you may have a variety of tools at your disposal to fuel your marketing efforts. Together, all such devices can be referred to as your marketing technology stack. Such a marketing technology stack may usually include your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, video/web conferencing solution, email service provider, marketing automation platform, print materials and solutions, analytics and data visualization solutions, and also your Content Management System (CMS).

Two of the most critical components of this marketing technology stack are CRM software and analytics solutions. A CRM software captures relevant data about the journey of a buyer or a prospect’s journey in a detailed manner. The analytics tool helps make sense of the data and provides valuable insights that can help you make informed decisions.

Your marketing technology stack, therefore, plays a vital role. The right set of tools can fuel your business with information and insights that can help you appropriately reach more customers.

4. Context is Important: Collect Data to Drive Decisions

context

We may think that after being in the business for a while that we understand our customers well. We believe that we are in a position to make safe assumptions about their behavior. However, data can give a lot of insight into the customer and how they interact with your brand.

Data can help you serve your customer better. It becomes possible to anticipate their needs, serve them well, and retain them. It is essential to know the customer. It goes a long way in building a relationship with them and nurturing it in the long run.

Data can come from various sources. It may be available in your CRM Software, the search history of a customer on your website, the online browsing behavior of the customer, to name a few.

Collecting data from all the possible sources, analyzing it and making decisions based on that information is an essential element of the omnichannel marketing process.

5. Map Your Customer’s, Cross-Channel Journey

channel_journey

One of the critical factors of an omnichannel marketing strategy is not merely having channels for the channel’s sake. The goal is to allow customers to finish their transactions without having to repeat their actions as they switch between the channels.

Understand why they are moving between channels. Observe any apparent failures or weaknesses around them. Identify behavioral patterns, if any. Get a good understanding of how customers are interacting with your business.

You must clearly define your business goals for each channel and create measurable business objectives to measure their performance, to ensure that they remain effective. It is all about consolidating the online environment in a way that will reduce the customer’s effort.

6. Know Your Customer: Segmentation of Customers

segmentation

Earlier, we discussed the customer’s journey about omnichannel marketing. We also just considered using data to understand customers and their behavior and also how they relate to your brand.

When it comes to customer service, there isn’t one size that fits all. Using data, you must segment your customers into groups. You must also understand their path to purchase. In this way, you can nurture your relationship with them by communicating with them based on their buying patterns. It is also essential to understand the customer’s level of awareness with your brand when you study their path to purchase and interact with the customer accordingly.

You may segment your customers based on how often they come back to you. You may also study patterns in demographics, renewals and even lapses to segment your customers.

7. Offer Personalized Service

offer_personalized

Now that you understand your customer groups and their path to purchase, you can interact with them in a more personalized manner. You can tailor your communication to be more suitable for a particular customer group. Customers appreciate service that feels personal.

According to a survey by CenturyLink, 56% of customers are more likely to shop from a retailer that recognizes them by their name.

For example, even Flight Attendants in airlines are encouraged to learn the names of passengers and address them using their names, rather than using terms like “Sir” or “Madam.” This is especially encouraged for customers enrolled in their loyalty programs.

Suppose a person has a medical condition and places an order for medicines at a pharmacy. When the person is just about to finish the stock of drugs, he receives a personalized message addressing him by name reminding him to replenish the stock. He also receives updates about new and improved medicines or products related to his condition from time-to-time. Every time he is at the store to pick up his prescriptions, he is greeted pleasantly by the pharmacist who makes inquiries about his medical condition and shows some concern for his health.

Here the personalized service provided by the pharmacist will go a long way in not just securing the customer’s loyalty, but it may also turn the customer into a brand advocate and generate more business.

Personalized service is not just limited to existing customers. Technology has made it possible to provide customized service to even new customers. Social media platforms like Facebook, make it possible to display your ads to a focused set of people who are likely to purchase your products. Pixels placed on your websites may help you identify which products a prospect may be interested in so that you can put out retargeted ads accordingly.

8. Supportive ‘Customer Support’

customer_support

Any help that you offer the customer must be genuine, relevant and convenient. Do not push an ulterior motive under the pretext of offering help.

For example, telemarketers offering to “help” you by offering you a credit card, except it does not sound like “help” but more like a sales pitch.

Help is not truly “help” unless it is relevant to the customer. If you already have purchased a product online and still keep on seeing retargeted ads about that product, it is not only irrelevant but can also be annoying.

Dealing with customer support channels, more often than not, can leave customers feeling frustrated and helpless. Nobody wants to deal with phone support systems that require you to hear a whole list of options and even product promotions before they connect you to a customer service agent. Furthermore, no one likes to wait endlessly while a customer service agent becomes unavailable to assist. Even then, there is no guarantee that a customer service agent will be able to solve the issue.

It is not uncommon to see a customer trying to use multiple channels to resolve a problem.

For example, you purchase a product that turns out to be defective. You call the toll-free number to make a complaint. After a considerable wait, you can speak to a customer service agent. You are not entirely satisfied with the agent’s help, so the agent asks you to send an email. You send the email but have to wait for 24-48 hours for a response. Frustrated, you take to social media and talk about the issue there.

All of this can be bypassed, if customers are equipped with resources to help themselves. This can be in the form of self-service options such as knowledge base articles, guides, and online forums. A Zendesk study shows that as many as 53% of customers prefer to help themselves.

It is an unpleasant experience to look for a customer service phone number and take the time to call the number, or even to find the correct email address for assistance and then draft an email. People spend a lot of time on social media. It would be so much more convenient if they could go to the Facebook page of the brand and get assistance by using the Messenger feature. It is, therefore, a pretty good idea to integrate social media and live chat.

9. Problem-free Payment Process

Payments are a sensitive issue, and they have to be handled smoothly. Selecting a proper payment gateway solution to process payments quickly and securely is crucial. Glitches that occur at the time of payment can not only be frustrating for the customer, but they can also create a confidence issue. A shoddy payment process can easily cause a customer, especially a first-time one, to back off from the purchase. The payment process must take me seamlessly.

With an omnichannel marketing approach, this usually occurs during the in-store pickup of online purchases. Customers are bound to be disappointed if they have waited for the stipulated order processing time and yet have to wait some more in a long queue when they reach the store to pick up the order. There is simply no point of offering an in-store pickup option to a customer when it might be quicker to visit the store and shop for the item in person.

10. Train Your Employees

Employees play one of the essential roles in customer experience. They are the best agents to provide truly personalized customer experience. They can form a connection with the customer like in a manner that cannot compare to anything else. If trained well, they can perform the function of a brand ambassador and reinforce the brand’s image and even values.

For example, the Taj Group of Hotels are famed for their impeccable customer service. Although they are known for their immense luxury, they are even more renowned for the exceptional hospitality extended by their employees. While there are many luxury hotel chains, hotels from the Taj group are preferred for unmatched customer experience. This was even evident during the unfortunate 26/11 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai when employees went above and beyond to assist customers even when their own lives were in danger.

Hotel Mumbai movie scene dev patel
Still from the movie ‘Hotel Mumbai’ based on 26/11 Mumbai attacks

Now, given the nature of the attack, they were not trained to handle it, but all the actions that they took anyway were entirely in line with the values of the brand. The Taj group is known for carefully recruiting candidates who have the potential to uphold the brand’s values. They are also known to train their employees well so that they remain true to those values, in everything that they do.

Training must be provided to all employees across all levels so that they have complete knowledge of the brand, its products, services and also discounts and promotions. All the employees must be able to assist customers consistently and present a uniform brand image.

For example, a customer has a particular credit card that entitles him to a discount at your store. The employee that assists him is unaware of such a promotion. The employee informs the customer that there is no such scheme. The customer may decide to not go ahead with a purchase or may carry on with the purchase anyway. If the customer does not make the purchase, he will leave the store confused. If the purchase is made and the discount is auto-applied when the card is swiped, it will still not be the perfect customer service experience. Receiving conflicting information can defeat the purpose of an omnichannel approach.

The Omnichannel Approach to Design

With a good design, you must create an ecosystem of channels. You must strive to provide seamless design experience. The chains must be designed in a way that the customer does not necessarily “see” the various channels.

Design refers to how the various marketing channels that you use for your business such as your mobile app, website, social media pages, and even your store, look and also function. It is a crucial ingredient of the omnichannel marketing approach as it plays a prominent role in customer experience. As we discussed earlier, many retailers make the mistake of understanding “design” as the way things look as opposed to how they work.

We have discussed in detail how you can implement the omnichannel marketing strategy. However, here are some design principles that retailers must keep in mind when they adopt the omnichannel marketing strategy,

1. Make the Customer Journey Easier

Any change is bound to meet with some resistance or wariness initially. Your new design can be more elaborate and even have great visual appeal, but it is of no use if it does not reduce a customer’s effort. If a customer finds that the new product or service can make their journey to purchase more comfortable, they will most likely overcome their initial misgivings and take to it very well.

For example, it may take time for a customer to get used to the new interface of a website, but if the customer finds that the site is easier to use than before, the customer will appreciate the change. However, if the new interface is confusing to get used to, they may not like the change.

2. Ensure That the Design Is Relevant

Do not introduce anything new unless it is relevant to the customer’s experience or journey. Bells and whistles can achieve nothing if they do not create any substantial value for the customer. Introducing a new feature or design for the sake of it may generate initial interest, but if customers feel that it is not relevant to them, then the whole point of investing in it is futile.

For example, you may introduce an update to your mobile app. However, the customer finds that the update does not create any significant value. It will leave the customer feeling underwhelmed after taking the effort to download the new update.

3. Offer a Consistent Experience

Consistency across channels is key to the omnichannel approach. Every channel must offer the same information or experience consistently. This applies to not just how your marketing channels appear but also how they convey the same message.

For example, a post on social media announces a new collection of products that is available for purchase on the website. However, when the customer visits your site, he or she finds that the new collection is not available there. This will naturally disappoint the customer.

4. Ensure Delivery

If the new design holds much promise but fails to deliver, the customer will lose faith in your abilities as a brand. Transactions that involve money, primarily, must be handled seamlessly to retain the customer’s trust in your brand.

For example, a customer purchases a product online. The website says that if the customer is unhappy with the product, it can be returned to the nearest outlet. However, when the customer tries to return the product at the outlet, he finds that the sales assistant is unaware of any such policy. This will affect the customer’s ability to trust the brand.

5. Responsive Web Design

People use a variety of devices and gadgets to interact with your brand. They may use their mobile phones, tablets, laptops and even virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa. Your content must display well on all channels and devices, no matter what the screen size. They must be responsively designed so that customers do not have to pinch, zoom and struggle to enter information in web forms.

For example, if a customer does not want to download your mobile app due to a lack of storage space on their phone and decides to use your website on their phone to make a purchase, he or she will expect your website to be compatible with mobile devices. If one has to struggle to view products or enter information on your website, it will understandably affect the customer’s experience.

A real-life example of a unique omnichannel approach to design can be seen in the instance of the popular fashion retail chain, Max Fashions. They have a Click & Collect feature wherein customers can purchase products online, try them at the store and if they are unhappy with the products, they can return them, and a refund is processed immediately.

The Click & Collect feature has been amply advertised on all their marketing channels including their social media platforms, website and even within their outlets. Also, the carry bags provided to shoppers when they shop in person from the store, advertise the feature. The feature is very well-designed. Customers complete the purchase on the website. They receive timely notifications about the status of their order. When the order is ready for pick up, and they head to the store, they find Click & Collect advertised on the store’s display window itself. As soon as they enter the store, some signages guide them to a designated counter for Click & Collect.

When they reach the counter, they provide the order details to a sales assistant who wears a Click & Collects badge. The package is handed over to them within a few minutes. They have the option of opening the box and inspecting the products. They can even try them on. If they do not like one or more of the products, they can inform the sales assistant, who can then initiate a refund immediately. Customers also receive a confirmation of the refund process on their phone within a few minutes.

The entire process is seamless and hassle-free and offers many conveniences to the customer. Here we find that the design works consistently well across all the channels.

Additional Tips to Enhance the Omnichannel Marketing Strategy and Communication

Now that we understand the steps we must take as an organization to implement and that the things that we must keep in mind when we design an omnichannel approach, here are some additional tips that may help you enhance your communication with the customer when you adopt an omnichannel marketing strategy,

1. Localized Content

Your business may have a global presence; however, to do well on a global level, it will serve your business well to connect with people on a local level. Creating localized content will help customers connect with your brand. Use the local language. Collaborate with local companies. Be a part of the local discourse. Ensure payment capabilities in the local currency. Not just your website, even the tone of your social media content must have a local flavor to help people connect with the brand.

For example,

Brands like Nike and Adidas have a global presence, but they connect with the local audience by not just working with legendary names in the sporting world, but also local influencers. The Nike Run Club has a presence in every major city in the world. It has been associated with big names such as Carl Lewis, but they create these communities primarily with the help of local fitness influencers.

2. Shoppable User-Generated Feeds

It is one thing to display products in the most attractive and presentable manner, but showing real people using the products increases a brand’s relatability and helps customers see the products in a different light altogether. Creating browsable galleries with the help of user-generated feeds can go a long way in helping the customer connect with the brand.

For example,

British online fashion and cosmetic retailer ASOS is widely popular. ASOS stands for ‘As Seen on Screen.’ They encourage users to curate fashionable looks with products from ASOS and share them with the hashtag #AsSeenOnMe. They pick the best looks and feature them on their channels as shoppable content.

3. Effective Use of Discounts

Discounts will always be an attraction for potential buyers. They can provide that all-important nudge to prospective and current buyers to make a purchase. It’s no secret that customers love discounts. Customers will always find it challenging to resist multi-buy discounts, volume-based discounts, gifts with purchase, or even BOGO (Buy One Get One Free) discounts. These discounts can also be used to encourage users to try your new mobile app or make that first purchase on your website.

For example,

MakeMyTrip offers an additional discount to users if they make a booking using their mobile app.

4. User-Generated Content (UGC) Contests

Contests that require UGC content have boosted a brand’s promotion and endorsement activities. They inject marketing channels with fresh and potentially viral content, and also offer great SEO benefits. Contests and Giveaways can increase a brand’s visibility, engage with customers and bring traffic to the desired channels.

For example,

Nykaa’s #BackToBlack Contest where customers had to like some pages and share some posts on social media using the hashtag when Giorgio Armani launched a new perfume for men.

5. Distinct Brand Voice

Crafting a distinct brand voice can take brand recognition to a different level altogether and can immediately differentiate you from other products in the industry. This voice must be used across all channels and platforms, including product packaging. To create a brand voice, you must ask yourself what makes your product special. You must also ask yourself what is unique about the way you do business and also take into account your organizational culture.

For example,

Australian e-commerce company Frank Body is now a prominent name in the beauty industry across the world and is the best example of this strategy. They have created a character called Frank, who communicates with the audience directly and cheekily. His distinct voice, style, and characteristic wit have helped the brand make a significant dent in the saturated beauty business.

6. Stand Up for Something

People care about social causes. The dialogue and awareness surrounding social causes are far more prevalent today than they were before. Buyers love to support a good reason. However, care must be taken to show a genuine connection between the brand and the object. If the relationship seems disingenuous, it can even reflect negatively on the brand.

For example,

Sustainable and organic fashion has found many takers. Prominent fashion retail brands such as Levi’s have committed to sustainable denim production. They aim to produce clothes that do not need to wash as often and therefore save water. They are also striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

7. Seasonal Buying Guides

Creating season-based buying guides are also an effective way to keep customers coming back to you to see what is new and available. Seasonal edits offer a convenient way for customers to purchase items based on specific occasions or trends. They can be more impactful than long blog posts. They are also an excellent opportunity to upsell and cross-sell products.

For example,

Brands such as Forever21 create seasonal edits of their merchandise suited for various purposes such as the holiday season.

How Have Organizations Successfully Implemented an Omnichannel Marketing Strategy?

We can discuss the length and breadth of the omnichannel approach to marketing, but it is one thing to talk about it, but a whole another thing to see it in practice. Organizations across the world are making significant strides in designing beautiful and innovative omnichannel marketing experiences.

Here are some examples,

1. Starbucks

The Starbucks rewards program offers a brilliant omnichannel experience, unlike most other reward programs. You can enroll in the rewards program for free. It works like any other customer loyalty program, however, how it sets itself apart is by making it possible to check account balances and reload your card via your phone, mobile, the store, and even the app.

All updates made to the card are updated on a real-time basis, across all the channels. If you happen to be in the queue and realize that you don’t have enough balance in your card, you can reload it while you’re waiting in the line. You will be able to use the card as soon as you have finished reloading it.

2. Sephora

Beauty giant Sephora realized that their shoppers have a vast variety to choose from when they visit the store. They have a ‘Beauty Bag’ feature. Customers can keep adding the products that they like to purchase to the wish list. They can do that while browsing for products online, or on the app and even in-store. This account also lets them try the products virtually using digital software. They have also placed tablets in-store where one can access their Beauty Bag account.

By integrating the app with the in-store experience, Sephora allows customers to keep track of the products that they wish to purchase. This is especially helpful considering the full range of products that are offered by Sephora.

3. Walgreens

Walgreens offers an app to its customers where they can check and refill prescriptions without having to visit the pharmacy or call the store. They can also set alerts to refill prescriptions that need to be renewed.

This app has changed the pharmacy shopping experience. Customers do not have to go through the hassle of calling the pharmacist to place an order or standing in long in-store queues.

4. Adidas

Adidas launched the first omnichannel store in New Delhi in May 2015. They also introduced the endless-aisle technology in their Chandigarh store and have since equipped their other stores with the same technique.

The technology enables customers to browse through products and make their pick. The retailer is also able to sell products that may not be available in the store. It also enables retailers to fulfill orders received from the online store.

Adidas Neo was a range of products targeting the youth. The scope included highly specialized products that are not readily available such as cycling equipment. They launched these products online and waited for them to gain popularity and a customer base, before launching them across stores. This was done because these products would take up too much space within the stores.

5. Pepperfry

Leading online furniture retailer, Pepperfry, launched ‘Studio Pepperfry.’ The studio allows customers to interact and consult with in-house interior designers. These interior designers can take them through various designs exhibited at the store and even suggest designs from the extensive collection online. They also assist customers with customization requirements and also design tips.

Studio Pepperfry simplifies the complex process of purchasing furniture. Customers also enjoy the benefit of consulting with in-house interior designers. This can be of immense help to millennials setting up their homes for the first time, who form a considerable part of Pepperfry’s customer base. Customers can also get a sense of the look and feel of the furniture and also be clear on size dimensions, which may stop them from buying the products online.

These are just a few examples of the exciting strides in omnichannel marketing initiatives. With innovations such as smart mirrors in trial rooms, the Dash button by Amazon, and even T-shirts by Ralph Lauren that measure your heart rate and calories burnt- it is all very mind-boggling!

You can also watch this video which shares Ford’s omnichannel marketing initiative that proved to be successful for them,

Failure in Omnichannel Strategy Implementation

Strategy and implementation go hand-in-hand. As they say, without a plan, execution is aimless, and without performance, the procedure is useless. Famous business theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer could not have said it better when he opined, “Successful organizations understand the importance of implementation and not just strategy, and, moreover recognize the crucial role of their people in this process.” This also holds when it comes to implementing the omnichannel marketing strategy.

Here are some of the reasons why your omnichannel retail strategy could fail,

1. Lack of Investment

The omnichannel strategy does involve a massive investment. There is no point in opting for an omnichannel approach if you cut corners unnecessarily or do not manage the investment very well. For example, retailers invest vast amounts of money in building an expensive store but scrimp and save when it comes to investing in the training and development of employees who play a vital role in customer experience.

2. Lack of Human Resource Talent

The importance of hiring talented people with channel-specific skills and experience cannot be stressed enough. If you do not have the right people to execute your omnichannel strategy, your strategy will only work in theory. Not having enough people can also create obstacles in delivering consistently excellent customer service experience.

3. Incompatible Software

Legacy systems can be challenging to integrate with other systems. Many policies are generally challenging to integrate. Expensive and inflexible software systems can be a significant blocker when it comes to omnichannel strategy implementation.

If organizations do not manage their investment well and refuse to invest in the proper software, there will be process gaps which will ruin the customer experience. Effective inventory management is non-negotiable when it comes to omnichannel marketing. It is often known to fail to owe to rigid legacy systems and ERP software.

4. Poor Mobile Experience

In 2016, Business Insider found that American adults spend 59% of the time they spend on the internet on their phones. However, only 15% of e-commerce sales were done from mobile devices.

A few reasons for this were a lack of trust in mobile technology, mobile technology not being good enough and also a failure on the part of the retailers to provide an excellent mobile experience.

All your current and potential customers spend a tremendous amount of time on their mobile phones.

A slow and problematic mobile experience is, therefore, a substantial waste of potential. It only makes sense to interact with customers where they spend most of their time.

5. Conflicting Goals Among Channel Managers

When it comes to designing and implementing an omnichannel approach, all the channel managers within the organization must be on the same page. It helps to have a person in charge of overseeing the implementation of the omnichannel strategy, who can keep all the management teams aligned with the common goal and prevent them from straying from the objective. If not a single leader, cross-silo goals and incentives may also work.

Examples of omnichannel strategy fail,

  • Read how an iconic retail brand like Macy’s lost huge amounts of money in 2013 in spite of adopting a highly-planned omnichannel strategy due to problems with inventory management. Know More.
  • This article by Forbes contributor, Adrian Swinscoe, also highlights an instance of omnichannel strategy implementation gone wrong. Know More.

The Digital Transformation of the Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

An article published on Digital magazine titled Omnichannel Strategies and Digital Transformation in Retail provides great insight into how the omnichannel approach is undergoing a digital transformation and what the future holds for it.

It says, “According to IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Retail 2018 Predictions, 50% of retailers will adopt a retail omnichannel platform by 2019. This will have a direct impact on retailers’ top line as TCO, inventory costs, operational costs, and promotion pressure will increase profitability by 30%. IDC also predicts that by 2021, retailers will have made better use of the geospatial data to drive efficiency in omnichannel orchestration, reducing inventory costs by 25% across distribution centers and stores.”

It also goes on to say, “Adoption of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and IoT are also increasing and are expected to boost customer engagement and customer satisfaction and adoption by 20%, employee productivity by 15%, and inventory turns by 25%.”

In a nutshell, retailers adopting the omnichannel strategy are growing manifold. The digital transformation brought about by artificial intelligence, augmented reality and IoT will take the omnichannel experience to a whole new level.

Here are some of their observations,

  1. More and more customers prefer self-service rather than dealing with automated recordings on helpline numbers. Augmented and virtual reality is already being leveraged to enhance customer interactions and processes. Emerging cognitive engagement solutions will take input, learn from that input with human assistance, put the content into context, and make relevant evidence-based recommendations.
  2. Real-time interaction capabilities such as single-purpose chatbots and virtual agents that embed deep learning and AI to make them smarter over time will open new opportunities for customer engagement.
  3. RPA is already being used to automate routine business tasks such as providing order status updates to customers. Machine learning will improve non-routine business tasks that require judgment. This will be achieved through natural language processing and building machine learning into RPA trigger points so that the bot can reprogram itself through feedback.
  4. Machine learning is being used and will continually be used to prescribe the right set of steps for customers or agents to more effectively service customers. The machines will learn how to route better a service ticket or a customer to the customer service center resource who can most effectively answer a question, which is based on past success. Machine learning can also push the right next steps using customers’ current behavior to help pre-empt future calls.
  5. Customer service centers in the future will use video to read the customer’s facial expressions and react to signs of frustration or anger, displaying this information to the customer service center agent for better engagement.
  6. Machine learning and advanced analytics will empower customer service agents. Companies will use a variety of emerging technical approaches to assist agents in providing more empathetic and compassionate experiences to customers. They will leverage behavioral analytics to match a caller’s psychographic profile to the best-skilled agent for serving.

Is It All Worth It?

After this detailed discussion, you may wonder whether an omnichannel marketing strategy is worth all this effort. Here are some findings from careful studies that answer the question with a resounding “yes.”

  1. 90% of multiple device owners switch between screens to complete tasks, using an average of three different combinations every day.
  2. Customers who shop across multiple channels have a 30% higher lifetime value than those customers who do not.
  3. A study of 46,000 shoppers showed that omnichannel customers spent 4% more when they shopped in-store when compared with single-channel users.
  4. The same study also showed that omnichannel customers shopped 10% more than single-channel customers online.
  5. The research done before shopping in-store led omnichannel customers to spend 13% more than they would have on their in-store shopping.
  6. Another research showed that 45% of customers allow social media to influence their buying decisions.
  7. The same research found that 65% of customers look up an item on their phones or computers before purchasing it in-store.

Importance of an Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

As we can see, the omnichannel strategy is all about successfully managing customer experience. We have already discussed the value of customer experience in retail. We have also discussed how much better it is than a multichannel marketing approach. To sum up, these are some of the benefits of an omnichannel strategy,

1. Simplified Marketing Message

The omnichannel approach simplifies and streamlines your marketing message. Disjointed messages can be dismissed quickly and are less engaging, which ultimately affects customer loyalty and also purchases.

2. Optimized Channels

All the channels are optimized to perform to their fullest potential. Customers have the power to personalize their own experience and enjoy more control. Also, the omnichannel approach focusses on each channel equally, as they all have to be fluid and work well together. The customer, therefore, cannot come in contact with a channel that has been neglected owing to its general unpopularity and has a terrible experience.

3. Blurred Lines Between the Offline, Online and Physical Worlds

Online and offline channels work together to elevate the customer experience. A customer can walk into a store and inquire about a product. The sales assistant can discuss the product with the customer while also using a tablet to demonstrate some of its features.

4. Personalized Customer Service for Improved Loyalty

You give the customers a consistent message. You empower them to control their journey. You offer them a simple, convenient and enjoyable customer experience. You offer a service that feels personal and is tailored to their needs. The omnichannel experience is bound to keep customers coming back for more and even turn them into brand advocates.

5. Motivating Buying Behavior

The omnichannel approach equips the customer with all the tools to make an informed decision to purchase a product. When a customer is on edge and cannot decide whether to go ahead with a purchase, the omnichannel process nudges the customer to buy by making the experience enjoyable and straightforward. The omnichannel strategy involves anticipating the needs of the customer even before the customer is aware of them.

6. The Economy of Trust

The holistic experience and consistent service and messaging that a customer receives allow a customer to trust the brand. When consistently excellent customer service is provided on an ongoing basis, this trust is only bound to grow. 

7. Increased Operational Efficiency

The omnichannel approach requires you to create a collaborative environment and align people to a common goal. It also requires you to pay close attention to various aspects of the business such as inventory management. All of this increases the operational efficiency of an organization.

Conclusion

The omnichannel strategy is not merely a choice anymore. Businesses must hop on the bandwagon or be left behind. It’s 2019, and the success of a business depends not just on its product but also the customer experience. Brands must inject their unique voice in every communications channel that they make use of and be consistent with their communication, including pricing policies and promotional offers to avoid any confusion. It comes as no surprise then that more and more brands are wanting to move towards an omnichannel experience, integrating the offline with the online.

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