Omnichannel retail is the way forward
Priya Wadhwa
10x Industry

Omnichannel retail is the way forward

How can you integrate online and offline channels to enhance customer experience?

The quality of customer buying experience is of paramount importance. In a fragmented landscape of multiple buying platforms, it’s no longer about being mobile-first or offline experience—it’s about how well you integrate these platforms to provide superior experience to your customers in order to increase revenues.

We live in a world where the generations are divided into those who are digital natives and do everything online and those who still prefer to touch, feel and experience products before purchase. How do you tap into the market and please everyone? A simple answer is to integrate your online and offline channels, but that is far more complicated in practice than said in words, as the retail landscape is continually changing.

There are many aspects of integration that are crucial to get right in order to provide a seamless quality experience that exceeds your customers’ expectations. With digital technology becoming mainstream, there are many softwares and programmes that one can adopt to provide an omnichannel retail experience. One of the biggest hindrances that large corporates face is integrating the ideas and softwares on multiple levels; from understanding and testing to the large scale of application. The hindrances of smaller companies, however, simply come down to resources. One common issue faced by all is the struggle to apply it correctly for different products and markets, and train employees to incorporate it.

Let’s look at how a company can merge its channels to provide top-notch experience to the customers:

1. Loyalty programmes for data collection and analysis

Whilst loyalty programmes to collect customer data for marketing purposes isn’t a new concept, using that data to provide better purchase experiences is what needs attention. For example, when a person has browsed certain shoes online from a brand and goes in store to try them on and complete the purchase, it’s not an omnichannel experience if he gets an email prompting him to buy the same products online. In fact, such a mistake can hamper the reputation of the brand. Nowadays, one can and should track the customer profile and have a system in place that allows people to switch from online to offline and back smoothly.

2. Digital touchpoints in physical stores

Offline retail stores and their online purchase channels cannot work in silos. They need to support each other to add value to customers whilst improving the customer purchase journey. For example, Sephora started installing iPads in its stores where customers can browse looks and mark them as favourites. They would then get the checklist of the products on their smartphones to complete the purchase; meanwhile, Sephora would get the data to analyse what they liked and didn’t like in order to provide better and more relevant recommendations to them in the future.

3. Handheld point of sale devices with knowledgeable salesmen

Having one or two checkout counters in a huge store is inefficient today. And let’s not forget that people don’t like waiting in queues just to purchase their items. Retailers need to change the way things are purchased to save their customers’ precious time. If you see Apple, their staff, no matter the department have a certain level of understanding of everyone’s role. If you ask any of them a simple question regarding the products, they will be able to provide first line of help. Plus, all sales agents have a mobile system that allows them to track the quantities of products available for all stores, as well as a checkout machine. In fact, every table in the store has bags and products available under every desk, so nobody has to go fetch something every time one makes a purchase.

4. Push your online sales through offline stores

When a customer is browsing in your store, it is the perfect opportunity to cross-sell and increase interest in your online store. More and more brands are starting to do this today, with online exclusive products being showcased in-store along with tablets on which customers can order them. However, there is still a long way to go to incorporate these practices to extract their full potential. For example, if your brand does display its online exclusive collection in the store, why not keep it near the checkout counter with a couple of tablets that allow customers to browse? Seems obvious, yet you don’t see much of this in practice.

5. Integrate the online and offline customer journeys

In addition to introducing digital touchpoints into your stores, it is also important to provide the same seamless experience in customer journeys. For example, if a person has bought something online, give them an option to pick it up in the store without delivery charges, and allow them to return it in the store as well. Seems logical and easy, yet there are still many brands who ask customers to take their online shopping home and go through the process of returning it online. Why complicate things? Make it as easy and as simple for the customer as possible—that’s the golden rule.

Truth is, if you look at the data received from customers in a human way, be it from complaints, suggestions, insights through sales agents on floor and even online shopping patterns, you can improve the customer experience by a lot. Empowering employees to use their creativity and insights to increase sales is a good solution that has seen Apple’s customer service ratings and reputation go up. Let’s all learn from the success stories, trust employees to do their job to attain the end goals instead of being micromanaged and truly listen to the woes of customers with the intention of helping—it won’t be long before your efforts are noticed and start making a difference to your bottom line figures.