The Future of Omnichannel in 2015
Many retailers made it their goal in 2014 to continue to pursue an omnichannel retail environment. The end goal was not only to improve the shopping experience for customers, but also to bolster their own internal operations. As a customer-facing industry, a seamless shopping experience has quickly become the common expectation for customers, but with greater control of all the different channels, merchants have also discovered they can improve their own operational efficiency and generate significant cost savings in the long run.
For many sellers, however, 2014 saw omnichannel initiatives take the next step and become more innovative – it’s no longer about simply offering customers numerous different channels to shop from. In-store pickup is quickly becoming a new standard for many retail chains, with some forward-thinking sellers even allowing customers to park curbside and request their purchases be sent out to their cars with a simple mobile request.
Beacon and other mobile tools have also seen increased use, allowing merchants to tailor mobile app campaigns specifically designed for in-store customers based on online shopping preferences. Other retailers have setup kiosks in store that allow customers to buy out-of-stock items online and pick them up at the location later on or get them sent straight to their homes.
So, what were some of the notable elements of the omnichannel evolution that allowed so many retailers to take a step forward in 2014? Here are a few:
Greater focus on customer data
Information allows retailers to make the best decisions possible, whether it is suggesting a product to a customer, creating a loyalty program, deciding on which items to stock or anything else. The major problem many merchants faced, however, was the fact that creating a universal customer profile has traditionally been no easy task. Retailers can engage with prospects across multiple channels, but they could not always create a seamless experience that pooled information into a single profile. This can result in awkward moments, such as brands recommending online customers an item they already purchased in store.
However, retailers have become better at utilizing unique identifiers, such as email addresses, phone numbers or loyalty programs to track customers across all channels. It is far from a perfect system, but it has empowered retailers to get more in touch with the pulse of their audience as a whole and individually. This helps them remain highly relevant and provide value to shoppers.
Greater use of mobile
Mobile devices have risen in prominence – more people own not only smartphones, but also tablets and other smart devices, such as watches and glasses. People are always connected, and this gives merchants greater ability to interact with prospects.
Obviously, mobile websites and apps should be first on the list, but mobile has so much more value than just that. For example, geofencing and beacons add another layer of interactivity to the shopping experience. When customers walk by certain areas of the store, retailers can draw their attention to certain items through a relevant notification sent to their phones. On a busy strip or mall, sellers could even set up alerts that target customers walking in front of stores that encourage them to come inside to make a purchase.
Mobile payment tools are another area many merchants looked into, particularly with rise of Apple Pay and other wallet tools.
“I think there are also other ways to make Apple Pay more plausible for consumers than just loyalty,” Daniela Mielke, chief strategy and product officer at Vantiv, told PYMNTS. “The moment you can really leave your wallet at home, the moment you have your identity on your phone, the moment the acceptance infrastructure really takes off and you can just leave with just your phone – that’s when there’ll be a real consumer value proposition.”
Leveraging the right tools
Managing multiple channels effectively can be a huge challenge, and there are numerous ways in which things can go wrong. For example, retailers cannot offer in-store pickup if they cannot determine how much stock each physical location is currently carrying – otherwise, they may sell an item they cannot deliver to customers, which may result in a frustrating shopping experience.
In order to deliver on omnichannel efforts, retailers need to incorporate the right technology, ranging from picking tools in the warehouse to inventory management solutions. Moreover, they need to ensure all of these different tools function across channels and locations to help them craft a highly relevant and seamless omnichannel shopping experience. Last year, a number of retailers made tech investments their priority in order to supplement their omnichannel initiatives.
For many sellers, omnichannel is a moving goal, and as they continue into 2015, they will be on the look out for even more ways to reinforce the shopping experience.