The importance of omnichannel choreography
Fulfilling online orders was not always the complex challenge it is today. In years past, many merchants would treat their online stores like their own unique entities, giving these shops their own management team, inventory allotment and other specific assets.
However, over time, people have changed the way they make purchases – while retailers may have treated their online stores like isolated channels, people are no longer viewing them as such. Customers use digital shops as a part of the purchase process, using them to read reviews, browse and research products, find nearby locations and source coupons.
Failure to provide customers with the seamless cross-channel shopping experience they have come to expect can lead to a disjointed and inconsistent customer experience that is sure to leave shoppers with a bad taste in their mouths. It’s the small things that count, and there are few things more frustrating than prices not being aligned across channels, having different policies or not honoring sales and coupons at every location.
Mastering the omnichannel dance
Integrating online stores into the complete retail footprint has become a real challenge for many merchants, particularly when it comes to maximizing efficiency. Retailers have to account for drop shippers, third-party marketplaces, mobile shoppers and a bevy of omnichannel services such as in-store pickup. All of these factors challenge merchants’ ability to deliver a satisfactory customers experience.
As Multichannel Merchant contributor Frank Poore summed it up, in many ways, retail has evolved. What used to be a simple dance has become more complex – there are dozens more steps in the omnichannel tango that many merchants are currently involved in. Missing even a single beat will not only result in a frustrating customer experience, but could also create more work for retailers and damage their margins. Moreover, the competition has gotten so much fiercer, even a single misstep may cost retailers their customers as other merchants are taking great strides to offer a seamless shopping experience.
However, while the competition is more intense, the good thing is that retailers no longer have to make millions of dollars worth of tech investments to keep up. By leveraging the right solutions, even smaller sellers can compete with the big dogs such as Amazon.
“Retailers that can’t afford an investment on par with Amazon – and that includes most brands – should be creating a network of partners that gives them the ability to compete on the same scale,” Poore explained. “So when a customer makes a purchase online, the retailer can route the order to the closest fulfillment partner and ship the order through any number of delivery methods.”
It all comes down to the execution of the omnichannel shopping experience – retailers must ensure their dance is well choreographed. When the dance is performed on beat, customers cannot tell a difference between the workings of a multinational retail corporation such as Amazon versus a small retail startup. It is only when retailers fumble that this becomes obvious.
Where to start with the omnichannel choreography
Stringing together the optimal omnichannel experience is no easy task, but it starts in two critical areas, according to Poore: Product discovery and product selection.
This refers to how people find the items they want on merchants’ websites. Social media, direct mail catalogs, search engines – these are all potential referral sources. Entire campaigns can be put together using multiple sources to help people discover the products they need.”Whether shopping on a search engine or comparison site, desktop or tablet, consumers must be able to find your products and have a consistent experience that meets your brand standards,” Poore added. “That requires a tremendous amount of product content collaboration and systems integration, as well as the optimization of content for search across multiple platforms.”
For years, retailers have been limited to the array of products they can offer by the walls of their warehouses and stores. One of the key benefits of modern retail technology, however, is that merchants can improve their product offerings by leveraging drop shipping and marketplaces. Citing a study from E-DSS.org, Americommerce noted that approximately one-third of Internet retailers utilize drop shipping now, and order fulfillment tools make it easier than ever to do so.
Omnichannel retail experiences were a big topic of conversation in 2014 and that trend will continue into this year as well. It is absolutely critical that merchants are able to adapt to the more complex dance of the modern retail climate. Doing so gives them a huge competitive edge that will help them compete against even the biggest retail industry players.