Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will probably be fully aware that retail is changing. Online retail is fast outpacing the bricks-and-mortar store, with sales through digital channels, including mobile, rocketing by 23% in 2015 alone. Amazon, of course, is King of the Castle, with its platform now accounting for 26% of all online retail sales. Clearly, retailers need to change their tactics to meet the needs of the modern consumer.

Omnichannel is the answer.

The omnichannel retail strategy centres around the ability to provide a seamless experience across bricks-and-mortar stores and across a range of digital channels. Retailers that are on-board with the omnichannel revolution know that the strategy not only differentiates them from competition, but also gives them an advantage, particularly over online-only retailers. Rather than surrendering their bricks-and-mortar stores and going fully online, they recognise the intrinsic value of the in-store experience, a value which is not going anywhere any time soon.

There is, in short, substantial economic value in providing a cross-channel experience.

A study by the Harvard Business Review examined the shopping behaviour of 46,000 US retail customers, all of whom had made a purchase with a particular US retailer between June 2015 and August 2016. The results were intriguing…

Just 7% of the participants were online-only shoppers, and only 20% only shopped in store. The remaining 73% were omnichannel customers, using multiple channels during their shopping journey.

How Do Omnichannel Customers Shop?

HBR’s study showed that customers used the retailer’s touchpoints in a variety of places, and in many different combinations. They used:

Smartphone apps to compare prices and/or download coupons
Interactive catalogues, price checkers, and/or tablets in-store

They also:

Purchased online and picked up their purchases in-store
Purchased in-store and had their purchases delivered to their home

So what did that amount to?

It was found that these omnichannel customers spent 4% more every time they visited the bricks-and-mortar store. They also spent 10% more online compared with those customers who used just one channel.

And, perhaps most interestingly of all, for every additional channel they used, the omnichannel shoppers spent more money in-store. Customers who used over 4 channels spent a whopping 9% more in-store (on average) compared to ‘monochannel’ shoppers.

To summarise: the HBR study demonstrates that deliberate online searching beforehand led to a greater value of in-store purchases.

This finding goes against the grain of conventional wisdom around ‘showrooming’. Rather than researching in-store before going online, omnichannel shoppers do quite the opposite.

So, clearly, we need to embrace omnichannel, and embrace it tightly. But what’s the best way to do it?
With customisation.

At the centre of a good omnichannel retail experience is delivering a strongly engaging and relatable online experience to the customer. It is this experience that will encourage them to move from one platform to the next across your brand, and – crucially – entice them into a purchase.

We have written at length on this blog about the necessity to place the customer at the centre of their own experience. By developing a platform that supports rapid and iterative modifications in order for the customer to tailor their shopping experience to their individual requirements, the experience becomes something over and above shopping. It becomes fun. It becomes centred on them. And everybody’s favourite topic is themselves.

Allow customers the opportunity to design how the site appears to them. Install standard page formatting selection options which will let the customer focus solely on the products and content topics that appeal to them most. Allow them to select options for notification and priority viewing of certain items that interest them. Offer them links on the homepage to suggested external content for them to engage with; content on sites like Pinterest and YouTube that will whet their appetite.

All of the above not only optimises user experience, it also provides you, the retailer, with an abundance of data in order to further tailor their experience, both now and for the future. This data collection and analysis will fuel your ability to create a living brand that adapts and evolves with every customer interaction.

This might, however, seem to be an incredibly labour-intensive job. It is true that the monitoring and updating of this customised content requires constant maintenance. But luckily for you, you live in the age of machine learning algorithms.

Platforms like Netflix and Amazon have long been using recommendation engines to serve customers more personalised content. For example, the ‘customers like you bought…’ functionality we have all experienced on Amazon is created via the use of a clustering model of machine learning. This algorithm groups similar actions into clusters, highlighting commonalities between individual consumers to group them together. As the algorithm becomes more experienced, the deeper its understanding of the behaviours of these cluster groups grows. Over time, the ability to customise content for individual consumers becomes incredibly accurate, particularly with repeat customers.

Fostering Community Spirit

We live in a time when people are increasingly isolated from one another in person, but thrive on digital interaction. That’s why a key aspect of a strong customisation strategy will involve the building of an engaging online community for your customers. This can be as simple as nurturing your social media accounts, which in themselves form a key channel of the omnichannel framework. For retail, Instagram is an excellent tool that can be easily integrated with the brand website to showcase both new product offerings and user-generated content, for example. Alternatively, you can host a brand community directly on your website, which can take a number of forms, but should be tailored to meet your brand’s requirements.

Retail brands must now always consider how best to engage their consumers across multiple platforms. Creating a seamless interaction across mobile, web, store, and beyond is now a key part of maximising sales, as the above research from Harvard Business Review has shown. We must always be considering what personalisation means to the consumer, and addressing ways to be constantly and consistently improving user experience.

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