June 2, 2020

The Key Challenges in Omnichannel Retail

Whether a customer is shopping online or in store, omnichannel retail is as prominent as ever. Regardless of the advances in technology and the recent claims that online shopping is killing the high street, both will always exist, meeting shopper requirements in a variety of ways. Some customers like to spend time browsing in store and being able to immerse themselves in the experience, whilst others like to skip the stress of fitting rooms and queues and shop online at their leisure.

The way we shop today has evolved not just into multi-channel, but omnichannel. The digital marketplace has become a way for potential customers to scope out the brand, compare prices and research reviews. For any brand, being successful in their field requires a multi-dimensional approach to marketing and being committed to being visible online, otherwise they’ll lose out to competitors.

Instead of creating a segregated user experience, with traditional in store shopping on one side – which is viewed as therapeutic or highly stressful – and secretive, late-night online shopping sprees on the other, omnichannel retail challenges these stereotypes and makes it possible for the two scenarios to work simultaneously. This is where the difficulty lies – how do retailers bridge the gap between them and make them work equally hard to meet their business goals?

The main challenge at the moment is, of course, the previously mentioned fall of the high street, with The Guardian reporting in July that in-store growth has not topped 1% in the single month for the first half of 2018. However, the issue here is that the cause is not easily identifiable and can’t be blamed solely on the rise of social media, the digital world and the accessibility of online shopping.

It’s true that it plays a part in the struggle to deliver successful omnichannel retail, but there are large fingers pointing to the state of UK politics and ever-increasing business rates for high street brands. This in itself is a challenge, as an omnichannel strategy doesn’t exist without a physical store for customers to visit. In its most traditional form, an omnichannel retailer is one that has both a store and an online shop, with all the social channels in between. But what about those businesses who choose to bypass having a store altogether and go straight for the online-only strategy?

Amazon and eBay have proved that this is possible, and rely on clever integrations like ‘recommended for you’ and feedback sections to keep users coming back, as well as multiple delivery/pick up options that show the brands care about convenience and the importance of choice.

Implementing an omnichannel strategy is probably the toughest part of the process. To find loyal customers and drive sales, money needs to be spent on integration, particularly on mobile apps. There are issues with both touch points – in physical stores customers are often disappointed that their size isn’t available or the item they went in to buy isn’t on display. For true omnichannel retail to work, the process needs to be forward thinking and allow customers to scan a product to find it in another store there and then, or add it to their online basket for later.

Being an online customer should translate over to the store, and vice versa. If coupons and gift cards are integrated into our smartphones, there’s no longer the frustration of forgetting to bring a physical voucher with us, leading us to leave the store unsatisfied. This may seem like an extreme way to look at it, but if retailers aren’t thinking for their customers as well as about their customers, sales will continue to fall.

Online there are similar challenges, it’s not always easy to return unwanted/unsuitable items and tends to be a time-consuming task. The internet is full of memes and amusing content about ‘online shopping fails’ where the item arrives looking entirely different to what was ordered. Retailers are tackling this issue, with many brands such as New Look and John Lewis offering in-store collection which gives the customer the option to try on/have a look at the item before they take it home, saving a repeat visit for a refund.

The challenge ultimately is ensuring that as many omnichannel processes are in place to allow customers to chop and change between in-store and online shopping with ease. When it comes to social media – another crucial element – the main challenge is demand. Users see their favourite celebrity/actor/reality TV star wearing a product or using a service and suddenly websites crash as everyone rushes to order it. The impact of influencers means that businesses have to be omnichannel to compete. Communicating with their customers around the clock becomes a priority and presenting their product in an attractive way encourages the rest of the strategy to work.

Brands are open to more scrutiny than ever with the social media element. Previously they may receive an angry phone call or email if their online order didn’t arrive on time or a sales assistant would bear the brunt of a customer’s anger if they couldn’t find what they were looking for in store. Now, customers can take to social media in their thousands to complain and essentially damage the brand’s reputation if they feel like it, even if they did just make an honest mistake.

In conclusion, although omnichannel retail does throw up a variety of challenges, being in it is essential in our current climate. Innovative ideas and consideration of customer experience goes a long way to grow business and develop amidst a digital revolution.