A great omnichannel experience is based on creating an impression of connectivity and seamlessness, even when the processes at work behind the scenes are hugely complex. People have a lot of choices today, and it makes sense for them to work with companies that offer simple value rather than increasing the complications of buying goods, whether online or in person.
While it may take less work to operate brick-and-mortar stores and eCommerce processes separately, the extra effort of making them work together could introduce enough convenience to the customer experience to win continued loyalty. Rather than being forced to explain why stores and a website that bear the same name don't have compatible processes, great omnichannel companies have the infrastructure to combine them.
Succeeding in Subtle Ways
A true omnichannel success may go unnoticed by the customer. People can receive customer service through a host of different channels, buy in ways that are convenient to them and receive marketing messages on platforms they actually use. When this goes off without a hitch, it's easy to accept as simply the way things should be.
Multichannel Merchant contributor Jason Trout recently listed a few instructive examples of companies' productive and helpful omnichannel operations. For example, fashion chain Oasis has enabled customer convenience by equipping staff members with tablets and granting them access to the company's eCommerce backend. The connection also goes the other way and the system automatically searches store inventories to fulfill out-of-stock online orders. Combined with omnichannel free returns, the chain has won high marks with its shoppers.
Trout noted that the real key to omnichannel is understanding what customers need. When putting together a strategy, it may be tempting to simply create a sales solution that works across a website, mobile channels and brick-and-mortar options. However, all the other services consumers expect and enjoy must come along. This means reverse logistics, customer care and outreach and product research.
Thanking omnichannel operations for loyalty
Companies that gain new ways to interact with their customers through omnichannel improvements can see tangible improvements to shopper loyalty. According to Loyalty 360, a recent Lowe's earnings report featured high-level praise for the company's investment in and focus on its omnichannel programs. The company designed it's solutions to be available to customers at each "critical moment" of their journey, according to CEO Robert Niblock.
The Lowe's call provides a good case of a company's perspective on its own omnichannel transformation, with Niblock stating the improved performance in this regard is one of the factors behind consumer traffic growth. Thus far, customers have responded well to their ability to connect to the company in many different locations and through various platforms.
The emphasis on location shows one of the important facets of omnichannel operations today – with consumers carrying mobile devices with them wherever they go, it's important to ensure that the online elements of service and shopping options function correctly on smartphones.
One of the most worrisome trends for retail leaders in the past few years has been "showrooming," the prospect of consumers using mobile devices to shop for bargains online after inspecting the same items in store. The solution to showrooming may involve joining the fight, creating easy-to-use online portals that will bring people closer to the store they're browsing in, rather than driving them to online competitors.
Creating a strong infrastructure
Whether working alone or with a third-party partner, today's top merchants have to find ways to bring their backend systems together. This could mean changing and unifying the approach to warehousing, shipping or data management. As many companies make such changes and improve their omnichannel operations, pressure will increase on the remaining hold-outs to do the same. The more normal and expected omnichannel offerings become, the more jarring it will be when a company doesn't offer such convenience.
Wildly different prices in-store and online. Inflexible return policies that exclude some channels. Parallel customer service structures that give different experiences to eCommerce and brick-and-mortar shoppers. These are some of the spell-breaking moments that can leave shoppers feeling distinctly disenchanted with a particular merchant. Companies that succeed in omnichannel processes may not receive a lot of specific feedback from consumers on their efforts, because if they create comprehensive and helpful structures, the end result will feel completely natural to the customer base.