You’ve probably heard someone, somewhere utter the word “omnichannel.” It sounds hip, new, and revolutionary. But what exactly is it?
In a growing online world, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate real tactics from buzzwords. To add to that, the word “multichannel” often gets thrown into the mix, and it can be confusing to understand how the two are different.
Here is the why, what, and how of an omnichannel retailing strategy to cover your customers from beginning to end.
Table of contents
- What is an omnichannel retail strategy?
- Single channel vs. multichannel vs. omnichannel retail
- Omnichannel strategy example
- Benefits of an omnichannel strategy
- How to develop an omnichannel retail strategy
- Retail and POS apps for your growing ecommerce business
What is an omnichannel retail strategy?
An omnichannel strategy is a sales and marketing approach that provides customers with a fully integrated shopping experience. Omnichannel strategies unite user experiences across multiple touchpoints, including brick-and-mortar, web, and mobile devices.
Single channel vs. multichannel vs. omnichannel retail
- Single channel: A business that sells its products or services through only one channel, such as a retail store.
- Multichannel: A business that sells through multiple channels, such as a brick-and-mortar store, ecommerce site, and marketplaces.
- Omnichannel: A business that offers seamless shopping across all of its channels, such as physical stores, online stores, marketplaces, mobile apps, and catalogs.
The big idea is that, in omnichannel, every customer interaction changes the customer’s overall experience of your product and brand.
Omnichannel strategy example
Pressing questions surround a truly omnichannel retail strategy:
- Can your customers browse a product in-store, scan it with your app, and then add it to their bag to purchase later at home in a different size?
- Can they browse your online store for new styles, explore those outfits on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and then get an in-store coupon to redeem?
- Does your data connect in-store purchases so loyal customers get notified on Messenger when similar styles are released online or off?
- Can your customers search for your products on Amazon, or another marketplace, then purchase them in-person?
They should be able to do all those things and more.
To illustrate, let’s look at an example from discovery to checkout and beyond.
The entire customer omnichannel journey typically begins with discovery. A customer will research products, find detailed information, and compare prices across different channels, such as the company website, retailer websites, online marketplaces, and social media.
Example: A customer is looking for a new pair of shoes. They research the different styles and sizes available online, then visit an online marketplace to compare prices and discounts.
Once customers have identified the product they want to purchase, they typically move to the purchase phase. Here, customers can make a purchase through a retailer’s website, an online marketplace, or a physical store.
Example: The customer purchases the shoes through a retailer’s website. They enter their card details and make the purchase.
After the purchase has been made, the fulfillment stage kicks in. This is where the customer receives their order and makes the purchase official. In the digital world, this is typically done through email, SMS notifications, or automated tracking systems.
Example: The customer receives an email confirmation of their order and a tracking number so they can track the delivery of their purchase.
Finally, the customer experience stage starts. This is where the customer decides if they are satisfied with their purchase and experience with the brand. Customers can leave reviews and feedback and access customer service should they require more assistance.
Example: The customer is satisfied with their purchase and leaves a positive review on the retailer’s website. They also follow the brand on social media to stay updated on future deals and promotions.
Benefits of an omnichannel strategy
There are a few key benefits to creating an omnichannel strategy:
- Makes it easier to optimize stock levels and improve inventory management. An omnichannel strategy gives businesses a better understanding of its inventory, and lets it fill orders from anywhere.
- Helps you gain a competitive edge. Some 80% of shoppers in a physical store browse online channels before or during a purchase decision.
- Better customer experience. Customers want options when it comes to how they interact with brands. By using an omnichannel approach, they can engage on different channels and get a consistent experience, which improves customer engagement and satisfaction.
- Increases sales. By using multiple channels, omnichannel businesses can reach a larger customer base. As a result, you'll make more sales and improve your customer lifetime value. One analysis found that omnichannel customers spend 20% more than single channel shoppers.
- Personalizes the customer journey. An omnichannel strategy makes capturing customer data and creating detailed customer segments easier, leading to more personalized shopping experiences.
- Creates a unified brand experience. Omnichannel retailing makes creating a consistent brand experience easier across all channels. This can help you build trust and customer loyalty.
Recently, the Harvard Business Review studied 46,000 shoppers and found that “omnichannel customers loved using the retailer’s touchpoints, in all sorts of combinations and places. Not only did they use smartphone apps to compare prices or download a coupon, but they were also avid users of in-store digital tools such as an interactive catalog, a price-checker, or a tablet.”
Beyond having multiple channels and points of contact, shoppers loved when an integrated omnichannel experience was available. Creating a more seamless transition from channel to channel has the power to help you retain the majority of your customers.
Are you ready to create your own omnichannel retail strategy? Here’s where to get started.
How to develop an omnichannel retail strategy
- Research where your customers already are
- Make every touchpoint shoppable
- Bridge the gap between online and offline
1. Research where your customers already are
The first step in creating a flawless omnichannel retail strategy lies in figuring out which platforms, mediums, and devices your customers use on a daily basis. That includes where they like to shop, where they hang out, and what experiences motivate their daily lives.
If you know that none of your customers use eBay, there’s no point in wasting your budget on it. So don’t guess. Analyze, instead.
A quick way to figure out popular channels for your business is by looking at the Acquisition reports inside Google Analytics. There, you can see which specific places are driving people to your site, meaning you can see how customers are discovering your business.
If you want to go a step further, you can run different attribution reports in your Multi-Channel Funnels section to see the typical “funnel paths” (or steps) people take prior to converting.
Looking at the entire conversion path like this helps you properly identify marketing attribution, or which channels and campaigns deserve proper “credit” for driving the sale (as opposed to just looking at the final site that sent a customer).
Shopify Plus users can add the Attribution Connector to side-step this manual labor. It will provide similar graphs, charts, and analysis, pulling in cost data from your advertising channels and then comparing that cost with individual customer activity.
Best of all, though, is the in-depth customer view. You can zoom in to see the exact path each individual customer took before buying. It will show you how much each customer is worth. And Attribution Connector will even show you the multiple devices, phones, and apps a customer used throughout their journey.
Poring over this data will help you gain a general understanding of the most important touchpoints for your business.
Now that you’ve nailed down specific platforms to streamline or improve, it’s time to build off of that understanding for an omnichannel buying experience.
2. Make every touchpoint shoppable
One major key to designing an omnichannel retail strategy is making every touchpoint shoppable. Just like Disney does with its mobile app, website, and theme parks.
Every time you have an experience with Disney, it has the opportunity to make a sale.
If someone adds a product to their cart from your website, it needs to be in their mobile app too. If they land on Facebook, they need suggested products based on that previous product viewing.
With Shopify Plus, you can integrate your store directly with Facebook, allowing fans and followers to check out natively.
You can use the same exact strategy on platforms like Pinterest, too. It now supports shoppable product pins, giving you another touchpoint that connects back to your online store.
With these deep, symbiotic connections between channels, you could run promotion campaigns on social media, drive traffic to your site, and have users explore how others use your product through Pinterest and check out directly from there.
The potential to make all of your customer touchpoints shoppable is almost limitless.
3. Bridge the gap between online and offline
If your retail strategy involves any sales that aren’t offline, connecting the two is critical. Just being present in both channels isn’t enough. Not in today’s world where consumers don’t make a purchase instantly at your store.
Consumers want to connect with your brand both on and offline. They want to know what’s in stock before they come to visit. They want to add that item to their cart on the way to the store and have it sitting at the register for pickup.
Big box stores like Office Depot are already making moves in the omnichannel world using this approach. Office Depot currently uses Local Inventory Ads to bridge the gap between online traffic and offline traffic.
Creating product catalog feeds that work with Shopping campaigns like this is often a messy, time-consuming, and technical issue for large inventory retailers.
Shopify and Google’s direct integration makes it easy for omnichannel shoppers to discover and buy your products with Shopping campaigns.
A user can go from keyword search to product location to buying it and picking it up in-store, while hitting multiple, interconnected touchpoints in the process.
You can see another fantastic example of an online-to-offline relationship with the Sephora mobile application.
When you shop in-store, you can use Sephora’s app to find out-of-stock items or look for special discounts via its loyalty program. With the app, you can test the colors of its products virtually, adding them to your cart for later in-store pickups.
With that, the cycle repeats and continues to generate sales.
Your physical gift cards are now connected to the app. Whenever you spend money on it, your balance updates online. A successful omnichannel retail strategy is one that doesn’t focus on a specific end destination. The most sophisticated retailers ensure their omnichannel marketing strategies are geared toward enabling customers to convert on any channel.
You shouldn’t have the end goal of producing sales on one specific platform. Instead, sales should have the ability to naturally occur on every platform, syncing perfectly between them.
The goal is to unify your omnichannel marketing campaigns and sales structure. Making each touchpoint shoppable and integrating online traffic with offline visits is just the tip of the iceberg.
Retail and POS apps for your growing ecommerce business
These Shopify Plus retail and POS apps were hand-selected for their elite functionality and ability to reduce complexity in your retail business so you can focus on growth.
These certified app technologies work seamlessly with Shopify Plus and have been approved at our highest technology standard:
- Dor: Real-time foot traffic analytics for retailers.
- Endear: CRM with personalized and trackable messaging that drives revenue.
- Marsello: Marketing automation, loyalty and referrals built for retail.
Create an omnichannel retail experience for your brand today
Ten years ago, omnichannel strategies would have seemed absurd. But today it’s the norm. The majority of shoppers have various online shopping and in-store experiences before making a purchase.
Limiting yourself to one or two platforms and lacking the seamless integration you’ve seen here can be detrimental to your long-term growth.
These tips should serve as a jumping off point for your omnichannel retail strategy.
Always look for new outlets and ways to connect each and every channel. Create an experience that isn’t locked into a single platform. Rather, create a seamless experience that can be completed and repeated on each.
Omnichannel strategy FAQ
What is an omnichannel retailing strategy?
An omnichannel retail strategy means that you sell wherever your customers buy—on your website, in-store, via chatbots, or on social media, for example.
What is an omnichannel customer experience?
An omnichannel customer experience is the result of a cross-channel selling strategy, in which brands have a single view of the customer across all sales channels.
What is an example of omnichannel retail?
As an example of omnichannel retail, Walmart operates physical stores in several cities, along with an online store for customers to use. Several options are available to customers at Walmart, including to buy online and have an item shipped to their homes. You can also pick up orders curbside or inside the store. Customers can find out if a particular item is available at their local store by checking online.
How do you create an omnichannel strategy?
The first step to creating an omnichannel strategy is identifying which channels your customers shop on the most. Then, create strategies for those channels, allowing your customers to make purchases on any of them.