What is Omnichannel Retail and Why You Should Care

Learn what the term omnichannel retail means and how you can use it to improve your business practices.

omnichannel retail hero

Omnichannel retail is more than just an industry buzzword. It has a major impact on how brands do business, and the most successful companies are leveraging omnichannel selling to enhance the customer shopping experience.

Keep reading to learn more about the basics of omnichannel retail, how it has evolved, and the different areas of your business that it will impact.

What is Omnichannel Retail?

Before we dive into the details, let’s start with a basic omnichannel retail definition. Omnichannel retail refers to enabling your various business channels to work together in order to deliver a positive and informative shopping experience for your customers, from discovery all the way through to transaction and fulfillment. Potential channels include social media, e-commerce, traditional brick-and-mortar locations, and more - all of which should enhance the customer's journey and make transacting quick and easy, no matter where she checks out.

The purpose of omnichannel retailing is to allow brands to unify the customer experience. It goes deeper than simply selling on multiple channels because it requires you to create a cohesive and seamless experience for shoppers.  

Think of it a giving your customers the freedom to buy from you where and how they want – they are no longer restricted to shopping on your main website or visiting your store in person! Omnichannel retail breaks this barrier and ensures they can transition between different shopping channels without disruption.

The Origins of Omnichannel Retail

Although the term omnichannel retail seems to have recently come into play, it was first introduced back in 2010. Marketers coined the term to describe a shopping experience that took multi-channel retailing a step further.

At that point, many stores had brick-and-mortar operations and a supporting online platform. However, these experiences were completely siloed – what you saw and did online stayed there, and what you encountered in-store could only be achieved there.

When the IDC Retail Insights report was released in September 2010, they expected to see omnichannel retailing as the foundation for successful sales and marketing in the future. They recognized that the growth of e-commerce was not going to slow down any time soon, and if brands wanted to keep up, they needed to implement solutions that allowed customers to reach them on all platforms.

By 2013, omnichannel retail had become an even more popular buzzword. The rise of smartphones continued to accelerate the need for brands to be accessible online, and a Huffington Post article suggested omnichannel strategies will be the best way to engage with consumers moving forward.

Let's fast forward to 2020 when almost everyone owns a smartphone and shops online – and we are hit with a global pandemic. Stores around the world were forced to shut their doors, and there were no other options but to connect with shoppers virtually.

Customers have always wanted convenience and streamlined digital experiences, but the pandemic gave brands no choice but to adapt! Curbside pickup, touchless checkout, and other omnichannel options allowed companies to survive the pandemic – some even thrived as a result.

The key takeaway is that omnichannel selling is here to stay, and your customer engagement strategies must take it into account.

Omnichannel retail revolves around enabling your various business channels to work together in order to deliver a positive and informative shopping experience for your customers, from discovery all the way through to transaction and fulfillment.

Omnichannel vs Multi-Channel Retail

You might be thinking, aren’t omnichannel and multi-channel retail the same thing? The short answer is no – each term represents a different strategy, and your organization should understand the difference.

What is Multi-Channel Retail

Multi-channel retail involves marketing and selling across various media. You may sell your products and services through an e-commerce site and in-store, but the experiences are very siloed. Businesses that employ a multi-channel retail strategy simply offer the channels they deem appropriate – without integrating them with one another.

For example, a brand may have separate marketing for its in-store products when compared to its online offerings. They could have different teams aimed at optimizing each of those experiences, but the key they are lacking is a strategy that ties both channels together.

In other words, multi-channel selling is rather simple. It aims to optimize specific touchpoints instead of the entire journey as a whole.

How Are They Different?

Unlike multi-channel retail, omnichannel ensures that your brand integrates the entire customer experience. It doesn’t matter if a shopper starts online and ends up purchasing in-store, or vice versa.

This customer-centric approach allows you to build a seamless customer journey where transitions are effortless, and it is easy to move between online and offline channels. To accomplish this type of experience, your brand needs a comprehensive strategy that addresses every touchpoint and avoids any disconnect or inconsistent messaging. 

So, What Else is Omnichannel?

We've emphasized the importance of omnichannel retail for brands to succeed in the current retail environment, but what else is omnichannel. Just about everything!

Omnichannel trends affect your brand's entire business, from your associates and consumers to your operations. Let’s look at how each core aspect of retail has moved to an omnichannel focus:

Omnichannel Sales Associates

As we've shared before, omnichannel sales associates are essential to creating a seamless customer journey. These team members ensure that your customers are talking to the same person regardless of where they shop. It should be just as easy for someone to reach a staff member when they are browsing online as it is when they are physically in your store!

The goal of an omni-associate is to bridge the gap between online and in-store shopping, while still providing customer support. That means these salespeople must have the ability to listen to your shoppers and proactively solve their issues while promoting your brand's products and services.

While it is not too different from a traditional retail sales role in expectations and skills, this modern version requires that associates be flexible and provide the same level of service regardless of what platform a customer wants to use.

The role of an omnichannel associate is vital since this team can make or break the customer journey! Your customers want and need your help – even if they are shopping on their mobile devices. To stay competitive in this market, your team needs to quickly meet their expectations and provide a convenient and seamless experience, starting with your sales team.

Omnichannel Consumers

Like your associates, your consumers are omnichannel too. Before the emergence of mobile technology and devices that could easily connect you to brands online, the customer journey was linear – the shopper would go to the store, buy what they needed, and that was it!

Now, your target audience can interact with your brand in countless ways. They may still come into your stores, but they also want to engage with you on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and other omnichannel platforms. In fact, according to Google, about 80% of shoppers are using online and offline channels together to make a purchase.

Not only do consumers prefer to shop on the platform they feel most comfortable with, but the devices will vary by preference too. While some shoppers may prefer their desktop computers, many will come across your brand on a tablet or smartphone.

Similarly, they want to be able to switch between these connected devices with ease. Likewise, they may prefer to order online and pick up in-store – so your tools need to be able to speak to one another to make all of this possible (and easy).

How to Cater to Omnichannel Consumers

That's easy! Give them an omnichannel associate. With Endear's clienteling platform, associates can keep in touch with customers and help them over email and text the same way they help customers in-store. Learn how Endear's clienteling solution can help you delight customers remotely.

Omnichannel Marketing

As you may have guessed, marketing has also been impacted by the rise of omnichannel. Omnichannel marketing consists of messaging and branding that is seamlessly integrated with both in-person and online touchpoints.

This marketing strategy is consumer-centric, so everything is viewed through the lens of your shoppers. It requires you to personalize your messaging based on their specific demographics, activities and interests to ensure that your brand is identifiable and consistent.

For example, if someone buys a product on your website, they should receive personalized recommendations for other things they might like over ads on social media. The same goes for purchases made in-store – your team should be able to use past interactions to inform your marketing efforts or e-commerce recommendations!

Omnichannel marketing also includes packaging with QR codes that allow you to transfer a physical experience into a digital one. Just like with omnichannel retail, omnichannel marketing embrace both online and offline resources to improve the customer's impression of your brand.

Omnichannel Reporting

Reporting is another aspect of your business that will be impacted by omnichannel. You need to have the right tools in place to capture data from every touchpoint.

 How are they working together? Are certain channels working against each other? Do any bottlenecks exist? 

Omnichannel reporting will allow you to answer these questions so that you can analyze consumer behavior and improve the customer journey even further. The goal is to centralize your data so you can provide the best service possible – regardless of what platform they use to shop on.

For instance, your data should track engagement across every channel so that you can learn about your customers' preferences and add value.

Omnichannel Operations

Did you know your operations and fulfillment functions are impacted by omnichannel too?

If you want to offer attractive options like curbside or in-store pickup, your fulfillment and operations teams need to be able to complete online orders quickly. They need to communicate with customers right away to let them know when their items are ready to be picked up and answer any questions that they may have.

Similarly, your merchandise associates must partner with omnichannel operations to replenish your products and streamline the inventory process. These individuals will work to collect feedback from customers too to ensure that all their shopping needs were met!

There you have it: omnichannel retail explained! The key to taking on an omnichannel retail strategy is to start with what is most important to you and work your way through to make sure your business is omnichannel from top to bottom. With Endear, you'll be able to transform your sales team into an omnichannel salesforce that can serve audiences in-store and online and empower your consumers to shop however they'd like.