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What really is omnichannel marketing and why is it the future of retail?

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Online shopping is here to stay. A global healthcare and social crisis has changed drastically the habits of consumers worldwide, and particularly in the UK, it has become clear that nearly 1 in 2 people will shop mostly online this Christmas.

Amidst these changes, retail brands and marketers have found themselves dealing with a new challenge. How to adapt to these sudden changes? How to tap into an ever changing consumer base and make sure that you can still bring customers to the shops? There are, in fact, ways to let in-store experiences blend with digital environments and become even more intertwined. The answer may lie in omnichannel marketing. 

We reached out to Andy Stockwell, Chief Commercial Officer at RedEye, to learn more about this exciting topic below.

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Is omnichannel marketing the future of retail?

Though omnichannel marketing is relevant for a wide range of sectors, due to the challenges that retail marketing have faced over recent months, I’ve chosen to focus on this area in particular, though the underlying principles are transferable. 

Online shopping has seen a significant increase as a result of the pandemic, no surprise really considering shops were closed for months on end. However, now that the high streets have been open for a while, there has been a lot of talk about how shoppers’ habits have changed - some say for good - particularly amongst younger people who have expressed their desires to continue shopping online rather than visiting shops in person.

So how do retail marketers cope with these changes? How can retail brands keep maximising their online offering to make sure customers have a seamless experience both on and offline?

Online shopping is here to stay

First things first, though the high streets, shopping centres and retail parks have all reopened, online shopping is still very much here to stay. People enjoy being able to shop from the comfort of their home - especially as the threat of the pandemic is by no means gone. The bedroom has become the new fitting room. So how do retail marketers incorporate this new trend and continue to drive footfall in-store?

What we expect to see is that the digital experience and the in-store experience are going to have to become even more intertwined than ever before. The skill you need to harness as a retail brand is making sure those channels work effortlessly together and complement each other. 

How can you use digital to drive customers in store - whether that’s for an instore purchase or simply for click and collect of an online purchase. It might be the case that your physical store becomes a virtual shopping experience perhaps? Or it might be that you have a lot of customers who prefer the in-person shopping experience, but want you to give them that digitally and from the comfort of their own home. 

For retailers willing to embrace the challenge, it’s certainly an exciting prospect ahead of them as they look to combine their various channels to create one seamless experience that appeals to all. So what does that look like?

Omnichannel 101

In a nutshell, Omnichannel marketing is the integration and cooperation of the various channels retailers use to interact with consumers, with the goal of creating a consistent brand experience. This includes physical (e.g. stores) and digital channels (e.g. websites). 

The goal of an omnichannel marketing strategy is to create a convenient, seamless user experience for consumers that offers many opportunities for fulfillment.  An omnichannel strategy may give consumers the chance to find and purchase online, in-store, or a combination thereof - such as “buy online and pick up in-store”.

Thanks to online channels, modern consumers have more options than ever and expect information in real-time. Omnichannel marketing enables them to engage with brands on their own terms, leading to a better customer experience overall.

The key to succeeding with a seamless integration of on and offline is to change your mind shift from individual channels, to an Omnichannel approach. This is absolutely a retail marketer's best friend as you navigate the new shopping reality, as it allows you to deliver a joined up customer experience wherever and however your customers choose to shop and engage with your brand. 

Understanding your Customer Data

The key to a robust omnichannel marketing strategy starts with having a clear view of your customers' engagements and behaviours all in one place. When you know how, when, where and why they are shopping and engaging with your brand,  you’ve got clearer insights to understand what is the best way to communicate and engage with each individual customer – based on how they like and prefer to interact with your brand. Looking at historic as well as current behavioural data helps to identify individual customer preferences. Taking a look to see what customers did before this third lockdown could be a good indication of whether or not they’ll return to the store, stick to online, or pursue a mixture of both. For example, did they purchase online with you at all when stores were open after the first lockdown?

The type of data retail marketers look at to segment audiences can reveal a lot about behaviour patterns and helpfully predict what customers may do now. Of course, it is not enough to make decisions purely based on historical data - you need to be constantly gathering up to date data points to make sure you have the clearest, most up to date view of each individual customer. All of this will help paint a better picture of how your customers will want to engage with you going forward. This can underpin your omni-channel strategy and ensure that whatever marketing communications you send will be as relevant as possible to each individual customer.

Driving Online Customer In-Store

There are still opportunities to drive your customers in-store as part of your omnichannel approach and key drivers that marketers need to consider include; 

  • The tangibility of products - some shoppers still can’t get past the appeal of being able to see, touch, feel and try on a product before they buy it. 
  • Inspiration - many shoppers still like to browse or window shop in-store to see the new trends, what’s in fashion for the new season before they shop, either online or in-store.
  • Socialising - after being cooped up inside for so long, there’s still a social aspect to shopping, probably more so amongst women. It’s still considered as a ‘day out’ with friends or family to go shopping on the local high street or to the shopping centre. 
  • The personal shopping experience - it can be more efficient and personal to shop in person. No need to order multiple sizes or colours as you can try before you buy and don’t have to worry about returns. 

Understanding the future of retail

In my view, I think the future of retail isn’t certain and will be an ever changing landscape, at least for the next few years. However, in my opinion, I’d expect to see fewer but larger physical stores in response to the current trends - especially as more than half (51%) of the ‘influential Gen Z’ group expect shops to become more of a space for browsing in the future[1].

I was pleased to see that there is a willingness to support local businesses, 68% of consumers in the UK believe that shopping locally is important and a majority expect to shop more locally post-pandemic than before[2].

But when it comes to omnichannel retail there are two insights that I think all marketers need to be aware of and build into their strategy: 

  1. 41% of shoppers plan to increase their click & collect use this year2
  2. 73% of customers will use multiple channels during their purchase journey[3]

Omnichannel is the future

At the end of the day, as a retailer, as a brand and as a marketer, it’s important to give your customers the experience that suits them and in a changing world with varying appeal, omnichannel is the way forward. 

It’s no one size fits all, navigating new shopping behaviours will continue to be changeable for both customers and brands. However, ensuring a seamless omni-channel experience for customers means you can be confident you are delivering the perfect ‘best of both’ affair.

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