A successful omnichannel retail strategy integrates customer engagement and operational solutions that range from e-commerce platforms to in-store digital signage, kiosks, mobile device-enabled interactions, and point of sale (POS) systems. As a result, retailers and brands can more easily derive business insights and deliver personalized buying experiences that drive customer preference and loyalty.

Omnichannel retail is a strategy in which retailers engage customers through multiple digital and physical touchpoints. As customers move across these channels, applications and data move with them. This creates a consistent, on-brand experience from start to finish. With this understanding, large brands are now using an omnichannel store as media strategy, along with other experiences, within a brick-and-mortar location to further their reach, visibility, and impact with their consumer audiences.

"We are entering the world of “phygital”—physical and digital at the same time, where there is not a physical world or digital world in retail, but rather a completely connected one."

When today’s customers shop, they use everything from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to websites to social media to mobile apps. Customers expect connected journeys, and 76 percent of customers expect consistent interactions across departments2. Customers also expect the omnichannel retail process to address product delivery options, including curbside pickups, lockers, buying online and picking up in store (BOPIS), and all other touchpoints in their relationship with a retailer.

With an integrated omnichannel strategy, retailers can provide hyperconvenient, personalized shopping experiences at every point in the customer journey—whether that customer is shopping online, via their mobile device, or in a store. The idea behind omnichannel retail is to create frictionless and personalized customer experiences at the exact moment of relevance.

Creating a better experience for customers across all channels, in turn, fosters greater satisfaction and loyalty, as well as additional benefits for the businesses themselves. By analyzing the customer journey, retailers can improve their strategies around marketing, merchandising, loyalty programs, and inventory management, and they can dedicate resources where they will matter most to meet their customers’ fast-changing expectations.

The Future of Omnichannel in Retail

Optimizing customer engagement and experiences across channels is an ongoing effort. Customers expect convenience, which means digital experiences need to have smooth interchanges and integrate well with in-store operations.

Given the recent changes in buyer behavior, customers may expect that convenience means they don’t have to go to a store. If customers do need to go to a store, they will want a meaningful reason, such as an experience they cannot get online or that starts online and completes in the physical location. Consequently, merchants will need to design unique, thoughtful buying experiences that personalize to their customers’ wants and needs.

For example, imagine a customer using a mobile device to search for or purchase a product. The data from that buying journey or purchase gets transmitted to the business’s systems that look for trends, patterns, behaviors, and product updates. The brand’s sales representative can then access and use the information derived from that data in near-real time, through point of sale (POS) systems or other enabled devices, to provide that customer with personalized upsells or promotions. Even more, retailers can use the data analytics to see buying trends, track product performance, and update sales strategies and marketing campaigns.

Source: McKinsey & Company

Opportunities for frictionless customer experiences are becoming commonplace:

  1. A customer can buy a product online or from a mobile device and easily pick it up in the store, curbside, or from a locker.

  2. An item placed in an online shopping cart will appear in the customer’s mobile app and in in-store platforms, such as POS or sales assist systems.

  3. A customer can use a mobile app or self-service kiosk to find an item in the store. If it’s not available at that location, the customer has the ability to easily find and order it from another store. By sharing insights across the cloud from multiple stores, the second store can not only respond locally to larger system-wide trends but also have the item pulled from inventory and ready for pickup when the customer arrives.

  4. When a customer is returning an item, the POS system will accept a proof of purchase from any channel using the customer’s membership details or credit card.

Omnichannel retail requires a cohesive, 360-degree experience in store, curbside, and online. Social commerce will become a more significant strategy using, for example, livestream videos that promote in-store-only deals.

Curated products that forecast as popular based on customer buying data will become a focal point in future marketing campaigns that drive demand. Suggestive selling will be customized based on integrated insights from consumer information.

"Winning brands have transformed their traditional business models rapidly by leveraging a plethora of digital practices."

Given the increased volume of online purchases, it is likely there will be more returns. As a result, making returns faster and easier becomes part of the overall customer experience and, ultimately, an influencer determining the brand relationship quality.

Automation will support human labor so routine tasks can be delegated in the interest of ensuring human workers can focus on customer relationships and responsibilities that require higher-order thinking.

Omnichannel retail will consider back-of-house operations for warehouse automation, inventory control, and better fulfillment procedures. Last-mile delivery is already a focal point for visionary retailers. In time, shorter delivery windows will become a standard customer expectation.

Altogether, with the array of technological advances and support, there has never been such an exciting time to be in the retail business. The future of omnichannel retail is as merchants and their customers design it.

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