Consumer Demands Then & Now9 min read
Only 15 years ago, the average consumer used two touch points when purchasing an item.
That number today? Six.
So, how are retailers supposed to keep up with the demands of today’s consumers? By adopting an omnichannel retail marketing strategy.
The long answer is way more fun. So, stick around. Because in order to understand what’s going on with the world of retail today, we have to first analyze what went down in the past. How did the big names used to do it? And how are the pros keeping up?
- Omnichannel retail marketing isn’t about being EVERYWHERE you can be, but more about being where your customers are
- Since customers are demanding the best from companies today, this customer-centric approach is the only way to survive
- The benefits of an omnichannel approach are immediate, convenient, efficient and still profitable
What is the history of omnichannel retail marketing?
The significance of the retail store has shifted across history, especially in recent years. Despite the rise in e-commerce, online shopping, instant deliveries and flexible store environments, consumers are still visiting storefronts to do their research and gallivanting.
Back in the early 2000s, when the dot-com bubble burst and sent us into an era of technological innovations and mere oblivion, retailers tried their best to keep up. With rising competition from the online sphere, companies capitalized on what they knew best.
And so they built their physical spaces wider and taller.
What is single channel retail?
Single channel retail is the use of one channel to buy, sell, market and communicate with customers. There are only two main types and they are brick-and-mortar stores (offline) and e-commerce stores (online).
Believe it or not, the world is not Jeff Bezos’ playground quite yet, and these businesses still do exist. Some may even thrive!
They have their benefits and limitations – as do all things, so let’s consider them for a moment.
- Centralized information
- Single warehouse
- Streamlined communication
- Less overhead costs
- Predictable expenses
- Drive sales growth and focus on strengths
- Maximize control in a saturated market
Single channel retailers take advantage of being the best at what they do. In an saturated market, if their company can come out on top and maintain the authority source on their product, they may be coasting for a while.
With one channel, each department or internal team might be able to more easily track their sales data, predict their inventory levels and maintain consistency throughout their marketing efforts.
If they’re all in the same place, reaching customers and keeping them happy can’t be hard at all, right?
Wrong! There’s still a ton of noise that they must consider, and some realize before it’s too late.
- The digital age is happening NOW
- Less flexibility and convenience for shoppers
- Less consumer touch-points
Even before the dot-com boom, companies had to consider the ease of the shopping experience for their customers. They had to remain agile and play off of their strengths, hoping that their competitors wouldn’t beat them out.
If you owned a store or a chain at the time, you had to hope that your customers would either intentionally seek you out or drive by you during their daily commute. People’s lives have always been busy, even before they were distracted. So relying on just one consumer touchpoint was bound to crash and burn.
Some didn’t survive, like the beloved children’s store, Toys R Us.
Like Toys R Us, most companies couldn’t compete with the digital space at all and played their best hand at maximizing their physical presence. But the ‘expert’ in-store sales associates were replaced by digital marketing tools and landing pages.
Some of them were building websites, buying relevant domains and crash-coursing their way to the ecommerce realm overnight. And we all know that even today, that’s no easy task.
These companies were single channel retailers in a multichannel world.
The rise of multichannel retailing
The idea of multichannel retailing is to adopt as many channels as possible and manage them separately.
Yikes. This is going to get real messy, real quick.
But I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. Maybe this could work for you? Check out why it could sound beneficial in theory…
- Retailers can sell as many products as possible by expanding their footprint
- Keep up with digital advancements
- Manage each channel’s strategy separately
More money? Nice. Adapting to the times? Keep up the great work. Manage the channels’ strategies separately? Hold up.
I hope you’re thinking the same thing that I’m thinking. Where does this leave the customer?
It’s naive to think that your customers will believe in what you’re selling to them if you’re all over the place.
Without further ado, let’s talk about why this won’t work:
- Retailer-centric mindset causes gaps in customer experience
- Lacks a cross-channel message and strategy
- Disconnect between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce strategies
- Multi-warehouse management leads to supply-demand gap
- Difficulties in data accuracy and consistency
If you are going into this strategy with intentions to maximize your profits and fix your crisis of disconnection, you’d only be solving a fraction of the real issue.
- “Look at my product!”
- “Give me all of your money!”
- “We’re sorry for the inconvenience / delay / misunderstanding.”
Some critics argue that omnichannel wasn’t even born from multichannel, and that it’s a separate beast entirely.
Multichannel retail is a conceptual middleman in the shift to the coveted omnichannel experience that we should all strive to achieve.
What lessons can we apply from the evolution of retail? Below, our goal is to demonstrate why omnichannel is the obvious winner, and it’s not going anywhere.
Here to stay: Omnichannel retail marketing
The term “omnichannel” describes the combination of multiple channels to market, sell, buy and deliver goods to customers. Omnichannel retailers leverage both online and offline spaces to meet their customers’ needs and demands.
While there are commonalities between multichannel and omnichannel, heightened integration between channels makes omnichannel reign supreme.
The key to a genuine omnichannel retail marketing strategy is its customer-centric mentality. You must work to deliver a consistent brand experience at each touchpoint, meeting your customers exactly where they are. Your channels should be friends, not cannibalizing enemies.
For consumers, that means a seamless experience moving between online and offline channels; for retailers, that means a single platform with integrated systems between digital and physical options.
Omnichannel AND omnipotent
There’s no right or wrong way to crush it in an omnichannel game – which is what makes it fun! You can explore your options.
While some may focus primarily on ecommerce stores to sell goods, others may rely more heavily on their brick-and-mortar network.
You might generate most of your revenue online and still leverage a brick-and-mortar showroom for your products.
One prime example of an omnichannel approach is that of Peloton, digital fitness platform and producer of stationary bikes.
Whether it is through their strong Instagram presence, cult-like following or physical showcase rooms in malls, Peloton is consistent. They prove that they are always there for their customers and want to make exercising attainable and convenient.
On the flip-side, a mall-based or brick-and-mortar retailer that derives most of its revenue from store sales can lean into mobile and online channels to market and sell goods.
One company doing it well is Sephora, the beauty connoisseurs that sell countless makeup, hair, and skincare brands in-store and online. They blend the online and in-store experiences beautifully.
Their stores are filled with knowledgeable salespeople and makeup artists, ready to offer beauty tips, free makeovers, and products to try. Can’t make it into the store but still need help from the experts?
Online, customers can use their Beauty Bag accounts to track their purchases, watch tutorials, scan items while in store, create a wish list, and much more!
Companies need to be creative and think outside of the box. And what’s more, they MUST think about the customer experience in everything they do.
The strongest omnichannel strategy
Remember, omnichannel is alive and well and truly here to stay. If you aren’t connecting with your customers across a variety of access points, or unifying consumer interaction between online and offline, your retail business is missing out.
Still not convinced? Check out some of these stats:
- Marketers using three or more channels in any one campaign earned a 287% higher purchase rate than those using a single-channel campaign
- Customer retention rates are 90% higher for omnichannel vs. single channel
- 71% of shoppers who use smartphones for research in-store say that it’s become an important part of the experience
- 90% of customers expect consistent interactions across channels
To make sure you aren’t experiencing this opportunity cost – and to win at this omnichannel game – here’s what you need to be doing.
Integrate your approach
Success in the omnichannel game isn’t about simply connecting with customers across a variety of different mediums; it is about integrating your strategies so that they work together as a harmonious whole.
Start to view the omnichannel approach as a unified strategy, bringing each member of your team together and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Smooth transitions between channels, consistency between on and offline stock levels, and a streamlined customer experience throughout the whole lifecycle are only achievable via a concerted effort. So make sure you are in a position to provide this.
Map out the journey
Perhaps a customer connects with your products through a trusted friend’s referral. They follow you on social media to keep up with your new products and deals and are pleasantly surprised to see an online sale on seasonal products.
They browse through your online inventory, maybe add a few things to their cart, but don’t go through with the purchase. Instead, they visit your store one day in passing and make the purchase there, before re-engaging via one of your after-sale support emails.
This is the nature of the consumer experience in the omnichannel world. But each journey is different.
Deploy feedback loops and reach out to customers to discover where they are at each stage in the process, then use this information to map out and understand the journey. You can’t improve something until you understand it, so prioritize gaining knowledge and taking action as a primary component of your omnichannel strategy.
Springing the omnichannel surprise on your customers and reaping the benefits simply does not work. Customers’ expectations are high, and rightfully so.
You can’t make every customer happy, but you can certainly try. 90% of consumers expect an omnichannel experience today. They want to be able to shop online and pick up in stores or browse through helpful articles to be sure they’re making the right purchase decision.
You need to be where your customers are before they get there. And you need to be helpful. This means answering their questions, comparing product benefits and being honest if your competitors’ products might better suit their needs.
In Oracle’s 2021 retail consumer research report, when asked what defines a poor shopping experience, online or offline, the top response was unsurprising to us.
If you want to stand out from the competition, you have to be willing to share your expertise. And we don’t just mean talking about how great your product is, but more importantly how you can help your customers fulfill their needs.
Over to you
Going the extra mile and delivering a positive experience during every interaction is how the omnichannel game is won. Be sure to stay in the front of the race and explore each channel as a possible solution for your company.
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