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The crucial role of omnichannel strategies in modern retail

An omnichannel strategy aims to seamlessly integrate communication across multiple platforms to supply consistent, personalised customer experiences. It goes beyond offering various purchase points; it breaks down silos and ensures that consumers enjoy a seamless purchasing journey across different channels.

Emerging channels and trends: 

New channels are emerging; the global social commerce revenue, for example, is projected to reach a staggering $6.24 trillion by 2030.

Pureplay retailers, like Amazon and Shein, are recognising the importance of an omnichannel strategy by entering the physical retail space. In March 2021, Amazon launched its first Amazon Go grocery store in the UK. More recently, Shein has been running a pop-up store campaign across the UK, including a 3-day presence on London’s Oxford Street this September. Equally, companies with a primarily physical presence are venturing into the digital realm, for example, Primark launched its first online shopping experience through a click-and-collect concept only last year.

However, online retailing is completely different to physical retailing, and the skillsets are not transferable. Some retailers struggle to produce a compelling physical format that does more than simply provide clever tech. Meanwhile, most physical retailers find making a return from online elusive and as the channel gets bigger, their profit dilution becomes an increasing problem.

Aligning the end-to-end experience and examples of success:

With an increasing number of purchasing channels, brands must ensure that the end-to-end experience is consistent across all touchpoints to ensure customer satisfaction and business success. According to HubSpot, 93% of customers who love the service they receive become valuable repeat customers, and 86% of customers are willing to spend more money for a better customer experience. Positive interactions foster brand loyalty, driving a 306% higher lifetime value for retail businesses.

Creating a seamless omnichannel experience involves three key elements:

  • Technology integration: Sephora is a prime example, offering in-store make-up trials and extending this experience online through the virtual artist app. Nike also excels in this area, utilising technology in their 55,000 square foot New York store which includes recording customers playing basketball, football and running to understand their shoe needs. The video is available through their Nike accounts, and they can share this on social media. The app itself is smart and uses data collected to generate future personalised recommendations.

  • Unified systems: Best Buy’s mobile app allows users to filter results based on what is currently available in the store closest to them, integrating stock information across stores and online. Starbucks allows users to add money to their loyalty card whilst waiting in-store, with real-time updates on their balance.

  • Employee knowledge and collaboration: In a recent interaction with Reiss, it’s evident that the company prioritises a seamless omnichannel approach within its physical retail setting. This strategy seamlessly integrates various aspects of the shopping journey, including mobile shopping, in-store trials, alterations, home delivery, and in-store returns. The store team's proficient understanding and execution of the omnichannel strategy encompasses the significance of connecting the physical and digital realms, always ensuring a convenient and streamlined customer experience that should be championed.

Consequences of failed omnichannel strategies:

Offering a compelling omnichannel experience used to be a competitive advantage for a retailer but now it’s a requirement for survival.

Sears is an example of a retail giant which once thrived but its sad failure to evolve led to a long and painful collapse as it filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

Sears was a catalogue-only retailer for decades before it opened its first store in 1925. Launching an e-commerce site in 1997, stores were left lacking the investment they needed; with rivals Walmart and Target outspending on store improvements. Whilst launching the Sears Grand prototype in 2003 (smaller “off-mall” locations), it proved to be a success, but they only opened 12 Grand stores which was too few to mitigate the negative impact of the bigger, outdated stores.

They invested less and reduced 31% of their store estate from 2013 to 2017. Unfortunately, the demand didn’t shift to online, and the closure of stores meant that Sears’ visibility started to dwindle, and online sales fell by 50%. Sears lacked the technology to effectively manage its supply chain and inventory. Competitors like Walmart used tech to understand best sellers in specific locations, improving the availability of products that customers wanted, while Sears relied on word of mouth of store colleagues about best sellers.

It's useful to consider Sears’ experience in the context of NEXT in the UK. Before online came along, NEXT was already a true multichannel retailer trading through both stores and catalogues. From the start, it leveraged the structural strengths of catalogue retailing (warehousing, the management and fulfilment of orders, credit management and data analysis) to gradually migrate online. Meanwhile, it continued to proactively manage and invest in its store estate ensuring the two channels developed together.

This showcases how important it is to invest in all elements of the omnichannel strategy. By neglecting one area, adverse effects penetrate the rest of the business.

The path to success:

In today’s retail landscape, creating a cohesive and positive omnichannel experience is paramount for survival and growth. Achieving this requires internal alignment, including omnichannel planning solutions and mastering an omnichannel supply chain. These elements enhance and support the omnichannel experience for consumers, fostering brand loyalty and increasing overall spending.

In the next instalments of TPC’s omnichannel blog series, we’ll delve deeper into these strategies and provide insights on achieving harmony in your customer experience. Exploring how we understand the challenges retailers face and can help integrate your people, processes, and technology to achieve success in the omnichannel era.



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