In 2022, retail finds itself at a unique turning point in consumer behavior. For much of the last decade, in-person and online shopping channels have largely been deployed as two separate paths—empowering customers to choose the lane they prefer and follow it to the point of purchase. This approach worked for a while. But as new digital capabilities and fulfillment options have matured to facilitate shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, the line between these two channels is quickly disappearing and creating a new, modern customer journey.
Take, for example, the recent rise in “Buy Online, Pickup In Store” (BOPIS) popularity. Leading BOPIS retail strategies seek to blend these two channels together seamlessly, allowing users to shop via mobile app or online website, and then pick-up at a convenient curbside location or a designated in-store customer service desk. For brands like Target and Gap, these strategies have been a roaring success. In fact, 39 percent of consumers currently hope BOPIS remains a common retail service in the post-pandemic world.
However, BOPIS only addresses a small portion of the broader omnichannel retail strategy brands need to design and orchestrate to meet evolving customer expectations.
What is Omnichannel Retail?
Omnichannel retail represents an integrated approach to customer engagement that focuses on enabling customers to navigate a singular customer journey through a variety of different channels—including the physical store, social media, the web, phone, text chat, and more.
Omnichannel retail differs from its predecessor, multichannel retail, in one key way. While both strategies account for the many different channels customers expect to be able to use today, multichannel retail fails to make sure the transitions between channels across a single customer journey are seamless. In 2022, these brands are opening themselves up to experience friction and customer frustration that can damage hard-earned brand reputation.
Why Omnichannel Retail is so Critical to the Modern Retail Strategy
Consumers have more options than ever before. More importantly, they’re willing to shop around to find the price, product availability, and customer experience that works for them. As consumers continue to jump between channels researching products, checking product availability, making purchases, and completing returns, omnichannel retail strategies ensure this unpredictable movement doesn’t disrupt their relationship with your brand. Only when the digital, in-store, and human elements of the customer experience are unified and working together harmoniously, can brands achieve the retail Holy Grail: Engaging customers in the moments that matter—wherever that moment is taking place. In a competitive retail environment, where every experience a consumer has is compared to their last best experience, creating these powerful moments can go a long way toward earning repeat business and driving loyalty.
6 Steps to Achieve Your Omnichannel CX Goals
By carefully following six key steps—and partnering with the right customer experience experts to fill in the blanks—any retail business can begin to map out omnichannel customer journeys that resonate. These steps will help you ask the important questions as you work through the overarching strategy and tactical deployments needed to execute a powerful omnichannel experience.
- Map Your Current State: Research is core to any strong omnichannel strategy. Consider using Voice of the Customer (VoC) and Voice of the Employee (VoE) programs to begin understanding your existing customer experience and identify gaps or opportunities. Sometimes it can help to use these insights to create a visual representation of the paths and channels your customers use to interact with your brand.
- Define Your North Star: A North Star should serve as the focal point of your optimal CX experience. You will use your North Star experience to provide a vision for what omnichannel should look and feel like across every channel your customers use to interact with your brand.
- Identify Opportunities for Improvement: Common sources of customer and experience friction include gaps in your data, high frequency points of customer abandonment, and poorly implemented digital tooling, to name a few. Remember, the key to omnichannel retail is seamless connectivity between channels, so it can be helpful to engage in “safari” customer journeys to identify where challenges might be hiding in the gaps between channels.
- Develop a Transformation Strategy: Once your gaps have been identified and your experience vision has been selected, it’s time to decide how you will get from A to Z. Be sure to consider the timeline, concrete objectives, and metrics that will define a successful transformation.
- Orchestrate the Improved Experiences: This step requires an understanding of how you’d like people, processes, and technology to work together to serve your customers and meet their needs. Ensuring all these facets work together also necessitates a deep understanding of your tech stack—how tools can be integrated and extend via APIs to remove silos and support omnichannel engagement.
- Measure Your Success: One of the most useful measurement strategies is to deploy feedback mechanisms around your omnichannel retail performance. Surveys, interviews, and VoC programs can help your team decide if new initiatives are meeting the mark. Even if they are, regular measurement sets your team up for long-term growth as you seek to stay in lockstep with customer expectations.
This article highlights the overarching strategies at the center of omnichannel retail. For a more detailed look at the definitions, tools, and techniques involved, you can download a Guide to Omnichannel Retailing.
Brian Lannan leads the Avtex retail experience team in developing go-to-market strategy and new IP to expand offerings to the retail industry, helping Avtex customers transform and differentiate by delivering innovative, personalized, and engaging experiences for their customers. Brian joined Avtex in 2021 from Target, where he led the guest experience team and was responsible for experience strategy and insights, guest-centric culture development, voice of guest, and brand and reputation insights. Visit Avtex.com/retail to learn more about Brian and his team.