The Retail world is evolving fast and the revolution that is taking place involves both consumers, who have changed their buying habits with the use of new technology, and the various sales channels. As a result of these changes, we are now hearing increasing talk of omnichannel solutions in the Retail sector.
But what is meant by this term, what changes does it bring to a Brand’s strategies, and how can it further influence the consumer?
The Evolution of the Sales Channel
Omnichannel in Retail provides a new way of marketing for Brands: to understand how this change in practice has evolved, we need to take a step back and look at the preceding stages, examining the sort of strategies the Retail sector has had to adopt over time.
In the past, we referred to single-channel marketing, as companies had a single way of selling goods. This was the time before the advent of the Internet, when the physical store was the only point of direct contact between the consumer and the Brand.
Things changed with the global diffusion of the Internet: people finally had the opportunity to buy both online and offline. We started talking about the multi-channel strategy, which had to acknowledge that there were now two sales channels, and develop ways of marketing to involve both of them without losing any customers.
This evolution resulted in the concept of cross-channel marketing, by which the two sales channels combine: the consumer purchases online but picks up the goods in store, or orders something in store for delivery to his home.
Omnichannel in Retail: how the Brand has changed
From cross-channel solutions, the sector was quick to start developing the first omnichannel strategies.
These not only allow the customer to use a variety of channels for his shopping experience, combining them as he wishes, but also offers him a truly integrated and dynamic experience, with the chance to have an ongoing and meaningful dialogue with the Brand.
So, in this era of omnichannel solutions, every channel has to represent the company in the same way: communicating the same values, remaining consistent in its approach to the consumer and adhering to a single marketing strategy, developed to suit the various channels but speaking with the same voice.
Online solutions do not take over the role of the physical store, but instead help boost its sales by improving the customer experience.
Furthermore, for some Brands such as clothing and accessories, the store continues to play a fundamental role for the consumer, and digital solutions mainly serve to strengthen his ties with the company.
Omnichannel in Retail: how the Consumer has changed
The consumer has now become a “prosumer“: he is proactive, he does his research before buying, he knows the product or service, he compares prices on different channels and only then chooses the most convenient and advantageous way to purchase.
To change consumer behaviour, the Brand needs to know about every possible customer journey and to adopt a dynamic approach: using apps and in-store technology to collect more data on customers and transforming these data into useful information; this sheds light on how the purchasing decision is made, the particular channel is chosen, and helps predict how the behaviour of the Brand’s customer base will evolve.
Increasing customer profiling allows the Brand to intercept the consumer on the right channel and follow him up to the moment of purchase, making every moment of contact he has with the Brand into an engaging experience.
The Advantages of Omnichannel
This change of approach has clearly brought many advantages for those working in the Retail sector.
Thanks to data collection, greater user profiling is now possible, resulting in a greater knowledge of consumers, their approach to the purchasing process and changes in their tastes and habits over time. By cross-referencing these data, it is also possible to construct predictive models to anticipate the behaviour of future customers.
By integrating all the various channels, the omnichannel system helps to break down temporal and geographical barriers: it is possible to buy anything anywhere, and at any time.
This factor, together with the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of the customer, can clearly help to increase sales. It can also help create a deeper relationship with the customer, who chooses a particular Brand not only for its product or service, but also for the customer journey it offers, and for its ability to convey a set of values shared by the user.
The Risks of Omnichannel
In common with all strategies, the omnichannel approach carries certain risks, and these factors need to be taken into account.
The first drawback could be a financial: adopting an omnichannel strategy means investing a considerable amount of capital up front, while the return on investment may not happen quite as quickly, and not all Brands will be able to bridge this gap.
Another potential risk should also be considered: the company will need to invest in staff training. Thanks to the Internet, today’s consumer is generally well informed about the product or service he wants to buy, and expects to find someone in the store who can contribute added value to what he already knows. It is therefore important that his expectations are fulfilled.
The creation of multiple channels through which the customer can interact with the company also requires more careful and precise supervision. Consistency is also very important: the Brand must always be presented in the same way: by using, for example, the same image and language register and the same corporate colours
Finally, in order to collect all the data to improve customer profiling, the company will need to invest in the physical infrastructure required for data collection, analysis and security.
The company that decides to go down this road will have to accept that the journey may be long, and that effort and dedication will be required. Moreover, the results, both in terms of profits and image, will take some time to materialise, as the company will need to review all its internal and external processes, while simultaneously trying to keep up with others who have already implemented this policy.
Despite all these concerns, adopting an omnichannel strategy now will ensure a competitive and economic advantage in the future over other Brands that have not moved forward, and will also improve the company’s image in the eyes of customers.