In today’s 24/7 world, retailers who want to remain competitive have to serve consumers when they want, where they want, and via the device of their choice. With an abundance of both physical and digital options at their disposal, shoppers are hopping from channel to channel at various stages of their purchasing journey: They might check out reviews on social media, browse listings in a marketplace, compare notes with the store’s ecommerce site, and even pop into a brick-and-mortar shop to see an item in person.
The kicker? Well, it’s twofold. For one, customers expect a unified experience across every touchpoint. And even then, it’s not guaranteed that they’ll ultimately make the purchase. With so much power at their fingertips, today’s buyers are known for adding items to their carts and never purchasing them.
How can omnichannel sellers capitalize on these meandering shoppers and maximize their marketing efforts to meet them wherever they are?
To find out, Webgility’s VP of Marketing Anati Zubia spoke with omnichannel marketing experts from Shopify during an episode of Tales from the Ecommerce Front. Sean Buckley and Koshika Samarasinghe are key members of the Retail Partnership team at the ecommerce powerhouse, where they’re dedicated to helping merchants unify their in-store and online sales with tools that set them up for the future of retail. With features that integrate online stores, marketplaces, and in-store points of sale, Shopify is leading the charge on omnichannel commerce—and always at the top of our list for insight into the latest industry trends.
Watch the interview below or check out the transcript to hear from Sean and Koshika as they share practical tips you can incorporate into your omnichannel commerce marketing strategy.
Defining Omnichannel Commerce
Anati Zubia, Webgility: We have been shouting from the rooftops that the future of retail is omnichannel commerce, but what exactly is omnichannel commerce?
Sean Buckley, Shopify: There’s a distinction that we like to make between multichannel and omnichannel commerce because some people might think that they mean the same thing. Multichannel means that you’re selling on different sales channels. You might have an ecommerce store and a physical store, or you might list on places like eBay or Amazon. But those channels aren’t necessarily connected. They’re not talking to one another—they’re not sharing data and insights on the pre-purchase journey, at the point of purchase, and post-purchase. An omnichannel solution, on the other hand, connects your in-store shopping, your ecommerce marketplaces, mobile web, and social marketing campaigns that you might have. All of your channels are all connected.
All of the data that’s being gleaned from those channels is connected. And you’re able to gain insights. The data speaks to you, and you can make actions based on that to better run your business and improve commerce across the board for you and your merchants. And in that omnichannel solution, that means that not only is the data pooled, but it’s speaking to all of the channels in real time. There is no double entry. There is no reconciliation post-sale or at the end of the week when everything is reconciled in real time as it happens across all the channels.
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: I’d describe our view of omnichannel as the customer being at the center of the retail experience. You integrate each of those touchpoints that the customer uses to interface with your brand to offer them what they need, the moment they need it, anywhere they are, and on any device. That whole experience is then powered by that unified commerce of uniting your backend data with your frontend, customer-facing interfaces, and having that holistic view of your customer, how they interact with your brand, and all the data that you need to make the right decisions for your customer’s journey across all of those multiple channels and touchpoints.
The Impact of the Omnichannel Consumer
Anati Zubia, Webgility: It sounds like one of the key points is that unified experience. It’s about putting the customer at the heart of everything you’re doing and making sure that they’re having a shopping experience that is seamless from one end to the other, and they don’t know what’s going on in the backend. They just want to shop and they want to have that same brand relationship that they’re having, whether it’s online or in person.
I know Shopify has done a lot of really great research around some omnichannel consumer trends and what they bring to the table for an online retailer today. I think they’re kind of the dream shoppers, right? We’d love to hear a little bit more about what that omnichannel consumer looks like.
Sean Buckley, Shopify: An omnichannel consumer will interact with your brand or your storefront well before they actually make the purchase decision. They’re doing a lot of active research, and they might do that research across all of the channels that you’re providing them—the services with which you reach them. A good example would be, they might see something in their social media feed that’s tailored toward their types of viewing habits, and it might present your product. From there they might go to your website, do some more research. They might go try something on in store and then go back home and check out via social media, because they’re reminded of that. They see your ad again, and you can purchase right through the ad, or maybe they come back home and they purchase through your ecommerce store and then they go and pick it up. They’d go buy online, pick up in-store. Basically, that journey was not the traditional walking into the storefront, seeing something on sale on the front window, walking in and buying it. It happened across all of these surfaces.That’s kind of what a modern-day consumer journey looks like.
Because there are multiple services involved, the omnichannel consumer tends to be more viable for repeat purchases, because you can hit them in these different surfaces even when they’re not at your store or only at your website, and you can drive repeat conversions and drive repeat interest. And that means that the customer is more valuable to you versus somebody who just shops once at your store.
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: The brands that make it really easy and fun for customers to shop with them across those channels and really help their customers feel seen and valued end up having the most loyal customers. Turning a customer into a repeat customer that keeps coming back means that you have this customer that’s now a brand ambassador. They could be promoting your brand on social media. They’re willing to spend more, they’ll try new products, they’ll leave reviews, which is amazing, right? And most importantly, they’ll keep coming and coming back and buying from you. So, to your point, they really are the holy grail of shoppers, but it takes time and effort, and actually that unified view of your data to find who those customers are and then target and retain them.
Sean Buckley, Shopify: Something else jumped out at me as Koshi was adding that info when she mentioned reviews and posting about the product or that experience on social media. That’s an awesome part of the post-purchase omnichannel customer experience, where now you don’t necessarily have to invest in advertising to people that you normally would have, because the customer is an advocate for you. That omnichannel customer becomes an advocate for your business. And they’re doing it for you. There’s nothing more powerful than a user review or a trusted referral from a friend to try something out, a product or service. When you can get that omnichannel customer to that point to leave that positive review, it becomes a very, very powerful tool for others that are researching pre-purchase to get them to convert.
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: Honestly, we have some merchants that are doing that so well. There’s one called Pura Vida Bracelets that uses Facebook ads, and they use influencer content as their ads. And their engagement is through the roof because they are using their own customers as brand ambassadors. It’s very, very cool.
Omnichannel Marketing Success Secrets
Anati Zubia, Webgility: How do some of our online retailers get more of these shoppers, these omnichannel consumers as customers? Are there any secrets that successful omnichannel marketers have up their sleeves? I know we shared one here with your example, Koshi, but are there any others that can help some of our retailers get more of these kinds of customers?
Sean Buckley, Shopify: I talked about this a bit on the webinar that we did, but there are three secrets to helping understand who these customers are and how merchants can target them and curate that audience. One is understanding the journeys that these customers take. This is where having an omnichannel solution versus just a multichannel setup is really key, because you can understand: where did that customer start? What were the different surfaces that they went to and engaged with your solution? Did they click on an ad? Did they give you an email address at a certain point in time? Did they go to your website and add something to the cart? Did they go to your store and try it on? What was that customer journey? Number one is just understanding that journey or conversion path.
Number two is understanding what conversion paths are the most profitable for your business. Once you understand what the paths are, look at the paths and say, okay, well the pathway that starts with Facebook is generating a lot of sales on my ecommerce checkout. You need to rank your pathways and see which ones are the most valuable. And then you want to see what types of customers are following those pathways, so that you can get an understanding of who your customer base is. And after doing that you can start to see, okay, these are my customers that are following my most valuable path.
Now, I’m going to think of tactics to apply to the market to that customer base. What types of tactics might work for that specific customer? Because I want to curate more of my most valuable pathways, and the tactics might be giving them information about the value proposition at a certain point in the pathway, giving them motivation. Maybe you give them a discount when they give you their email so that you can market to them and track them better. It could be something like a cross-sell opportunity. There might be something that bundles in with what they keep looking at that actually helps them make that purchase decision. Because as a bundle, it’s a more compelling product offering or even gamification tactics.
There’s one merchant and I apologize, it’s escaping my mind, but they have an interactive spin wheel of discounts that comes up at a certain part of the pathway. And that spin wheel has increased their conversions at the point of purchase by like 30%. People that actually engage with the gamification, just having that happen at a certain aspect of the customer journey has increased the actual conversion.
You can experiment, especially on the digital front in the online solution with different pathways and where you would add different types of tactics, like discounting or bundling or increasing value proposition pretty easily and pretty readily. And you can do A/B testing to see what works and what doesn’t. This is the power of omnichannel that allows a merchant to do these things readily with their tools.
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: It’s super powerful for smaller merchants too because, for example, if you have a ton of data on your customers, you can tailor your messaging, your offers, and your rewards. So, they’re super meaningful. That’s even important to big box retailers—Nordstrom does a great job of that—but it’s also really important when you are a small brand and you’re building your customer to do things in a really meaningful and relevant way to find you a niche customer and make them loyal and a repeat customer. All of the tactics Sean was talking about, that’s where you need to focus your energy.
Marketing Tactics that Drive Productivity, Predictability, and Profitability
Anati Zubia, Webgility: Those are some great insights there. There’s always that buying-intent analysis that you can do. A good example of this is if you sell standing desks—what’s the bundle opportunity there? Do they need to have a monitor attachment? Do they need to have the standing pad? What else becomes a value that you can add onto that? Offering a discount on a bundle there is going to increase your order volume at that first touch. But also knowing that information lets you advertise past that point if they’ve bought a desk—that’s the “give a mouse a cookie” thing, right? Where if you’ve got this, you need that. The nice part about that is they could have bought that item in store physically, and then now online, they’re seeing an experience of what the next complementary products are for them to procure.
Both Webgility and Shopify, we’re really on the front lines of trying to help omnichannel commerce scale what I call the three Ps: productivity, predictability, and profitability. You both have touched on those with some of those tips. Are there a couple more omnichannel marketing tips you want to let go for our viewers at home?
Sean Buckley, Shopify: There’s a couple of actual tactics that we could touch on. There’s abandoned carts that you can track. If somebody were to add something to their cart, go through the process of giving you their shipping information and their email and whatnot, and then they abandoned it, we’ll send them retargeting or reminders about that. What’s really cool about the omnichannel solutions knowledge, you can send them reminders on it in the form of an Instagram ad or a Facebook ad that has that specific product in it. You can get really targeted on how you do that. Or if that customer comes into the store, if your point of sale is integrated into your omnichannel platform, the associate in store can see the abandoned cart right on the point of sale. Then they can understand if they should be reminding the customer of that product, and you can get a really tailored in-person shopping experience as well.
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: Post-sale as well is a great touchpoint, because a lot of brands will offer a discount or a further incentive to bring the customer back to shop more. And that can be a great point to suggest tailored products to your customers so that they see what the other options are and that may lead to another sale.
Data and a Unified Customer Experience
Anati Zubia, Webgility: I think a core component we talk about with omnichannel is that customer experience is at the heart of everything you’re doing. If you’re doing something digitally and you’re doing something in store, having the data tell you the entire story is extremely important. I always tell people to avoid data loss at all costs. You really have to get that into an aggregated format. Figure out what people are shopping for, where they’re shopping, what’s driving a purchasing decision, what’s driving a research decision, and really looking across the line again into those three Ps.
This is how you’re going to dive in and look at profitability as well. From that perspective, ask yourself: is that channel more profitable than another? Can you do something different to change that purchasing habit? There’s a lot you can really gain if you have got an aggregated data approach. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in omnichannel today is you’ve got a lot of different data and a lot of different places—bringing that together is pretty important. I know that the retail team at Shopify has spent a lot of time looking at that. Any other advice that you can give to people on how to get that data clear? What do you do if you’re living in that chaos? Like get out of the spreadsheet, right? What would you guys advise?
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: I have a great story about one of our brick-and-mortar merchants. They’re called LIVELY, and they’re a retailer in New York. For the first time, they launched a personalized shopping experience with Shopify. Customers could book a “fit sesh” online for one of their stores. But what became really meaningful is they unify data across online and all of their point of sale locations. That gave them the insight that 30% of their revenue came from people who booked these fits sessions online. The average order size from those customers was 60 to 80% higher than what they were seeing from walk-in customers. So, to me, that’s such a great example of the value of unifying your data, because it gives you this complete picture of your business and helps you understand what works and what doesn’t and then where to invest.
Sean Buckley, Shopify: That’s an excellent example. Even if they were doing that but the data wasn’t serving the insights, you wouldn’t understand that that is a good place to invest. If you had data loss between the online and the in-store, so you had an external booking system and you were running it manually and having those bookings, you wouldn’t know that there was a 30% lift there and the 80% gain on the other side. And there’s an unknown opportunity cost all of a sudden because of the data not talking to one another. You might lose that data which impacts the customer experience too. We started the conversation saying omnichannel is customer-centric and this is where it provides a lot of value and opportunity.
Data loss can not only negatively impact your ability to see potential revenue insights, but it could negatively impact the customer experience. Imagine trying to return something in store that you bought online, if your policy is that you’re allowed to do that. You as a merchant say yeah, we’ll gladly allow you to return in-store purchases made online, but that order wasn’t synced between the systems and there’s data loss there. Now there’s an objection coming from the part-time associate in the store. It’s just following the rules, and there’s a poor customer experience. Preventing that at all costs is essential. That’s another value there to your omnichannel solution.
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: Exactly that. That happened to Neiman Marcus on Black Friday a few years ago where they launched buy online, return in store at their Last Call stores. And because they hadn’t interfaced their data, they literally had to call up to process every single return while the line just built up outside the store. It was really bad. People had social media posts about it.
Some of Our Favorite Omnichannel Marketers
Anati Zubia, Webgility: Yeah, it’s definitely a learning experience. I think what it really shows is that a big brand makes some of those same mistakes as well. If you’re a smaller retailer right now and you’re growing your omnichannel business, it’s good to know you’re not alone in this. Even the big guys struggle with some of these experiences.
I have just one more fun question for you guys. We’ve mentioned a few key examples, but I’d love to know an omnichannel retailer that you think just has an amazing customer experience and how they’ve leveraged some innovative marketing tactics to make it happen.
I’ll jump in first with mine. I’m a huge Sephora fangirl mostly because you can go in their stores and try on anything, right? They’re really known for how you can sample any of the products, but how do you create that experience online? They actually created a virtual app now that you can select certain products and try it on through AI technology. It’ll put the makeup right on your face, which is kind of neat. It’s creating that try-on experience at home which is a great experience to have that trial both in store and online. What are a couple examples of brands that you just think are doing a great job with omnichannel?
Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify: I can talk about another beauty retailer. I actually love Sephora, so I was a big fan of Sephora as well until I got won over by Credo. Credo Beauty is a Shopify brand, which I found out about very recently. I should add that I’m their perfect niche customer, because I want these clean, cruelty-free products, which I was buying from Sephora. But what really was interesting to me about Credo is they took me through this entire omnichannel journey of touchpoints, which was almost everything that Sean described a little bit earlier.
First they sent me a card in my mailbox when they were launching their retail location in my neighborhood. It must have been a good card because I read it; I didn’t put it in the bin. They then targeted me with more direct mail flyers. So, I went and checked them out online because they gave me a coupon. I ended up making a purchase, and they mailed me coupons in the box with my item, which incentivized me to buy more. They are actually the retailer with the spin wheel that Sean mentioned. I used the spin wheel, and they retargeted me on Facebook which worked also. Their content was obviously very relevant, and the best part is now it’s so good because all of these touchpoints just work. I signed up for awards, I’m on their mailing list, and I’ve never been into a store.
My last retail experience with them, I used one of our app partners because they’ve launched this very cool virtual shopping experience where you can talk to a retail associate online at any time to ask any questions about the product. You can actually do video calls with a store associate to see what products look like, what they feel like. That’s all done through an app partner we have on Shopify called Hero. So it was kind of fun to see that end-to-end journey, also powered by Shopify, and all of that data that they used in a very meaningful way to deliver that super meaningful customer experience.
Anati Zubia, Webgility: It sounds like just knowing that customer is the biggest part. They had to really understand who their ideal customer profile was and they tailored that experience to the way that you like to shop. That’s why it was so successful. So, Sean, what’s an example that you have?
Sean Buckley, Shopify: Mine is one that I’ve pulled from our textbook of case studies from Shopify: Betsey Johnson, the New York fashion designer. The brand has curated an excellent omnichannel experience as well. They have a really big digital following on Facebook and Instagram—there’s over a million fans or followers across those social channels. And they use really high-quality photography and brand photography and lifestyle photography to showcase the products, and they allow potential customers to interact with that. They can create that customer journey through those social channels, and they can click the “learn more,” or go to the website or the online store and right away when they start.
If they come from Facebook and they go to the online store, the online store knows it’s attributing it from that specific Facebook post in that journey. It’ll create a micro-tailored message that is saying, “Here’s your Facebook sourced incentive,” or something along those lines, to grab the email and capture that information from the customer. Now, they’re opted in to email marketing and you can now market to the customer without having to do paid advertising or cost per click. Then from there they get the ability to purchase through all those channels wherever they’re going back and forth from the Betsey Johnson omnichannel solution. They’ll get marketing messages that push them back towards Facebook. They can check out from Facebook or they can do so online, or they can drive traffic to the stores that carry the brand. For example, they can say we’re available at Macy’s in your area. The customer can go and then they can compare the order data for Macy’s with the information on their omnichannel customer journey touchpoints. They drive engagement across all the channels. It increases conversion, and they also promote that user-generated content. Users are mirroring the lifestyle imagery that they have on their sites. Users will do that themselves. They’ll take the brand in it, and then the brand will use that to help influence other people that are interested in the product itself.
Anati Zubia, Webgility: That’s an extremely powerful example. It is an example of a brand that, again, knows their ideal customer profile. They’re speaking to them, they have a relationship with them, and they’re actually promoting them. They’re letting their voice be heard through that omnichannel marketing experience, which is that holy grail of reaching the peak of omnichannel. Those are great examples. Unfortunately, we’re right at the end of our time for today. I wish I could talk to you guys some more about this. Maybe we’ll have to do another episode together. But again, it’s always an absolute pleasure talking ecommerce shop with both of you. For our folks listening, I hope you guys stay tuned. We have more episodes of Tales from the Ecommerce Front coming where we gather our latest tips, tricks, and those what-ifs for online retail success. Thanks for listening.