The internet is ablaze with questions from sellers, brands, and retailers looking to launch or grow an omnichannel business. We tasked our omnichannel commerce experts with answering the most frequently asked questions in their areas of expertise—including what omnichannel is, why it matters, and where to start. See for yourself why omnichannel is the future of retail, and how you can incorporate winning strategies into your own business.
What exactly is omnichannel commerce?
Let’s start with a definition, shall we? “Omnichannel commerce is a sales approach with two or more sales channels that provides a seamless customer experience across each channel,” says Anati Zubia, Webgility VP of Marketing.
Others in the industry agree that a unified customer experience is key. “With omnichannel, the customer is at the center of the retail experience,” adds Koshika Samarasinghe, retail product manager from the team at Shopify. “You integrate each of the 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 means your brick-and-mortar store, your online shop, and your ecommerce marketplaces (like Amazon or eBay) are all connected. Having interconnected data from those channels empowers you to make actions based on those insights to better run your business and improve the process for you and your customers.
What’s the difference between omnichannel and multichannel commerce?
“Both omnichannel and multichannel ecommerce strategies involve selling products and services on more than one physical and digital channel,” explains Zubia. “The significant difference between the two is how the customer experience is unified across those channels.”
Multichannel commerce includes two or more sales channels with siloed customer experiences. Omnichannel, on the other hand, provides the customer with an integrated and unified customer experience across each sales channel.
Here are a few examples of a siloed multichannel customer experience:
- A brand’s physical store has its own stock and sells that merchandise directly to the customer, while its website maintains a separate inventory and sells the associated stock only through digital channels.
- Purchases made in a brand’s physical store can only be returned in-store. Returns of online orders are not always accepted in-store.
What are some examples of an omnichannel commerce strategy?
What does an integrated customer experience look like exactly? Zubia shares some examples of an omnichannel commerce experience:
- Buy online, pick up in store: Customers can place orders ahead of time and use curbside pickup or collect their items in-store.
- Omnichannel returns and exchanges: Customers can return online orders in-store, in-person orders online, or any other combination.
- Buy in store, ship to customer: A physical store’s sales associate uses a mobile device to assist an in-store customer by checking inventory on an item that isn’t available in the physical store, instead placing an online order to have the product delivered to the customer’s home.
- Omnichannel rewards: The brand offers a loyalty program whereby customers can earn points and redeem rewards no matter where or how they are shopping.
What is an omnichannel customer experience?
“An omnichannel consumer will interact with your brand or your storefront well before they actually make the purchase decision,” says Sean Buckley, retail partnerships lead at Shopify. “They’re doing a lot of active research, and they might do that research across all of the channels with which you reach them.
“They might see something in their social media feed that’s tailored toward their types of viewing habits, and it might present your product,” Buckley adds. “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 when they see your ad again, or maybe they come back home and they purchase through your ecommerce store and then they go and pick it up.
“Basically, that [omnichannel customer] journey was not the traditional walking into the storefront, seeing something on sale on the front window, walking in and buying it,” he surmises. “It happened across all of these surfaces.That’s kind of what a modern-day consumer journey looks like.”
What are the benefits of an omnichannel commerce strategy?
Simply put: consumers are demanding an omnichannel experience. More than 70% of shoppers use multiple channels before making a purchase. “They’ll use as many as a dozen channels or devices before making a purchase decision,” says Buckley. Consumers expect to have multiple touchpoints with a retailer, and they demand that their experience from each touchpoint or channel be seamless.
Omnichannel customers are also more likely to:
- Become advocates for your business
- Become repeat customers
- Spend more
“Because there are multiple services involved, the omnichannel consumer tends to be more viable for repeat purchases,” Buckley explains. “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.”
Want to keep your customers happy—and coming back for more? Omnichannel commerce is where it’s at.
What are some brands with a great omnichannel strategy?
Sephora: “You can go into their stores and sample any of the products, but how do you create that experience online? They created a virtual app that will let you select certain products and try on the makeup through AI technology. It’s creating that try-on experience both in-store and online.” – Anati Zubia, VP of Marketing, Webgility
Betsey Johnson: “They have a really big following on Facebook and Instagram, and they use really high-quality photography to showcase the products. Customers can click the ‘learn more’ or go to the website or the online store directly from that social channel. Then the online store attributes the visitor from that specific Facebook post in that customer journey and it’ll create a micro-tailored message.” –Sean Buckley, Shopify
Warby Parker: “Warby Parker figured out how to sell glasses online by letting customers try on glasses at home—for free. The direct-to-consumer eyewear brand began opening physical stores in 2013 after massive success online, and carefully built parity into the customer experience.” –Taylor Knauf, Content Strategist, Webgility
LIVELY: “They launched a personalized shopping experience with Shopify where customers could book a “fit sesh” online for one of their stores. Because they unify data across all of their channels, they saw that 30% of their revenue came from people who booked these fit sessions online, and the average order size from those customers was 60 to 80% higher than what they were seeing from walk-in customers.” –Koshika Samarasinghe, Shopify
How do I know if my business is ready for omnichannel commerce?
If you’re selling on two or more channels and they are interconnected—or you see a path to connect them—you can take advantage of an omnichannel strategy.
“If you have those channels active but they’re not integrated in any manner,” says Buckley, “then you can’t really take an omnichannel strategy or an omnichannel approach. You’re not able to take advantage of what omnichannel actually is: having all of those channels connected, sharing insights with one another, and then actually being able to speak that data back to you.”
Where do I start when implementing an omnichannel commerce strategy?
A robust tech stack is an obvious improvement toward omnichannel. “It’s all about what’s best for your business,” says Webgility Founder and CEO Parag Mamnani. “You may find the most benefit from an inventory management system, accounting automation software, or a point-of-sale (POS) system that integrates across channels. Even better if you use a solution that consolidates all of your omnichannel data needs into one tool.”
Think about your most pressing pain points. Marketing products that are actually out of stock? Tighten up your inventory management. Having inconsistencies with your accounting? Look into accounting automation to reduce manual errors. Want to integrate your in-store experience with your online shop? Find a POS system that streamlines your sales channels.
But technology isn’t everything. Mckinsey & Company cites that one of the main problems retailers face when trying to go omnichannel is that they focus only on upgrading their technology. “Without a proper grounding in customer needs or determining how these investments will create and sustain value at scale, retailers sometimes end up with what amounts to shiny objects that drain capital expenditures.”
Make sure you understand your customers’ needs and your employees’ capabilities before diving headfirst into omnichannel commerce. An organization must embrace operational pivots and lay a solid foundation so everyone is on the same page with the new process.