Online retail became the number one priority over the past three years, and retailers that did not capitalize on this saw their sales stagnate or decline. Meanwhile, we are seeing increasingly busy shopping streets again, and surveys also show that consumers like to go back to the store. However, consumer expectations of physical stores have changed significantly. As a result, the role of the physical store must be adjusted. But experience and convenience must be offered both online and offline in the right balance within all points of the customer journey.
On one hand, customers want to return to the high street because of the social aspect, feeling/smelling/looking/tasting the product and the overall shopping experience. On the other hand, many have embraced the convenience of online ordering. If you can offer a true omnichannel experience as a retailer, optimally combining experience and convenience, you might just strike the right chord with the customer.
From my opinion, a true omnichannel experience is too often still approached from the online world. That in itself is logical, because an omnichannel strategy assumes that the customer can be provided with information at any desired place and at any desired time in a consistent way. But retail can only become fully omnichannel if the strategy is laid out from every perspective. All sales channels, including the physical store, must thereby connect and work together seamlessly. The customer needs are central to this.
Falling into the multichannel trap too often
While some retailers have succeeded in creating a true omnichannel approach, others have lagged behind by sticking to a multichannel approach. Here, the physical and online channels (including social media) are all set up, but not properly intertwined. This can lead to an inconsistent shopping experience. A good example of this is mis-grabbing a product in-store. This is seen as a major annoyance by customers. Customers expect the retailer to immediately come up with an alternative when the shelf is empty, or that the product can still be easily obtained through other means. Think of being able to place an order in the store (automated or not), after which the product is still delivered to their home. If this process is not or not properly set up, while the customer had the expectation because the retailer’s online environment works seamlessly, we speak of an inconsistent experience.
Customer journey plays key role
Do you know at what stage of the customer journey your customer first interacts with your brand? And do you know whether that happens through digital or physical touchpoints? At each point, communication and interaction with the customer must be tailored to the stage he or she is in at that moment. Problems arise when different departments become responsible for their own part. The franchiser takes care of his store floor and thinks about his targets, while the marketing department at headquarters directs for maximum conversion in the Web store. The customer sees both channels as one store, so when the experience differs even slightly from each other and expectations cannot be met, the customer experience is by definition not what it should be. The retailer must ensure a consistent experience at every point in the customer journey. The path that customer takes before they are in your store is leading. The experience is always consistent and therefore supportive of the overall customer experience. Here it is important that the retailer starts to see the physical store as a channel, just like the webshop is. And not as an end point in the customer journey.
The terms offline and online will disappear
I think we need to move toward a world where online and offline can no longer be seen as different things. Those terms will eventually disappear. The customer – especially the younger generation – already doesn’t experience it that way anymore, so why should the retailer? Let’s stop talking about e-commerce and just talk about commerce. Another important step, and for many a big change, is thinking about the right KPIs. Many times these are sales-based. In a good omnichannel world, KPIs should instead revolve around the customer and his happiness. Your entire organization should be built around the customer. Everything revolves around the customer journey and customer needs. And those needs keep changing, so does your strategy.
Customer needs first
For customers, only one thing matters: a positive outcome from their shopping experience, regardless of whether it is physical or on the Web. Ultimately, the shopping experience sticks in the brain and not the channel where the purchase was made. Omnichannel retail is ultimately all about customer-centricity and thus being where the customer is with the solutions that meet expectations, or even positively surprise them. Here, each touchpoint plays its own important role in this branding and shopping experience, with the role of the physical store perhaps changing the most in the coming years.
This blog post previously appeared in Dutch on Marketingfacts