Omni-Channel Customer Engagement Article

Merging the Online and Offline Retail Channels

September 08, 2016

In the earliest days of ecommerce, buying online was a small blip on most retailers’ radar screens. It was considered something only tech-savvy people, shut-ins and agoraphobics would ever consider. Most businesses kept their ecommerce channels largely separate from their retail floors. Over the years, however, as more people embraced online buying, the two channels – virtual and in-store – have become closer and closer, with most Americans choosing to shop both ways. Unfortunately, for many retailers, there are still siloes for online and in-person shopping, and customers attempting to do a little of both are running into roadblocks. As an example, examine how many retailers have really made a success out of the “BOPIS,” or “buy online, pick up in store” model (hint: there aren’t very many of them.)

As more companies seek to build omni-channel customer engagement programs, they have realized that they need to eliminate the silos between online and in-store retail and inextricably tie the two channels together so customers can research online and buy in the store (or vice versa) in the same transaction. A successful omnichannel strategy means establishing continuity of experience across channels, according to a recent article by Larry Alton writing for the Huffington Post (News - Alert).

“It doesn’t matter if customers are accessing your mobile site via their smartphone or walking the aisles of your store, an omni-channel strategy respects each touch point and seeks to establish seamless connections between these various points,” he wrote.

It’s easier said than done. Most companies fear they will need to scrap all their existing processes and start over again: a daunting prospect. Julie Krueger, Industry Director of Retail at Google (News - Alert), told Alton that it all begins with gathering data and understanding who your customers are.

“Omni-channel shopping presents a dramatic shift in how we think about retail, but it’s a change that comes with huge opportunity,” Krueger said. “Start your journey by understanding the specific traits of these shoppers. Get to know who they are and what propels them to shop online and in-store by using the tools that will help you measure online and offline purchases effectively across channels.”

It’s important to understand exactly how customers are expecting to mix the channels. Some customers like to look at items they plan to purchase in the store, then go home and order online. Others use their mobile phones to research products while they’re in the physical store. (In which case, a mobile shopping app would be a great help.) Most customers will do some research online before they head to a retail store. Some companies have had success installing kiosks in-store where customers can do research while they browse the aisles.

If your retail sales are down, you may find that customers are turned off by the complexity of the in-person buying experience, which often involves too few store representatives, those who don’t know the products or an overly complex checkout. Once you’ve done your research on how your customers like to buy, you can take steps to improve the retail experience.

By simplifying checkout, providing an in-store mobile app, and allowing customers to buy products in one place (online or instore) but have them delivered from another, you can merge your channels and share your customer support assets. It’s also critical to ensure that the contact center can see in-store customer activities so they can provide assistance to retail shoppers as well as online buyers.

There is no “one easy trick” to merging online and offline channels. Understanding shopper behavior before taking action, however, will help you understand where your efforts will do the most good. 

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