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Retailers that do omnichannel marketing well create a seamless brand ecosystem that leverages in-store, mobile and desktop channels to further engage customers and nurture them along their buying journey.
Multichannel marketing vs. omnichannel: Is there a difference?
Many people use multichannel marketing and omnichannel marketing interchangeably. But they’re actually quite different.
At its most basic level, multichannel marketing is a company’s distribution strategy — it describes the various avenues used to push messages out to customers. One way to think of multichannel marketing is as avenues moving from the inside outward to reach customers. For example, a brand markets its holiday campaign to the world via TV ads, social media posts, email newsletters, direct mail and in-store promotions, all in parallel.
Omnichannel marketing is all about connecting the dots between the channels. Think of it as something more like a web — bringing everything together — as opposed to pushing everything outward. It keeps customers moving around within the brand ecosystem, with each channel working in harmony to nurture more sales and engagement.
An omnichannel marketing strategy may include things like in-store pickup, loyalty programmes, smartphone apps to compare prices or download coupons, interactive in-store digital lookbooks or price checkers on tablets throughout the store.
Omnichannel retail is growing
Consumers are increasingly connected — and they expect convenience.
They channel-hop from online stores to physical stores and social media; they use smartphones and tablets, apps and other avenues. They look up product reviews on their mobile devices while they’re in the store or on their desktops at home. They extensively compare prices amongst your competitors. They check social media channels to see if there are any discounts, or to see what others are saying about your brand. They want delivery flexibility — the option to choose whether they can get something delivered or pick it up at your store that same day.
And most important, they want the experience to be delightful, seamless, and personalised to their preferences.
Savvy businesses are taking note and starting to invest heavily in omnichannel retail, especially in digital integrations. A recent study found 70% of businesses surveyed were concentrated on building a wider audience for their brand, leading to almost half of them investing in customer experiences.
The good news is that investing in omnichannel retail pays off big time. Through data and insights about consumer behaviour across channels, companies can paint a comprehensive picture of their customers’ buying patterns. Businesses can gain a better, real-time understanding of their customers, which allows them to target promotional content and engagement campaigns toward the immediate, specific needs of each channel.
As a result, the return on investment (ROI) in sales is significant. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that omnichannel customers spend an average of four percent more every time they shop in the store and ten percent more online than single-channel customers.
What’s more, with each additional sales channel they used (mobile, apps, desktop browsing), they spent more money. Customers who used more than four sales channels spent nine percent more in the store than customers who used just one sales channel.
How to create your omnichannel marketing strategy
1. Gather research.
To move into omnichannel retail, you need to get a baseline understanding of how your customers interact with your business. Your first stop? Your data.
Analyse the data in your e-commerce platform to determine where people are engaging with your brand, and where they might need a little nurturing. You should look at item sales, of course, but don’t forget about other digital metrics. These include traffic numbers (as well as how it’s broken up between desktop and mobile), traffic sources, page views, bounce rate and where the most people drop off from your checkout flow.
Also look at your in-store data. Your Square POS has robust metrics on everything from your busiest time of day to how many repeat versus one-time customers you have and even how your Facebook ads are driving in-store sales.
Qualitative research is just as important. Talk to your customers about what they like most and least about their experience with your business. What are the areas where they would like to see improvement? Would they buy more if they could pick up items in the store? How about if they could shop in the store but order online for it to be delivered? Would they be more likely to shop with you if you had a rewards program? What type? Customer surveys can help tremendously with gathering this data.
Once you have all your numbers and feedback, you’ll have a 360-degree view of your customer’s shopping behaviour and preferences. You’ll know on which channels they’re engaging with your brand the most, and which they would use more if you beefed up the experience.
This is the foundation on which to build your omnichannel retail strategy. It allows you to find ways to connect the dots by inserting strategic re engagement tactics along all the touchpoints that a consumer has with your brand. This sort of data deep dive can also help you figure out which types of customers are your most valuable.
2. Make sure you have the basics in place.
You can’t run before you walk. A successful omnichannel retail strategy requires that you have some building blocks in place first. Make sure you’ve implementing the following:
Search engine optimization (SEO)
You won’t even make a blip on people’s radars if they can’t find you. That’s why SEO, which consists of optimizing a website with keywords to achieve higher rankings in search engines, is critical. In fact, Deloitte reports that 65 percent of retailers say that SEO is an important part of their marketing strategy.
Search engine marketing (SEM)
Investing in SEM — that is, purchasing online marketing like keywords — is also important. Forty-six percent of retailers rate SEM as a key piece of their marketing strategy.
Make sure that any e-commerce platform you choose works just as well on mobile devices as it does on desktops.
Targeted email campaigns
Targeted email campaigns are a low-lift, cost-effective way to deliver personalised, actionable content to customers.
With its easy-to-use, advanced targeting capabilities, Facebook is especially important as a way to reach customers. It’s also a great way to create buzz.
3. Reorganize your business operations.
Omnichannel retail is all about creating an ecosystem, but many businesses are organized around a system of siloed channels. There may be one department responsible for email newsletters, another for customer service, another for events and yet another for content marketing. If these departments aren’t working together closely, it’s going to be impossible for an omnichannel retail strategy to gel.
Make sure you include increased interaction with other channels as a key success metric for each of your departments. You might even consider reorganising your marketing department’s reporting structure so that everyone is marching toward the same goal (rather than siloed ones). You want your employees to constantly be looking for ways to move customers seamlessly through all the company’s engagement channels.
It’s also important to think about your business’s technology environment. To support omnichannel retail, 85 percent of retail executives plan to implement a unified commerce platform over the next decade to consolidate key data, business rules and functionality that historically have lived in different systems.
Creating a way for everyone in the company to easily get a holistic view of your business is paramount for success in omnichannel retail. By merging data and insights across channels, companies gain a better understanding of customer behaviour and preferences, allowing them to produce promotional content, product recommendations and engagement tactics targeted at their immediate needs.
4. Map out the customer journey.
Using data and insights, map out the web of how customers typically traverse all your channels.
Do people browse your products online before visiting your store? Do they visit your store and buy online? Are people more likely to buy a certain type of product online versus in stores? Do customers who read your educational content tend to buy something as a result?
Drawing out all of the ways people interact with your brand and then buy your products gives you a picture of what your omnichannel ecosystem looks like right now. If you can anticipate how all of the channels are traversed, you can begin to understand customer preferences. And if you see a key section of the web faltering (or even missing), you can find a way to fill in that line.
5. Start with a few customer paths.
It’s best to start small, especially if you’re new to omnichannel retail. Pick out a few customer paths and figure out what might work to nurture them along from their starting point to a sale.
Say, for example, that you’ve found that there’s a cohort of people who read tonnes of online reviews of your products before making a purchase. You might consider adding touchscreens in your brick-and-mortar store so customers can look up product reviews right there. Another way to engage those information-hungry customers is to serve them in-depth educational content about your products as they’re browsing your website.
Fulfilment options are also a good place to start, especially if you notice customers are abandoning their online carts due to high shipping costs. In fact, PwC found that 71 percent of CEOs say that omnichannel fulfilment is a top priority for their business. You might consider turning your store into a mini fulfilment centre by offering free in-store pickup for orders online or through your app. It can save your customers shipping fees and increase foot traffic at your brick-and-mortar store. In-store pickup has a great ROI, as someone picking up their online order may buy something additional once they see it at your storefront.
On the other side of the coin, you could save on inventory storage space and just have a physical “showroom” for your products, where customers can buy what they want on tablets in the store and get it shipped.
6. Continuously look at data and adjust your strategy.
It’s not enough to put some omnichannel marketing strategies in place and then leave them on autopilot. You have to constantly look at your data analytics to measure the results and tweak things accordingly. As the market evolves, you may even notice a whole new consumer trend that requires a different strategy across new channels.
Examples of omnichannel user experience
There are an increasing number of examples of companies that have doubled down on their omnichannel retail experience. Here are a few to draw inspiration from:
This giant of the high street has always been one step ahead of the game when it comes to doing retail a bit differently, but the days of hauling heavy catalogues home have long been replaced with a highly successful omnichannel strategy. From adding their digital catalogues to their shop locations and rolling out click and collect, Argos have found the perfect balance between online and offline shopping. Customers can not only browse products from anywhere on their phone or computer, they can also check the stock of their local shops, or the closest alternative, as well as pay immediately and pick it up at the “fast track” counters of their nearest branch.
Booking sites can be some of the most cumbersome when it comes to the huge amounts of information they have to host. Maybe this is an issue your own website shares, especially if you offer a core service that can vary from job to job e.g. home improvements. A mobile-optimised site is key to omnichannel success and when Booking.com discovered half of all user journey’s started from mobile, it upped its mobile optimisation game. The result was it’s easy to use site with clear fold-away menus, drop-down hotel descriptions and easy to use fields for visitors to input their dates.
Far from the capabilities of the humble small business, Schuh’s novel take on omnichannel is still worth noting. Working with Ingress, a game that was a forerunner of Pokemon Go, players could harness the power of virtual reality to not only save the planet in their own fictional narrative, but discover Schuh branches portal in-game as they physically walked around their local area. This effort to engage with their customers in a whole new way, and entirely on a level that Ingress gamers could get on board with, highlights the importance of adapting your omnichannel efforts to your customers habits and expectations.
To attract today’s connected customers, businesses need to create a web between all their customer engagement channels. The result is not only more sales but also a superior customer experience.
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