Are retail businesses providing the type of omni channel customer experiences that today’s consumers crave?

As smartphones and digital technology become more integrated into daily life, customers are merging their online and in-person retail experiences. Much of consumers’ window shopping is now conducted online, and mobile sales transactions are gaining increasing popularity. Collaborative research conducted by Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands found that mobile activities not only drive online sales, but boost in-store transactions as well. This most often happens when customers are narrowing down their choices and need to see the item in person to make a final determination.

The most successful companies take advantage of these trends to meet customers where they are and allow them to perform a range of activities, from browsing and researching to locating stock and buying. And of course this has to happen anywhere, anytime, on any device. This holistic approach to retail is known as omni channel shopping. It requires the ability to adapt to any platform to provide a seamless shopping experience for customers across all of their devices, as well as in the store.

Retailers must be able to connect websites, mobile apps and in-store activities to create a multi-faceted, value-added purchasing journey. This means consumers should be able to look up features, pricing, discounts, reviews and other product data; visit a store to confirm their research; make a purchase; and arrange for delivery–without stepping foot in the check-out line.

Omni Channel Pros and Cons

This innovative approach to marketing and sales has a number of advantages, but omni channel retail isn’t without its challenges. For example, private, in-house customer data, as well as social media and other public information, provides insights regarding customer buying habits. This level of data offers retailers unprecedented insights that can drive a powerful omni channel sales pipeline.

However, these large amounts of data must be properly tracked, analyzed and applied to unlock its full value. This requires seamless collaboration between multiple departments and information silos, which can seem like a formidable task for many organizations. To solve this problem, companies have to change the structures of their sales and marketing departments to develop a unified team that spans all platforms. This means taking steps such as merging traditional and digital marketing activities to develop a sales funnel that fully integrates digital-to-store campaigns.

Another benefit of the omni channel experience is the increase in lifetime value for customers who use both online and in-store purchasing options versus customers who only use one. In fact, studies have shown that retailers experience up to 30 percent greater lifetime value for these customers.

An omni channel sales structure can also help companies build brand awareness and loyalty, as well as increase customer retention throughout the buying process.

Yet, many businesses have a fear of “showrooming,” a practice where customers will go to the physical store to check out the product, but will end up buying the item somewhere cheaper online. This practice, however, can be considerably reduced with an omni channel approach that allows customers to do all of their shopping tasks in a single process. And even if they don’t make a purchase now, a positive customer experience could very well encourage them to buy in the future.

Leveraging Omni Channel Shopping

Omni channel shopping is one of the most effective customer experience improvement programs retailers have to build their revenue for the future. Successful omni channel sales and marketing requires retailers to answer a number of questions about current and prospective customers:

  • How do they use online and offline channels to make purchasing decisions?
  • How do specific marketing campaigns affect the various sales channels?
  • Which channels are most effective within certain demographics?
  • Where can retailers find their ideal customers?

Finding the answers starts with the most basic demographic details, such as customers’ gender, income, location and buying history, as well as Web browsing and search habits. The next level of insight delves into interactions like phone calls, emails, store visits, online ad clicks and social media interactions.

Providing customers with relevant, localized information, such as store locations, hours, inventory and directions, both online and on mobile devices can help drive sales, as it removes much of the uncertainty that can deter a store visit.

As consumer behavior continues to change, it’s important for businesses to transform to meet their customer’s’ needs. While there may be a few initial challenges to building an omni channel experience, providing customers with the type of shopping journey they want will be well worth the effort.