Customer expectations are simultaneously pulling retailers in opposite directions. The demand for speed and convenience, as well as curation and experiential service, makes it difficult to invest and even harder to predict the path a customer will take. Customers are choosing to spend their time both online and in-store, and expect their experience–whether on desktop or mobile, or via a quick visit or all-day in-store shopping session–to connect. To anticipate these needs, brands are shifting their strategies from multi-channel to omni-channel, and businesses that have not taken the first step are already falling behind.
Note: omni-channel is not the same as multi-channel. A brand that offers purchasing options across multiple channels is multi-channel; it only becomes omni-channel when those channels integrate seamlessly, picking up where another left off. Here are five points to consider when moving from a multi-channel to an omni-channel strategy:
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Implementing an omni-channel strategy doesn’t necessarily mean employing an entirely new business model. If the current business model is working, an omni-channel strategy can be added on as a natural extension to make improvements to the user experience. To move toward an omni-channel strategy, data services and APIs need to be updated, but that doesn’t mean replacing the entire business model (unless, of course, the current model is not effective).
2. Make it a win-win experience for both customers and retailers
When introducing an omni-channel strategy, it’s important to get both the buyers and the sellers on board. If the strategy is not easy for the sellers to implement, it’s not going to be used effectively to provide the customers with the best possible experience across channels. For example, say that a customer uses an app to find out whether a needed item is available in a nearby store. The app says that it is in stock. The customer goes to the store to purchase the item, and… they’re actually out of stock. This is not the best experience, and it happened because the retailer neglected to update the inventory across all channels. In order for an omni-channel strategy to work, it needs to be as seamless for retailers to implement as it is for customers to use. The easier and hassle-free the technology, the more customers will convert into sales–and the more money the retailer will make, creating a virtuous cycle.
3. Test quickly, fail early and often, and then iterate
Using MVP testing to find stumbling blocks along the omni-channel path can save a lot of time and money in the long run. There’s nothing worse than rolling out a major strategic initiative, only to find a small, but fatal flaw that undermines the entire system. Seemingly obvious patterns might not reveal themselves until the system is actually being used, so mock up a system prototype and test with consumers before hitting the market.
4. Get long-term buy-in from leadership
Once you go omni-channel, you never go back. Imagine being a customer and getting used to accessing a seamless experience across all of your channels. Then, suddenly, that effortless experience disappears and is replaced with the old clunky, frustrating, non-integrated system because a higher-up in the company decided to ditch the omni-channel setup in favor of other priorities. Wouldn’t you be likely to look elsewhere to meet your needs as a consumer? In order for omni-channel to work for an organization, it has to be committed to and then built upon as the market continues to evolve.
5. Forecast for the future
Building for the “now” is great, but proactively designing for what’s coming next is the only way retailers are going to keep their heads above water. Today, omni-channel is largely being built around optimizing and integrating the mobile experience. However, there are upcoming technological developments that should also be considered as part of an evolving omni-channel strategy. For example, what does omni-channel look like when applied to virtual reality or reality augmentation systems? What about advanced video game consoles, or centrally-located, integrated kiosks? Additionally, businesses should solve for how to integrate metric measurement in the implementation of these new digital experiences to gauge customer behavior and service performance.
Omni-channel is happening now. Are you where you need to be?
The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups through fast, iterative methods that respond proactively to consumer needs.
Photo credit: Unsplash user William Iven