Omnichannel commerce explained
For a brand, the strategy of omnichannel commerce is a matter of carefully aligning messaging, goals, objectives, and design across each of its channels and platforms. Think of the process as a highway planner designing a busy freeway. On-ramps and off-ramps must make sense and direct motorists — or customers in this case — to their destinations in a hassle-free manner.
Omnichannel commerce is the same concept. This marketing strategy is built on integrating multiple channels for a smooth business-to-customer (B2C) transaction. Omnichannel completes the multichannel and single-channel strategies and optimizes them for today’s online customers.
It's a strategy that can ill afford detours or lane closures.
Consumers are driving commerce across increasingly more channels and platforms. They're purchasing from brick-and-mortar stores as well as Amazon and eBay. They're buying on desktop, mobile, and Internet of Things devices. Customers also want convenience — the ability to buy a product in one place, pick it up in another, or have it delivered at a time and place of their choosing.
The experience extends to customers interacting with a brand on every level, whether they're hearing, seeing, or reading advertisements, walking into a store, or they're calling, emailing, or interacting on social media. That's a lot of touchpoints to consider.
To accomplish this strategy, businesses developing their own omnichannel strategy must work with their stakeholders — product, marketing, sales, customer support, and customer success — and break down walls while containing or eliminating fragmentation.
By channeling all this information into a cohesive omnichannel strategy, customers will feel like they’re getting a more personalized experience. It also allows brands to collect and merge customer data from multiple channels. When combined, brands get a more complete picture of customer types, what they’re interested in, and their behaviors.
What channel does your business need?
How does multichannel and single-channel commerce differ from omnichannel? Multichannel commerce refers to selling across multiple channels, but the strategy is often disparate, which is attributed to marketing efforts happening in silos that lack a defined cross-channel message. Multichannel philosophies focus on optimizing by touchpoint rather than by journey.
Other retailers choose to sell via a single channel only. Some sellers limit their activities to their e-commerce storefront. Others rely on the Amazon marketplace, for example.
Single-channel commerce can work, but it can be limiting for businesses because commerce goes through one sales channel, such as store-only or web-only. Businesses wanting to create a richer brand experience for customers must investigate additional channels for customers to experience your product.
A Harvard Business Review study of 46,000 shoppers found that omnichannel customers spend more money than single-channel customers. Also, customers who used more than four channels spent an average of 9% more in the store compared to those who used one single channel.
The same study also learned that customers who had an omnichannel shopping experience had logged 23% more repeat shopping trips to the retailer's stores within six months. It also established loyalty as omnichannel customers were more likely to recommend the brand to relatives and friends than single-channel customers.
Meeting the demands of today’s shoppers
Omnichannel commerce has momentum. The pandemic and its resulting health protocols prompted customers to rely on digital channels for personalized shopping and services.
In 2020, when the pandemic was taking root, over 2 billion people purchased goods or services online, and during the same year, e-retail sales surpassed $4.2 trillion worldwide, according to Statista.
As the pandemic has subsided, 73% of customers say they will continue to shop this way, according to the Harvard Business Review.
“Marketers got to see a new type of behavior in customers and — if they were doing their homework — they got to understand something different about them,” Andrew Kandel, Waze's head of sales for North America, said in a 2021 eMarketers' study.
“There will be a return to normalcy, but there will be an evolved customer that sees the world differently.”
Omnichannel also can reach customers who weren't intending to shop, just simply engage on social media. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are ideal examples where businesses are expanding their global reach into previously untapped markets and segments.
Facebook Marketplace was once a customer-to-customer option, but it has grown to include larger businesses. Facebook's Meta branding, which includes Instagram ads, is also creating a channel metaverse that can reach billions of people each month.
TikTok doesn't allow vendors to sell directly from its platform but with certain integrations, businesses can sync their inventory and direct users to their sites.
Benefits of omnichannel commerce
Creating an effective omnichannel commerce strategy depends on the brand, of course, but some steps are universal. They include:
Know the customer: Research the target audience's interests, behaviors, and needs. Ask questions, invite feedback, and leverage social media and social listening tools. Mapping out the customer journey can reveal insights into a customer’s thought processes and let organizations know what is or isn't working for them.
Pick the right channels: Know where your customers are and what they're doing. Use analytics to determine which channels are the most profitable, the most efficient, and/or the ones that acquire the newest customers. Keep an eye on touchpoints that best serve the customers.
Establish a clear purpose per channel: Designate one channel for engagement and keep the others available for updates.
Consolidate the channels: Deploy technology that follows customers throughout their buying journey, from reading reviews, seeing social ads, window shopping at an online marketplace to their purchase at the physical store.
Follow through thoroughly: By deploying abandoned cart programs, marketers can encourage customers to return and finish purchases, regardless of which channel they began the interaction. Also, automated follow-up messages can thank customers and sometimes offer discounts for future purchases.
Maintain the channels: Above all, don't let up. Testing can't be a one-and-done activity relegated to the last few days before launch. It should be a systematic process in your business. Test segments and determine whether you can segment in even more detail for even better targeting. A mix of qualitative and quantitative data can help make measured decisions about your most important channels.
Is omnichannel commerce for you?
Omnichannel commerce is a simple progression of a data-driven market strategy. As more customers have moved to online shopping in the wake of the pandemic, it has transformed from a nice-to-have strategy to a must-have for a successful e-commerce business.
Brands should also have a platform and solutions partners that make it easy to aggregate all data sources and glean insights.
To learn more about omnichannel customer experiences and strategies, visit Sitecore's omnichannel and commerce resources sections where you'll find articles, links to webinars, guides, and related topics.