Small BusinessCommerceOmnichannel

Unlock new channels: Tips on building an omnichannel retail strategy

No need to stand in a checkout line to make a purchase. With omnichannel retail, modern-day shopping transcends the boundaries of brick-and-mortar stores and online platforms. In fact, nearly 60% of shoppers say they’re likely to browse online and then buy in-store, while more than half report looking at a product in person and buying it online later.1

By crafting a cohesive, interconnected journey across multiple mediums, brands can delight customers at every touchpoint. This powerful strategy can also revolutionize how businesses connect with their audience, expand their reach, build brand loyalty, and boost sales.

Use our guide to discover insights, actionable strategies, and practical tips to bridge the gap between physical and digital commerce — and propel your small business to new heights.

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retail provides a consistent, seamless shopping experience across multiple sales and marketing platforms, whether online, in-store, or through mobile devices.

Take holiday shopping as an example: More than half of U.S. shoppers who visited a store in person reported that they researched product reviews online or had initially viewed the item online before heading to the store.2 This highlights a growing trend of consumers blending their online and offline shopping experiences before making a purchase.

Omnichannel retail can be especially beneficial for small- and medium-sized businesses to stand out in a crowded marketplace of global retail giants. By integrating multiple channels, brands can extend their reach beyond physical storefronts, tapping into broader audiences across several platforms.

Examples of omnichannel retail

Here are some examples of what an omnichannel retail strategy may look like in action:

  • Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS): Customers order online and pick up their purchase at a physical store.
  • Mobile apps with location-based services: Store apps offer personalized promotions or recommendations based on a customer's location or previous purchase history.
  • Social commerce: Integrating sales channels with social media platforms to allow direct purchasing through social media posts.
  • Personalized recommendations: Using data analytics to offer personalized product recommendations both online and in-store based on browsing history, purchase behavior, and preferences.
  • In-store to online shopping: Shoppers view a product in-store and scan it with your brand’s designated app to purchase later in another size or color.

Single channel vs. multichannel vs. omnichannel retail

There are different types of retail strategies businesses can employ. Here are some examples:

  • Single-channel retail focuses on one sales avenue, like a physical store or a website.
  • Multichannel retail involves selling products on multiple independent channels (e.g., a physical store, an online marketplace, and a brand website). Unlike omnichannel, these channels typically operate separately without integrated experiences or synchronized data.
  • Omnichannel retail integrates all of a brand’s channels (online, in-store, mobile) for an interconnected customer experience.

Benefits of an omnichannel strategy

Businesses that provide an omnichannel retail experience may experience benefits like:

  • Happy customers: Customers enjoy a frictionless journey across all channels, transitioning effortlessly from online research to in-store purchases without disruption. It also offers flexibility, allowing customers to buy online and pick up or return in-store.
  • Increased sales: Businesses can connect with customers wherever they prefer to shop, potentially leading to increased sales over time.
  • Synchronized data: Integrated systems and channels help ensure real-time stock and inventory management.
  • Better engagement: Consistent brand messaging and personalized experiences across channels can foster deeper shopper-brand connections, encouraging repeat visits and increased loyalty.
  • Competitive advantage: Offers a comprehensive shopping experience that competitors with single or multichannel approaches may lack.
  • Customer insights: Comprehensive data collection from various touchpoints can provide valuable insights, allowing businesses to refine strategies and tailor offerings to meet evolving customer needs.

Learn more about how omnichannel data can drive growth.

Considerations and challenges for omnichannel retail strategies

Before implementing an omnichannel retail strategy, consider some of the potential challenges and risks:

  • Technology integration: Ensuring seamless integration of various systems and technologies across channels can be a difficult, costly, and time-consuming process.
  • Logistics and fulfillment: Systemizing inventory management and order fulfillment across various channels while offering options like buy online, pick up in-store, or same-day delivery requires complex coordination.
  • Consistent customer experience: Maintaining a uniform customer experience across all touchpoints also demands careful coordination in service, branding, and messaging.
  • Data security and privacy: Managing customer data across multiple platforms typically requires robust security measures to safeguard sensitive information and comply with data protection regulations.
  • Operational organization: Achieving internal alignment among teams and departments to support omnichannel strategies can be challenging.
  • Analytics: Developing comprehensive metrics and analytics to track performance and customer behavior across multiple channels is critical but may require significant technical expertise.

Key components of an omnichannel strategy

At its core, an omnichannel retail strategy involves several key components to ensure seamless customer experiences across various channels:

  • Unified customer experience: Ensuring a consistent experience across all channels (physical stores, online, mobile, social media, etc.) where customers can seamlessly transition between channels without disruptions.
  • Integrated inventory management: Centralized inventory across channels allows customers to access real-time stock information and purchase from any platform. This requires an advanced inventory management system that syncs stock levels across all channels.
  • Multichannel marketing: Coordinated marketing efforts across various channels to reach customers at different touchpoints. Deliver personalized marketing messages and promotions based on customer preferences and behavior.
  • Seamless checkout: Allowing customers to start, modify, and complete purchases across different channels. For instance, enabling options like buy online, pick up in-store or reserve in-store, purchase online.
  • Customer data: Collecting and integrating customer data from all touchpoints to create a comprehensive view of the customer journey and gather insights on preferences and sales performance.
  • Customer support: Providing consistent and seamless support across all channels, ensuring customers receive the same level of service and assistance regardless of how they reach out—whether it's through social media, chatbots, phone, or in-person interactions.

Building your omnichannel retail strategy

As you craft your omnichannel retail strategy, get started with these general steps:

  1. Define and set goals. Establish specific, measurable objectives for your omnichannel strategy, such as increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, or boosted conversion rates. Ensure your omnichannel goals align with the broader business objectives.
  2. Understand your customers. Create detailed buyer personas to understand your target audience—demographics, preferences, behavior, and preferred channels. Also, gather and analyze data from various touchpoints to gain insights into customer behavior and preferences.
  3. Assess and select channels. Evaluate the performance and capabilities of existing channels—online, physical stores, mobile, social media, etc. Assess current capabilities and infrastructure to support an omnichannel approach, and identify gaps and needed upgrades.
  4. Integrate inventory and fulfillment. Implement systems to manage inventory across all channels to avoid stock discrepancies and enable flexible fulfillment options. Consider offering options like buy online, pick up in-store, ship from store, or returns across multiple channels.
  5. Deploy the right technology. Invest in technologies that support integration across channels, such as CRM systems, ERP software, and robust e-commerce platforms. Ensure that your online platforms are mobile friendly and optimized for different devices.
  6. Craft consistent marketing and messaging. Ensure your brand message remains uniform across all channels, resonating with your audience and reflecting your brand values consistently. Then tailor the content to suit the nuances and preferences of each channel.

Implementing your omnichannel retail strategy

From understanding your customers and crafting consistent messaging to leveraging technology and data analytics, successful implementation hinges on careful planning and execution across all touchpoints.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Cross-channel coordination: Establish protocols for consistent communication and coordination between different departments, ensuring a unified approach across physical stores, online platforms, mobile apps, and social media channels.
  • Training: Invest in employee training programs to equip staff with the skills and knowledge needed to support an omnichannel strategy. This includes proficiency in using technology, understanding customer behavior, and providing seamless service across channels.
  • Optimize: Analyze metrics and customer feedback to refine your strategy, update processes, and adapt to evolving market trends and customer preferences.

An omnichannel approach

Omnichannel retail is more than just a buzzword. With omnichannel ecommerce, businesses can expand their reach and engagement while unlocking the potential for personalized interactions, streamlined operations, and increased sales.

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