The concept of “everything everywhere” is becoming and will be the most disruptive factor in the next couple of years in the retail industry at first and all over the map immediately after that. The website or e-commerce site and the online and mobile channel are not seen anymore as simple alternatives or complementary to a physical store; they have become core part of the business strategy, blurring the lines between online and physical shopping experience.
This is the “omni-channel” approach and it comes as a solution to the fast-paced retailing industry, encompassing both online and physical experience from the customer’s point of view. Omni-channel philosophy fully integrates “digital” and “physical” and is an imperative part of the smart retailer’s strategy. If dealing with a business to consumer model one has to be aware that the client is now the one that creates the shopping experience as he wishes, by jumping from one channel to another, thus finding itself in the omni-channel. The journey that starts with the decision-making process and continues with the actual purchase is no longer dictated by the seller. Retailers have to adapt their processes to the nowadays informed and connected customer that expects a content rich, dynamic, fun and easy shopping experience overall.
It can very well be called a “second digital revolution” and retailers seen as pioneers in providing the adequate infrastructure for this new commerce paradigm driven by the integration of the online and the physical in one “roller-coaster” shopping experience. A major driver in this new selling equation not to be overlooked is the fact that a “digital” customer is in a permanent search of daily, quick “digital snacks” that he can enjoy on his or her personal real time device. Digital snacks have to be appealing, with personalized content of limited length and a clear message to be delivered directly to the customer’s devices where he can snack on it on his way to work or when shopping in the mall. Retailers face the challenge of constantly producing engaging, easy to read content, that also captures the essence of what they want to transmit and then making it available when and where the client searches for it.
As one can infer, the retailer’s task is not at all an easy one, especially if you consider that he must find the perfect balance between how to use and re-define the multiple sales and content generations channels at its disposal and even design new ones in the race for the market-share. The solution is a fully-integrated platform that can offer a 24/7 hyper-connected experience for the customer that expects to find anything he searches for at any given time through different but perfectly integrated channels. That is why omni-channel marketing has to be perceived more as an “on-going conversation” and less as a campaign in order to fully engage the customer, with a complete coordination between the available resources – information, people and devices – both in-store and online.
The big players are setting the standards
By looking at some of the big names in the retail and other industries, one already finds innovative approaches to how the customer experience is being improved and enhanced both in-store and online. Using their personal devices clients can nowadays scan barcodes as they are strolling through supermarket lanes and compare the prices on the shelves with the competitor’s. This is exactly what BigW, the Australian chain of discount department stores does, by providing their customers with a free app – a precious source of information for the client regarding the BigW products and prices. Also, thanks to geo-location now some stores are able to target their customers as they are in-store or in specific locations by sending them notifications with updates and offers tailored to their needs and personal purchase history. Here Nordstrom, the upscale fashion retailer, is already ahead of the crowd by focusing on its young and “digital” segment by offering mobile check-out services in-store and geo-location to send out their special offers at just the right time. Also, the luxury department store Neiman Marcus began testing in selected stores across the US, a system that requires the clients to use a dedicated app in order to let the sales personnel know when they are present in-store and ready for a personal shopper-like experience.
Augmented reality experiences are created to engage the customer and to render the shopping experience more fun, taking the shape of interactive ads or panels that one can stumble upon while strolling through the city streets. The car manufacturers Toyota and Volkswagen have both used this technique in order to launch two of their new models in the past two years: one could just open the designated app on their devices, point the camera towards the physical ad and wait for the fun to begin as they were witnessing a “live” video through the “eyes” of their device’s camera. This can also be transferred to the in-store experience, exactly like the fashion retailer Burberry does, in its famous London store in Regent Street. They have added electronic tags to clothes so that when a customer holds an item in front of a screen he or she is presented with a video of the exact same item being worn in a fashion show. Let’s not forget the virtual mirror that allows you to try on clothes without even having to lift a finger. Ok, maybe a finger is still required in order to handle the virtual mirror in front of you but of course the technology is yet to be perfected.
If you are worried that you forgot your device at home, which is nowadays less and less likely, the stores come equipped with devices of their own where customers can find catalogues and lots of other useful information. They can take the shape of tablets like in the Sephora and Pinko shops and in the near future, multi-touch tables that allow you to order and read the press just like the ones that McDonald’s is now testing in the fashion capital of Europe, Milan – available only to a restricted public.
The client, as seen above, is the central point of the successful omni-channel shopping experience, so the seller comes to its aid with several devices and new technologies that facilitate the actual decision-making and acquisition process. That being said, another key element of providing a flawless customer experience is the sales associate’s training and tools they have at their disposal. Apple and Macy’s have great training programmes and principles that are meant to identify the needs and provide the answers that the customer is looking for. The intelligent retailer has to find a way to have the information available at any given place and time: the sales associate is equipped with a device that shows him or her, a personal purchase history of the loyal customers as they walk into the store and of course has all answers available at the click of a button. Here Neiman Marcus is again fast in adopting the new technology given that their application allows the customers to chat with the sales associates from home and in-store when they need assistance. Another crucial factor is the ability to synchronize stock information between online and physical stores in order to give the customer a complete set of information when he is in search of a product, although many retailers still fail to do so.
The social media frenzy which is still going on but always changing shape is a part of the omni-channel wave sweeping through commerce. People like to share and comment their preferences, their happy moments and also negative experiences. This cannot be overlooked by retailers that should claim the value of the content created by their customers in the online environment and transfer it to the physical store to bring even more integration between channels. Nordstrom does exactly that by attaching a Pinterest icon tag on those items in-store that were declared the most popular on the brand’s Pinterest account (based on the customer’s choices). This is a step that really creates an engaging shopping experience even for the digital savvy younger customers which spend their time commenting and liking their friends’ posts on the social media.
The “everything, everywhere, everymoment-commerce” is certainly more than a trend and it cannot be overlooked by the retailers, who are the ones to lead the way in the omni-channel revolution. Fear not though, the other industries will also have to adapt as the customer will become more and more demanding and accustomed to having easy access to any type of information, products or services through all the different channels. When designing the marketing strategy and at a higher level, the management strategy, companies will have to consider the omni-channel wave and either go with it or, even better be the ones that help shape it.
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