How retail is evolving with new omnichannel practices

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There’s a buzz going on around the idea of “omni-channel” businesses. And that’s because those that manage to get it right are seeing their customers stay loyal, buy more over time, and become their best referrers.

A quick refresh:

Omni-channel means using multiple touchpoints (like your website, a mobile app, and in-store) to keep your customers engaged. More than multi-channel, in which you sell the same thing in multiple places to catch more potential customers, omni means engaging with the same customer across multiple platforms. Think about the giants like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon. Amazon has set themselves up so you’re streaming movies through them, using Alexa in your house, paying for your household stuff and maybe even getting groceries through their service.

How do they do it? By making it ridiculously easy for you as a customer to use them across new platforms and needs. You’ve set up payment and login information through them already, so new opportunities that allow you to already use your Amazon, Google, Apple or Facebook accounts will be easy and integrated.

Giants aside; what about the little guys?

You don’t have to be one of the biggest tech giants out there to be an omni-channel business. In fact, more and more medium businesses are gearing up for the future of retail by introducing technology into the way they sell.

And article in the Harvard Business Review goes over some of the big disruptions in modern retail history. The department store was the perfect complement to twentieth-century urbanisation. Suburban malls responded to the mass production of the automobile. Discount chain stores took a square corner of the market in response to economic squeezes of the 1960s and 70s. And, starting in the 1990s, digital technology was introduced to retail with and others until the dot com bubble burst.

E-commerce made a very strong comeback, and that trajectory seems to only be going upward. But those that are staying ahead of the game know that as the competition gets fiercer, they’ll have to get smarter.

E-commerce merchants are already in-the-know about how important it is to use tech to your best advantage. E-commerce means you can ship to anyone in the world, and find ultra-niche markets. But those that are combining the best of online and brick-and-mortar are getting closer to omni-channel. While more and more stores start out online and add a pop-up or permanent storefront (and quite often do exactly the reverse), omni-channel stores aim to integrate the two seamlessly.

Example: The Reformation

The Reformation’s San Francisco store is a perfect example of a small business that’s blending an online and in-store experience. As a high-end fashion line, The Reformation sells both online and in-store. They’ve put in touchscreen monitors within their SF store that let you add sizes, colours and styles to your “wardrobe”, and when you walk over to the dressing room, there those pieces are - waiting for you as if by magic (or, more likely, a 19 year old paying for college). By transitioning from a frantic browse for something that you may or may not like, to being able to look through the entire catalog kind of online but really in-store, The Reformation is letting their customers get the best of both worlds.

Example: Warby Parker Eyewear

Warby Parker sells glasses and sunglasses, and has several brick-and-mortar stores in the US. But their stores aren’t actually where most of their selling comes from. 75% of their customers look online before going into a store, or end up purchasing online frames that they tried on in-store. They use data about where their online browsers are to think about where they should open their next location. They also offer a “try on at home” service that lets people browse online, try on at home, and come in-store for finishing touches and fittings.

Example: Crate&Barrel and Bed Bath and Beyond

Crate&Barrel and Bed Bath and Beyond aren’t even using fancy algorithms or a team of data scientists to get closer to omni-channel. They’re using a tactic that has been around for ages, but works all the better now. Buy online, pick up in-store. They provide a full catalogue online, so people can shop for furniture or homewares from the comfort of their living room; then they have the items ready to go in any retail store you’d like. I actually used this myself when I was moving for college. I went to my local Bed Bath and Beyond and was given a scanner. I scanned a bunch of items I needed for my dorm room, which were all put into an online customer account for me. I then added a couple of things to my cart online, and picked everything up a few days later at a Bed Bath and Beyond store on the other side of the country.

What’s next for retail?

Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going to happen. But it’s pretty certain that brands with multiple touchpoints, using customer preferences and information to make a seamless experience from one platform to the next, are going to win out.

As Retail Next puts it, “Change, however, doesn’t need to be radical. In many cases, retailers can “win” by adopting new technologies and new practices, based on data analysis, to their already solid—but increasingly at-risk—retail businesses.”

Even small and medium businesses can start thinking about getting omni-channel.

You’re on the way to going omni-channel

But you could probably use some help. Elkfox can help you put together a seamless online and mobile business that helps you keep track of your customers’ interests and use the latest tech to move towards becoming an omni-channel retailer. Talk to us about it.

Image via Warby Parker