In the fall of 2018, the once dominating retail giant, Sears, filed for bankruptcy. When consumers heard about this, many people reminisced about the days of catalog shopping. Today this concept of browsing a paper catalog, filling out a paper form, and mailing a payment check seems unbelievably antiquated. Yet during its heyday, Sears boasted revenues of $13.8B (2016) and sold everything from clothes to jewelry to mail-order “kit homes.”
The problem with Sears and many other retailers was that they stayed with the same retail model instead of changing with the times. Retailers now know that the world of commerce is incredibly dynamic and for retailers to survive, they must be able to adapt—and quickly.
In 1995, Amazon.com launched an e-commerce marketplace for new and used books. Today the retail behemoth expects to post third-quarter revenue between $125B and $130B, representing a growth of 13-17%, per CNBC. As more channels entered the retail scene, “multi-channel” became widely understood as facilitating more than one retail channel to fulfill and distribute orders. However, the people, processes and technologies behind the scenes were disparate in the multi-channel model.
In 2010, omni-channel was introduced into the retail landscape. Omni-channel links every retail channel together to build a seamless customer journey. Consumers interact with brands on various channels and want a unified brand experience, whether browsing a brick-and-mortar store, shopping on a smartphone, or buying online and picking up in the store.
What does it take for a retail brand to embrace omni-channel, and why would the brand want to do that?
Omni-channel retail strategies prioritize customer service and provide a seamless shopping experience, whether customers visit physical stores or engage with brands on any online sales channel. Customers today expect—and demand—the same level of service regardless of where or how they shop. While businesses can significantly boost their revenue with an omni-channel retail strategy, failing to do so can seriously impair sales potential.
Companies with a solid omni-channel retail strategy retain an average of 89% of their customers compared to 33% for companies with less established omni-channel strategies. Studies have also shown that omni-channel shoppers generally spend more in the long term, with greater transaction size and CLV (customer lifetime value).
Navigating Multiple Aspects of Omni-Channel Strategies
Modern retail omni-channel strategies may include multiple contact channels, such as app-based platforms, in-store purchases and social media marketplaces. For instance, a consumer electronics company may engage audiences via its official e-commerce site and in-store POS (point-of-sale) while providing a seamless shopping experience.
2022 brings added marketing challenges, as many brands are now prioritizing an omni-channel approach for their physical store and online channels. On top of that, big names across various industries have successfully implemented omni-channel strategies over the years.
Market research predicts that the e-commerce industry could grow by almost $11 trillion between 2021 and 2025. The emerging trend highlights the importance of omni-channel approaches to marketing for retail companies as more customers adapt to seamless shopping practices.
Omni-Channel Fulfillment Strategies
BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) has become increasingly popular among modern customers. Through BOPIS, customers can skip long delivery times and avoid costly shipping costs while enjoying the convenience of online shopping channels. BOPIS also offers a hybrid process that has gained traction as more shoppers opt for flexible brand experiences.
The benefits of BOPIS facilitate faster checkouts and product collection, with industry research showing a 35% increase in sales during the holiday season. With these numbers, BOPIS remains an integral part of the e-commerce industry, giving customers more control and personalization over their transactions.
Companies can effectively roll out BOPIS services by providing customers with automated confirmation e-mails for product collection and refining communication processes for a seamless pickup experience. For example, companies should feature a responsive inventory system informing customers about unavailable products and offering user-friendly navigation across apps and websites.
Similarly, brands may offer other purchase policies that further expand on the flexibility of customer experiences. These shopper options may include ROPIS (reserve online pickup in-store), BORIS (buy online return in-store), and curbside pickup services, which can improve an existing omni-channel retail strategy.
Use Customer Data to Personalize Online Strategies
While most brands integrate customer data in their personalized online strategies, they may lack the same system for offline experiences. Applying measurable customer data throughout the omni-channel retail strategy gives businesses a comprehensive view of shopper behavior, driving seamless engagement and customer loyalty according to core purchasing practices.
For example, a customer places an order online for multiple items, gaining loyalty points for the entire order. They then decide to return one of those items to a retail store. As the retailer, you need to be able to 1) make a seamless return in-store and 2) remove any loyalty points earned by the item returned.
You also need to be able to record every touchpoint, regardless of where it occurred. This provides a more comprehensive picture of customer interactions, which can be used to improve the overall shopping experience.
Keep All Inventory Data Points Synced
An efficient omni-channel strategy ensures that every data point remains consistent across inventories. Poorly synced inventory could lead to lost sales, affecting a brand’s overall revenue. For instance, some customers may exclusively consult their smartphone apps for product stock and may miss out on in-store inventory.
Therefore, retailers need to monitor that each inventory touchpoint syncs in real-time from a centralized monitoring system for an optimized omni-channel retail strategy. Aside from providing accurate product quantities, each touchpoint should offer valuable data, such as restocking timelines and push notification alerts.
Customers should also be able to see when out-of-stock items will be back in stock or preorder any new items from a retailer’s online storefront. This information should also be available for associates at physical stores to answer customer queries more efficiently.
Order Management Systems (OMS) Help Omni-Channel Succeed
An advanced order management system (OMS) equips businesses with critical one-stop capabilities to fulfill omni-channel demands at scale. Through a trusted OMS, retailers can streamline every aspect of order management, optimizing omni-channel experiences at each touchpoint. Here are five ways an OMS can streamline your omni-channel strategy:
1. Centralized view of all inventory
Allocate inventory where needed for a seamless experience. Multiple channels can pull from the same inventory pool, or you can segment inventory for specific omni-channel retail channels. You can also showcase local store inventory on your website, so customers know it’s available at your brick-and-mortar store.
This blends the online and offline shopping experience so customers can shop the way they want with multiple options. At the same time, you can worry less about stockouts or inaccurate inventory counts.
2. Omni-channel fulfillment options
The customer experience in today’s e-commerce environment should also allow more personalized experiences by providing multiple customer service options as part of your marketing strategy. To be competitive today, your retail strategy should include:
· BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup in Store)
· ROPIS (Reserve Online, Pickup in Store)
· Ship from Store
· Curbside pickup.
3. Flexible returns process
Ninety-two percent of consumers say they will buy again if the returns process is easy. With an OMS, customers can initiate their returns and decide whether they want to return the order or drop it off at a store. Order management systems can create return management authorization forms, generate refunds and manage credit, apply restocking fees, create shipping labels, and trigger customer communications throughout the returns process.
You should also offer multiple channels for handling returns, including:
· Self-service returns
· BORIS (Buy Online, Return in Store).
4. Customer notifications
An advanced OMS can also automate customer notifications at each step of the buying journey. This helps personalize experiences and offers an additional way to build loyalty with your customers for the long term. Not only are you providing greater transparency for your customers, but you add additional touchpoints and opportunities to upsell or cross-sell as part of your marketing campaigns.
5. Offer preorders and backorders
By utilizing preorders on your online channels, you can gain momentum for new product launches and increase cash flow even before you have items in stock. You can also help mitigate customer frustrations by being transparent about stockouts and letting customers know when items are likely to be available.
To succeed in omni-channel retail, retailers need an order management system that effectively covers the entire lifecycle of your orders—from click to doorstep—and gives your brand fulfillment capabilities and visibility you don’t have if you use manual processes to handle your inventory and orders.
Kari Polson is senior marketing manager at Deck Commerce, a provider of order management systems for direct-to-consumer retailers.