Why retailers must embrace an omni-channel marketing strategy for ecommerce success

By Carsten Kraus

The traditional purchasing method of online shopping is already considered antiquated, thanks to an increasing number of touch points that the customer has access to. An online retailer may now have a ‘traditional’ website, a mobile optimised site, a Facebook page with an integrated social commerce platform – the list goes on – and all on top of a brick-and-mortar store still to manage.

Five years ago, when retailers were still getting to grips with how to integrate and track their online offerings with other marketing channels, ‘multi-channel marketing’ was the buzz phrase on everyone’s lips. But now that too is becoming outdated as a concept. In a world in which virtually every aspect of our daily lives is now digitised, having a multi-channel

approach to marketing no longer cuts the mustard if you want to be at the forefront of the ecommerce revolution.

Enter omni-channel marketing, the natural evolution to the multi-channel approach. While multi-channel meant simply having a presence in multiple channels, omni-channel marketing embraces the use of all of a retailer’s channels in a seamless and coherent way. Omni-channel marketers are able to track customer interaction simultaneously across a range of touch points including their physical store, their website and their mobile (including tablet optimised versions) and any activity implemented via social networks.

Those looking to develop an omni-channel approach have two factors to consider to achieve the seamless integration of their various channels. The first of these involves data. How do you not only manage the sheer volume of data that your various channels generate, but manage it in a way that can effectively track the customer journey from one touch point to another? Successful omni-channel marketing requires effective processing of ‘big data’ and, before that, identifying that this is the same customer on all touchpoints.

The second point to consider is in providing a coherent experience across your multiple touch points. This isn’t necessarily about creating an identical experience across each of your channels, but about making your customers feel “at home” with all the different ways in which they can interact with your brand. For example a clothing retailer with sections such as ‘teen’ and ‘adult’ in their physical store should duplicate those sections in their online store. If discounted items are coded with a red symbol in your online store, use that same symbol in your physical store.

Of course, you cannot easily put all articles on multiple shelves in the physical store, as you can in the online store (online, a pair of trainers can fall into the categories of “shoes”, “sportswear” and in “discounted” by just tagging it, if you use dynamic faceted navigation. In physical stores you would need three pairs of trainers. There are some elements of the online and the physical that you cannot recreate.

Having said that, there should be consistency in the presence of your brand across these multiple touch points. An increasing number of high street stores are installing in-store touch screen terminals on which customers can browse for items they may have already seen on a computer at home. The journey on an in-store terminal – even if it is touchscreen rather than keyboard controlled – should be the same or as similar as it can be on the home computer, i.e. similar navigation and a similar order of information.

Typefaces, image embedding and the overall look of a retailer’s site need to be consistent across all versions of it as part of an omni-channel strategy. Every touch point needs to feel like it is a fully integrated part of a retailer’s brand, because familiarity builds trust. Fundamentally, whether a customer chooses to look at a retailer’s goods using a computer, a smartphone, a tablet or in-store, they should have access to the same set of product information and in a format that feels familiar to them as they browse the different platforms. They should also be able to log in and see what might have remained in their shopping cart or on their wish list – across the different devices and touch points.

Omni-channel marketing is the next generation of multi-channel marketing – the steady rise in the growth of the tablet industry will ensure that. In 2011, tablet commerce accounts for only around 1% of ecommerce sales in the UK and Europe, but it’s entirely viable that within three years B2C ecommerce sales via tablet devices could surpass those made via PCs.

Consumers have grown used to the idea of mobile search, are becoming increasingly au-fait in their use of tablet devices and are actively seeking new ways to interact with retailers. Gone are the days in which online shopping and high street shopping activity are performed separately. Businesses need to take note and switch their focus from a multi-channel on to an omni-channel in order to make the most from their ecommerce offerings.

About the author

Carsten Kraus is chief executive of Europe’s leading online search and navigation specialist FACT-Finder. Based in Pforzheim, Paris and London, FACT-Finder’s clients include Harvey Nichols, Kurt Geiger and Swarovski.


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