What is an omni-channel strategy? And why do you need one?

OPINION / 25th May 2017

In the past, businesses typically had one sales ‘channel’ sell to their customers – for retailers it was their stores, for B2B businesses it was their sales team. Then, when e-commerce entered the market, there was another channel that they could sell their goods and services on, and so the term “multi-channel” was coined. Yet, the advent of digital has brought another two dimensions into play – mobile and social – meaning there are now multiple channels in which to reach the consumer, and hence the term “omni (all ways, all places) channel” has been born.

But why do you need an omnichannel strategy? Due to technology, the rapid adoption of smartphones, and faster internet services, today’s digitally-savvy consumers are online, on social, and on any device, 24/7. And they expect you to be too! The new channels, combined with technology, have changed their behaviour. Consumers now bounce back and forth on websites, review sites, social media, e-commerce sites and even go in store to research, and seek advice from family and friends to weigh up the best options before they make a purchase.

So, an omnichannel strategy is essential, because it allows you to map out the new possible paths consumers take before making a purchase, and can enable you to plan how your online and offline channels can work together. Plus, a coherent omni-channel strategy puts context at the heart of it, so it forces you to think about how to make the right connection, at the right time, with the right consumer, on the channel they are on.

As ever, retail is at the forefront of digital transformation, and many retailers have been quick to implement an omnichannel approach to meet consumer demand.  Ralph Lauren’s Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan is a great example of how an omnichannel strategy has been implemented in practice.

Back in 2015 Ralph Lauren was one of the first retailers to merge digital technology with the in-store retail experience. It installed a connected fitting room, which lets customers browse different products via a touchscreen, where they can select new items, different sizes or colours without having to leave the cubicle. It was designed to remove friction from the customer experience, and also to help the retailer make smarter merchandising decisions. The connected fitting room also sends customers, who have left the store without making a purchase, a summary/reminder of the items they viewed/tried on to their mobile. Ralph Lauren has reported that since the digitally-enabled fitting rooms have been installed customer engagement rate has increased to 90%.

Another example of an omnichannel strategy in place comes from Rail Europe, Inc, a US distributor that offers North American travellers a single place to book rail tickets and passes throughout Europe. Despite having a good website and an award winning contact centre it wanted to get a better handle on its customers’ journeys across all its touch points. So, it created a customer journey map, based on four guiding principles that:

  • people choose rail travel because it is convenient, easy, and flexible;
  • rail booking is only one part of people’s larger travel process;
  • people build their travel plans over time;
  • and people value service that is respectful, effective and personable.

Rail Europe identified that its customer journey fell into six stages: research and planning, shopping, booking, post-booking, pre-travel, travel and post travel. As a result, it has created content and experiences that address its customers’ needs and pain points, at the various touch points along the way.

Google has also done a lot of work around the customer journey and its relationship to search. It has looked at thousands of searches and identified four differing moments that customers have when they use search:

  1. ‘I-want-to-know’ moments - when a customer is researching and looking for more information about a product category;
  2. ‘I-want-to-go’ moments -  more localised search, when a person is looking for something nearby or is trying to find something;
  3. ‘I-want-to-do’ moments – particularly on mobile, people have a task they need to do right now and they're looking for instruction and advice;
  4. ‘I want to buy’ moments -  they are ready to make a purchase.

Google says that businesses need to understand all of these different ‘I-want-to’ moments so that they can create content and experiences that reflect that customer’s need in that particular moment.

Screenshot from https://www.raileurope.com/index.html

ORM’s view

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting on SiteCore’s discussion panel, where we heard from a range of businesses who are trying to grapple with how to best serve their customer, and how they can create the right experience for them in a digital era. And our collective message was that you need to create an omnichannel strategy, that maps out the different touch points, from owned channels to other destinations, that your customers use, so that you can identify where your strengths lie and highlight any gaps and potential opportunities where you can reach them and enhance their journeys.

Of course, the biggest challenge for any business wanting to create an omnichannel approach is integration. Consumers now create vast amounts of data, be it when they go online, phone a call centre, purchase an item with a discount code in a store, or even when they hook up to the free wifi and browse online whilst in-store. Pulling all this data together, from the varying interactions on different channels (on CRM, experience platforms, IoT, apps, social and commerce) can be hard, but not impossible.

Once you’ve identified the channels your customers are using, and can differentiate when they're researching, versus shopping, versus buying, and picking up a product, or seeking out service after purchase, you can plan, design and create memorable moments and seamless interactions for them, which will make them want to come back to you again and again.

We create omnichannel strategies for both D2C and B2B journeys in financial services, transport and travel, and retail. Come and talk to us about how we can plan yours too.

Peter Gough Peter Gough Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough