Comment: Forget the semantics, focus on the customer

When multichannel was first discussed, it was about creating seamless cross-channel shopping experiences, placing the shopper at the heart of the business to ensure consistency across all touch points. Then omnichannel came along, and so too did the seemingly endless debate of how it differs from multichannel. Whether it is “omni” or “multi” is frankly irrelevant and distracting from the most important thing, the customer, who after all only see and shop the brand. Those retailers recognising this and looking at their business from their consumer’s point of view are outperforming. This approach, for me, is what “omnichannel” is all about. However, retailers should forget the semantics, and adopt a customer centric approach, with strategies focused on social media, mobile, and in-store experiences.

Providing seamless shopping journeys is now expected as standard. It could even be argued that this is what being multichannel is about, facilitating operational activities that provide seamless transactions in each channel, while omnichannel is about the customer, creating a seamless, integrated and consistent experience at every stage of the path-to-purchase.  Now it’s no longer integrating technology around the customer, but interacting with them at every stage of the purchasing journey.

Since the inception of multichannel, there has been a rapid adoption of mobile technology and social media. This has created empowered consumers expecting constant connectivity and interactivity with their favourite retailer and brands. Consumers now want to blend content with commerce to create tailored shopping experiences that are relevant to them, making informed purchasing decisions by blending the best of in-store and online, while leveraging the information rich resources of online and social media.

In order to cater for these shoppers, retailers need a comprehensive understanding of how they buy, engage and interact with them. This will help retailers nurture advocates by building close honest relationships with their customers. In addition, those retailers establishing a single view of their customer will gain the data and insight needed to experiment with innovative ways of appeasing them. Such an approach is fundamental in providing a seamless, integrated and updated experience that is relevant to individual customer’s needs. In doing so it is vital to note that the rules of the game have changed.

Mobiles are the first game changer. They’re the ultimate shopping companion, used in-store to browse products, compare prices, get friends opinions, and read reviews.

Planet Retail’s consumer research shows that 50% of online shoppers want to be able to use their mobiles to quickly and easily compare prices, while 42% want to be able to receive real time offers and promotions. Retailers need to turn how mobiles are used for shopping to their advantage. With Planet Retail’s consumer research showing 37% of shoppers use their mobile to access free in-store Wi-Fi, providing such a facility is the very basic requirement. Mobile apps that provide alerts of upcoming events, new product arrivals, tailored promotions, the ability to order items out of stock in-store for home delivery, or even QR code scanning will retain the customer within a retailer’s ecosystem, reducing the likelihood of losing them to rivals.

Another game changer is social media. Not only has it made the path-to-purchase more complex, it has wrested control of the conversation away from brands and retailers. It has become a two way conversation requiring retailers to motivate their customers to connect by engaging, informing and entertaining them. If used correctly, social media can help retailers build better relationships with shoppers, and with Planet Retail’s consumer research showing that 30% of shoppers take information from social media into account when making a purchasing decision it’s an influential marketing tool.

Moreover, brand advocates are increasingly valuable. Planet Retail’s consumer research shows that 59% of shoppers are more influenced by peer reviews and recommendations than social media when making a purchasing decision. Retailers able to exploit this trend by including consumer-generated content, such as reviews, recommendations or buying guides, are set to beat rivals relying on branded messaging and adverts.

In combining social media and mobile, retailers will be able to not only be where their consumers are at all times, but target them with personalised, relevant content that will help maximise every potential sale opportunity, while enhancing the overall experience of the brand.

Stores must not be forgotten, they’re integral to the shopping experience, but here to the rules have changed. They must become more enticing, engaging place to be. Retailers should be arming employees with the tools of the digital age, so that when customers of the digital age enter a store they can serve them effectively. For example, Planet Retail’s consumer research found that 15% of shoppers have engaged with an employee equipped with a tablet computer to help with purchasing decisions. It is not just about technology, but motivated staff. Investing in people to ensure superior service, knowledge and brand advocacy is paramount. If a staff member is a true brand advocate, the customer is more likely to become one. A further element of inspiring advocacy is generosity, not just in rewarding loyalty, but in terms of service, merchandise and overall experience. By focusing on the offer, retailers will motivate consumers to engage, interact and – crucially – shop with them.

Retailers have just begun their journey towards providing fully integrated physical, digital, mobile and social shopping experiences. While “omni” shows they’ve progressed from “multi” solutions, and that they’re someway off seamless and integrated customer engagement, it is distracting from the issue. Efforts should be constantly focused on the customer, ensuring they enjoy the ultimate brand experience, with exceptional service, merchandising and range curation across every channel. Retailing has always been about fulfilling the needs and wants of consumers. Winning retailers will be those pursuing a customer centric approach, and thereby embracing “omnichannel”. But let’s forget about buzz words and semantics. Let’s get back to the basics of retailing, meeting the needs and wants of the customer.

Planet Retail's Malcolm Pinkerton writes a regular eCommerce column for Essential Retail.