Nov 20, 20185 min read

Why omnichannel commerce has consumers hooked.


As Goldman Sachs analyst Mathew Fassler told CNBC last year, “Retail’s not dead and physical stores still matter”. We hear you Matthew. In the digital age that reveres follower count and throws around phrases like “retail apocalypse,” it’s easy to forget that people still love shopping the traditional way and continue to do so in droves.

According to a new study published in Harvard Business Review, 75 percent of all fashion purchases are made in physical stores. However, the same study concluded that consumers spend 25 percent more dough when shopping online, and that when you combine the two – shopping online followed by going into a physical store or vice versa – the final purchase is 64 percent more than the average spend.

The numbers don’t lie. Consumers are choosing an integrated, omnichannel shopping experience over a traditional one-channel approach.

Consumers continue to enjoy the ease of trying on purchases in person, and in an age of instant gratification, people want the reward of having a product immediately upon purchase. On the flip side, shopping from your computer or mobile device certainly has its perks. We’re all too familiar with the things that make online shopping so addictive: zero lines, zero people, essentially zero interaction.

Any way you slice it: brick and mortar matters and so does digital. Here’s how to make them work hand in hand.

What exactly is omnichannel commerce?

Omnichannel kind of sounds like an exotic new restaurant opening up in the West Village or a very exclusive line of men’s suits, but alas, it is neither. Omnichannel really just means all-encompassing.

Let’s break that down.

Savvy merchants know their consumers. They know that customers rely on their phones to browse products, that they use their desktops to casually ogle new shoes during lunch breaks, that certain generations will follow their brand on social, and that a percentage of potential clients will walk into a physical store. Each of these approaches are unique channels to engage new clientele. Omnichannel commerce is about ensuring consistency in brand and message across all these specific channels so that each piece works in tandem with the others.

By making sure each channel mirrors the others and keeping continuity across all channels and devices, people find themselves interacting with a brand rather than a product. And this is powerful – when buyers feel they are only interacting with a product, they will shop more heavily on price, be less likely to return, and exhibit lower levels of brand loyalty.

If a brand is truly delivering an exceptional omnichannel experience, a consumer can follow a company on Instagram, find a link to an app on social, use the app to find the closest location of said brand, browse a bit online, and then go to a retail store to purchase pants. All while experiencing the same cool vibe the brand projects with each touch.

More than being a lofty goal, or an objective to aspire to, brands are realizing that an integrated approach is necessary – it reflects the reality of how people shop today. According to the Phunware, 43 percent of shoppers use their mobile phone while shopping in a traditional store.

Take Starbucks for example: consumers use the app to buy coffee, go into the store to pick it up without waiting in line, and watch rewards automatically update in a web browser. This goes hand in hand with the rise of alternative payment methods which are being increasingly offered to meet consumer preference and demand.

An omnichannel retail strategy can also be used for planning and expansion. Why not use data from online purchases to determine best locations for a new brick and mortar post? It’s not about selling across all channels, but rather an all in one experience. Some stores actually aren’t geared toward selling but focus more on experience, knowing enthusiastic patrons will complete the purchase at home and feel more connected to the brand post-visit.

How to succeed with omnichannel

The core of a great omnichannel retail strategy lies in excellent internal cross-channel communication. It doesn’t matter how high tech and enticing a store is if a consumer checks for a size online, and skips into a store to pick up a skirt that is no longer in stock. To combat this, stores like DSW have instituted teams dedicated to omnichannel experience, whose only objective is to improve cross-functionality. The shoe giant calls this force their “Transformation Team”.

Some shopping trends are brain children of marketing geniuses, but omnichannel commerce has truly stemmed organically from how people are buying, and brands are reacting with seamless experiences – why not be one of them.