The definitive guide to omnichannel retail
Consumers rely on multiple channels and touchpoints to find, research, and buy a product and communicate with customer support. This trend was happening before 2020, but the pandemic accelerated the move to digital and omnichannel retail.
And the rapid expansion of omnichannel has made it difficult for some retailers to learn the best way to reach customers. The number of channels, platforms, and devices available can get overwhelming.
This guide will help your business thrive in an omnichannel retail environment. Learn how to build an effective strategy as we cover:
- What is omnichannel retail?
- Omnichannel vs. multichannel
- The importance of omnichannel retail
- Strategies for omnichannel retail
- Channels for building an omnichannel retail presence
- Omnichannel retail best practices
- The future of omnichannel retail
What is omnichannel retail?
Omnichannel retail allows customers to access a brand’s products, offers, and support across all channels, platforms, devices, and touchpoints. It provides a seamless customer experience no matter where the customer is on their journey.
For example, a customer may first encounter your product on social media, place an order on the product website, and then pick it up in a nearby store. With omnichannel retail, brands give buyers the ability to reach them through social media platforms, online customer support, third party marketplaces, and more.
Omnichannel vs. Multichannel
Omnichannel and multichannel are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences and shouldn’t be confused.
Multichannel retail is when a business is present on more than one channel but there’s minimal or no connection between them. A customer might place an item in their cart on a company’s mobile app but not see that action reflected on the website. This shows purchase and communication options are independent rather than integrated.
Omnichannel retail unifies each touchpoint for a more on-trend and holistic communication between brand and audience. This integration is necessary to avoid inconsistent branding across platforms. With omnichannel, customers experience the same service whether they’re interacting through a phone, website, or social media platform. Omnichannel also connects and updates inventory across all platforms so customers can visit your website and see if a product is in stock before heading to your physical store.
The importance of omnichannel retail
Developing an omnichannel retail strategy is a project for any business, but it’s increasingly necessary as customers expect to move between channels smoothly.
Reach ideal customers
Target audiences use many platforms and an omnichannel retail strategy can help find the right audience on the right channels. You can highlight and promote curated offerings that appeal to each group, reaching them where they are most likely to respond.
Improve customer satisfaction
A buyer is happier if they can access your company easily at every step of their journey, from interest, to sale, to support. The simpler you make your customer’s experience, the more satisfied your customers will be.
Provide multiple touchpoints where a buyer can find and purchase your product and engage with your brand. A high-quality customer experience (CX) results in more engagement from your audience, better reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations, improved customer loyalty, and more sales.
Strategies for omnichannel retail
Adopting or improving your omnichannel retail presence will look different for each business, but there are a few key steps necessary to get started.
1. Know your customer
When you know your customer, you can direct personalized messaging most likely to produce conversions. An effective omnichannel process does this by collecting data from multiple touchpoints to build robust customer personas.
Real-time AI customer relationship management (CRM) software can also help organize all that customer data into detailed customer profiles. This allows you to predict which products each consumer will be most interested in and target the offer to the right channel.
2. Pick the right channels
Integrated customer profiles will identify which channels your target audiences prefer. Look for patterns and trends regarding which social media platforms they spend the most time on, which digital channels they use for ecommerce, and how they prefer to contact brands.
Those insights can help you prioritize which channels to focus your resources on first, which can be added to the program later, and which are likely a waste of time. It can also help design targeted campaigns to reach different niche audiences on their favorite platforms.
3. Map the customer journey
Mapping each channel to your customer journeys can help you plan an effective omnichannel retail strategy. Identify where each persona starts, where they go for more information and reviews, where they compare competitors, and where they end up purchasing. Deliver what they need on every channel at every step of the path.
For example, let’s assume that a retailer discovers a lot of their customers discover the brand and products on social media but end up buying through the website. That marketing team might decide to invest in awareness campaigns on social media and look for new ways to prioritize calls to action (CTAs) on the website.
4. Choose a purpose for each channel
Different channels appeal to different demographics at different points on their buyer journeys. This should affect how you use each platform.
Start by identifying the primary use for each channel, based on audience engagement. Maybe your customers generally turn to Twitter for customer support but Facebook to shop. You might notice that audiences visit the site to learn about the brand and only interact with emails that offer coupons. You can use all those insights to guide your omnichannel strategy.
You may segment your social media marketing strategy to reach a variety of target demographics. Facebook campaigns might target an older group of shoppers, while a different campaign engages a younger audience on TikTok.
A channel may have a secondary or tertiary purpose as well, and none of them are set in stone. Omnichannel retailing allows you to see which groups are reacting to which parts of your branding so you can adjust according.
5. Connect everything
Test your website, storefronts, social profiles, and tools to make sure your integrations are seamless. Customers are using different channels all along their buying journeys — but where retailers see different platforms, customers see one conversation between themselves and the brand. Make sure the customer journey feels like a simple, straight path for your audiences.
There is software to achieve this, and the very best are those using AI to maintain real-time customer profiles so no touchpoint or engagement is missed. The tools you use will need to foster alignment between your internal teams so everyone works from the same data.
6. Establish a clear brand voice
A consistent brand voice helps establish your reputation and sets your company apart from the competition. Audiences should know what to expect from your business. Surprising them can erode brand trust.
Different channels require certain types of content, but your brand voice should be consistent in every campaign. A company with a serious brand voice can still do TikTok videos, and a business with a light tone can still be funny on LinkedIn. If your brand voice really doesn’t work on a particular channel, there’s a good chance your audience isn’t there anyway.
7. Manage and adapt the strategy
Your omnichannel retail strategy will continue to evolve as you gather more data about your customers. Conduct regular reviews to make sure you’re using the right channels and content for your targeted groups. For example, if you see an increased demand for customer support in certain channels, shift resources to meet that need.
Evaluate your message and conduct split-testing to see if it’s still effective or needs adjusting. If conversion is lacking on a platform, analyze results from all advertising to identify when it might be time to end advertising efforts in one channel, begin in another, or rework the messaging.
Channels for building an omnichannel retail presence
Your company doesn’t have to show up on every platform at once. Start with the channels that are most important to your audience and be intentional about each one you add.
No matter how many platforms your omnichannel strategy covers, your website is still the digital home base for your brand. Before you add other channels, consider certain factors to ensure the site provides an uncomplicated customer experience and helps guide buyers through their journey.
- Navigation. The main navigation on the site should be intuitive for new visitors. Use secondary navigation to offer as much additional clarity as possible.
- Site structure. Every page of the site should be organized and guide visitors to the next step — whether it’s to an email subscription, the next piece of content, or a purchase. Make sure your readers never hit a dead end in their customer journey.
- CTAs. Every CTA on the site should be optimized for the intent of the page it appears on. If any CTAs are under-performing, review them and redirect them if needed.
It’s better to build a strong presence on one social media platform than to disappoint customers on many. Once you create a great customer experience on the most popular platform with your audience, add another channel and adjust your content accordingly.
Post consistently to engage with the community and use the same or similar targeted keywords and hashtags to lead people to your brand across all platforms for a consistent omnichannel presence.
An app gives your brand a greater presence with audience members because it puts your brand in their pockets. Apps can often be designed to do more and offer specific features that users expect on their smartphones. For example, a customer might expect to coordinate curbside pickup through an app more than a mobile site.
Not every company needs an app. One good way to tell is to watch mobile engagement on your site. If customers are using the mobile site in the store or are using it for most of their ecommerce needs, an app might be a good fit.
Marketplaces bring sellers and buyers together online. They’re so effective that more social media sites are adding ecommerce tools so you can set up shop on their platform. Some marketplace sites like Amazon offer storage, shipping, and customer service as well.
Consider expanding to digital storefronts beyond your website to increase the number of entry points where customers can find you. Buyers make a habit of visiting their favorite marketplace first, so finding you there removes another step to them purchasing from your store. Each marketplace has tools to help you get started on their platform.
Paid search ads
Ads help your customers discover your product when searching. They also remind buyers of your brand and nurture repeat business.
While most social media platforms offer paid search ads, companies also sponsor social media influencers so your audience feels like they’re engaging directly with someone they trust. Both strategies put your brand before your buyers across their favorite channels.
Research and test various ad platforms to see which produces the highest conversions. Once you know which channels your ideal persona prefers, you can focus resources on creating effective search ads or tapping into the most strategic influencers on that platform.
Omnichannel retail best practices
There are best practices to learn and follow on every channel, but there are also some general strategies that will help optimize your omnichannel retail program overall.
Use device and platform specific CTAs
Tailor your CTAs to each platform, based on the primary purpose for that channel and campaign.
For example, if your audience discovers the brand on social media, the CTAs on those profiles should direct buyers to your site or app where they can learn more. If your customers engage most often with emails that offer special deals, design those CTAs to focus on discounts and other offers.
Consider how your customers are receiving your products. The process should work well across all platforms. You might offer free shipping to their homes, curbside pickup, or the option to go into your physical store for personalized service when getting their product.
Plan to resolve customer issues at every step in each platform. You may need to field support requests from every channel, so develop a process to facilitate this.
Many CRMs allow a customer service rep to quickly see where and when a buyer interacted previously, which is crucial for a robust omnichannel strategy. Customers should never have to repeat their problem, clarify who they are, or give purchase details to a different customer service team member.
The future of omnichannel retail
Omnichannel retail is constantly evolving. For example, the increasingly customer-centric market has resulted in an improved product return process. Customers expect to be given priority and have their returns processed quickly and with ease.
Personalization has also become a driving factor in modern omnichannel retail since it helps build loyalty and trust. Your omnichannel retail strategy should be able to identify which groups of customers prefer which products so you can craft their experience. Good customer data and research will allow you to make the best product recommendations.
AI-powered customer service can also help direct support requests to the most suitable department. Sometimes the request could be technical or the customer might want to cancel a subscription. Automatic customer service chats can identify the context and problem and connect the buyer appropriately. Just remember that while simple customer service tasks can be accomplished with AI responders alone, the human connection is irreplaceable and still necessary at certain points.
Next steps for your omnichannel retail strategy
It can be challenging to create and optimize an omnichannel retail presence, but retail has made the digital transformation and businesses need to keep up.
Begin by designing a solid, user-friendly website. Then research your customers, their habits, and their needs. Determine the best platforms to build your presence and the order to begin adding them.
Whether you're revisiting your current omnichannel retail strategy or starting to build one, Adobe Commerce can help you connect and manage your customers’ experience across channels and platforms with ease. Adobe offers flexible tools and the latest AI technology to help you build B2B and B2C customer experiences across multiple channels from a single platform.
Sign up for an interactive tour of Adobe Commerce to find out how it can help your ecommerce business succeed.