Self-checkouts. Mobile apps. In-store browsing touchscreens. Which of these digital capabilities is part of a retail omnichannel experience?

The answer is all of them. However, as standalone offerings, these elements don’t result in a true omnichannel experience. As an increasing number of retail stores complete a refit or open for the first time, more and more are embracing these digital experiences and labelling it omnichannel. A self-checkout is good, but if it isn’t part of a wider digital strategy, then it isn’t an omnichannel encounter. With the cost of living crisis biting throughout 2023 and expected into the new year, considerations must also be applied to the economic climate, too.

It’s more important than ever that retailers think carefully about how a true omnichannel offering can influence a customer’s journey and association with their store.

Combining evolution and expectations

With new technology constantly emerging, we’re living through exciting times for the retail sector. The ways in which brands can connect with customers are plentiful and increasingly varied; engagement can be emotive or functional, encouraging creativity in individual approaches.

In recent times, omnichannel has become a buzzword amongst brands and customers alike, with the latter expecting a personalised journey upon each return. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic saw a shift in customer buying habits and, additionally, what purchasers expect from the retail experience instore and online, too.

In 2022, Klarna’s Quarterly Shopping Pulse study revealed that 80% of UK shoppers surveyed believe that retailers need to continuously invest in new technologies to meet evolving consumer demands. Around half pinpoint frictionless payments, both in store (48%) and online (46%), as a retailer’s top priority. Clearly, customers are valuing convenience highly – and it’s up to brands to deliver a journey which reflects this need.

In addition to this, consumer confidence has been low throughout 2023, and this is expected to continue. The Deloitte Consumer Tracker for Q3 shows that consumers still remain prudent with their money. This is set to persist, meaning that it’s still incredibly important for retailers to offer experiences that stand out. 

Ensuring effectiveness

As the old saying goes, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Decking out your store with numerous touchpoints may feel impressive but what purpose is it serving? Is it allowing customers to engage with your brand in a meaningful way? Without a clear plan of what you’re trying to achieve, the potential of omnichannel is wasted.

Omnichannel is only possible when you understand your customers and what they require. From there, you can construct an experience that is significant, smooth and multifaceted, guaranteeing customers are left with a positive impression of the brandwhether they access it online or offline.

If self-checkouts, mobile apps and in-store browsing touchscreens form the foundation of your omnichannel offering, it’s essential to map out how they work in unison; moving from one to the other should be completely seamless. If not, customers could be left confused and, at worst, frustrated by what unfolds. Other common pitfalls include separate channels failing to communicate, customer data not translating between online and offline functions and targeting the wrong KPIs for your business.

A well thought out future

As tech progresses at a rapid rate, so does the scope of the omnichannel experience. Innovation is happening before our eyes. But careful consideration is still needed.

Developments in technology present tantalising possibilities for brands, connecting with customers in immediate and immersive ways not seen before. Harnessing this new tech can position you as progressive and future-facing. Customer data is also becoming increasingly valuable, particularly for the insight into personal buying habits it can provide.

But issues of privacy prompt new ethical challenges, too. Similarly, shoppers are increasingly well-informed about their options and care about values and the societal impact of businesses; brands must use omnichannel effectively to communicate these honestly and transparently, or risk embarrassment and, at worse, significant financial impact.

Economic climate should also influence decision making for stores. According to the Office for National Statistics, sales volumes fell by 1.1% in the three months to October 2023 when compared with the previous three months. As noted, investing in an omnichannel approach can provide significant reward but it can also be a costly misstep if not strategised effectively. Retailers must also take into account the cost of living crisis, which shows no sign of abating in 2024, and customer spending habits, too. Are customers in enough of a comfortable financial position to make the most of your omnichannel services? 

Optimal omnichannel

For businesses, omnichannel is undoubtedly an approach of countless opportunities to engage with customers. Emotive stories can be told, associations with brands can be overwhelmingly positive and customers can be guaranteed to return.However it’s also easy to lose sight of why and how you’re using omnichannel, as well as mobilising it effectively. For brands to be successful, they must put the needs of its customers before all else, and use them as a guide for mapping out an immersive retail journey.

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