Uniting the online and offline customer experience – customers in the omnichannel sphere

Today, it is undeniable that the digitally connected consumer experience is at the forefront of driving business. In their recent ‘Digital Impact’ report, Deloitte stresses that ‘addressing the digital divide is the new business imperative’ and consultants should therefore be leading the change to ensure that this issue rises to the forefront of business thinking.

Hand with credit card and a small shopping cart coming from laptop screen isolated in white

But one of the most difficult things to negotiate is the balance between the offline and online, the physical and the digital, within a shopping experience. This is becoming known as the ‘omnichannel market’ as consumers consult various different mediums before they make a purchase. In the 13-35 age group, over 15 billion USD will be gained in revenue in the next three years from mobile advertising, mobile apps, on demand video and social network advertising. That’s no insignificant number and will only continue to grow as digital becomes even more an integrated part of our lives, particularly as the Internet of Things revolution gets truly underway.

Is there a way to unite these customer experience into one seamless shopping journey through the physical and digital space? If there is a way through this issue, the following points certainly need to be considered by retailers…

  • Marketing budget – 84% of customers say they use a retailer’s web or mobile site as part of their process in planning an in-store visit. By the end of 2014, digital purchases made up 50% of total retail revenue yet often the marketing budgets for retailers do not reflect this high percentage to develop their online presence. A change needs to appear within the dedicated budget for developing online spaces by considering it as an essential component of the overall shopping experience which also includes shopping in store.
  • Digital Lists – Customers often create digital lists pre-arrival to the physical shop. Retailers’ data is consistently skewed because of an over emphasis on click through rates for online purchases rather than realising that online is part of the experience with such digital lists that are then used to go in store to purchase. The online pre-shopping experience should aim simply to make a sale before the customer then arrives in the physical store anyway. However, if this unique assortment of products for a specific customer is not advertised correctly in store, then the activity of creating lists itself is pointless and frustrates the customer. In store experiences need to be more like digital – bringing up products that suit the individual needs of that consumer based on their prior lists and browsing history.
  • Use of screens in store – To make the transition from online to in store shopping more seamless, screens can be a useful addition to the online buying process by allowing customers to bring up their digital lists or continue their online searching. If the online and in store experiences are totally separate interactions then it is meaningless to bring them together. The digital experience needs to be seamless and easy to encourage people who will be frequent buyers of a store’s products to keep coming back.
  • Night buying – One distinct advantage of online shopping is the ability to buy and order products at any time of day or night. A report at Parkway shopping mall in Singapore after the launch of their ‘Sprooki’ shopping app revealed that 15% of purchases were made at night during peak internet browsing periods when the mall and stores are closed. 12,000 products from the mall were viewed on smartphones in one month and it is interesting that mobile transactions take place overnight to redeem next day in store.
  • Info finding – This needs to be standardised across both the in store and digital platforms. Customers want information to be instantly available as speed and efficiency is what digital offers so well and if the in store experience does not provide this, it frustrates them and does not encourage in store buying.
  • Incorporate mobile – Rather than staunchly defending brick and mortar stores blindly, it must be realised that people are using their smartphones on the journey to the store and whilst in the physical store itself. They are undeniably part of the modern shopping experience and instead of trying to halt this, they should be incorporated through promotions and digital coupons via social networks and iBeacons.
  • Local attraction – The physical location of a store means that vital revenue can potentially be generated from residents within a local area. Walmart has started to manage loyalty at a local level by creating facebook pages for each of its 3500+ stores. Local blogs as well can be a source of further promotion to the members of the local community where a physical store is actually located.
  • Stores as ‘experience centres’ – In store value needs to be emphasised because although online shopping has acquired mass appeal through its speed and convenience, physical stores can offer more. They have the potential for big displays offering excitement, entertainment and emotional engagement for their products. Disney has begun to do this by creating ‘entertainment hubs’ to encourage people to stay longer and for families to visit again and again.
  • Mobile wallets – Google Wallet and Apple Passbooks could be the way forward in creating a fast checkout solution for consumers who are looking for the same hassle-free and quick experience they have whilst shopping online.
  • Online videos – Many online users like to watch videos so the ability for quick sharing of video adverts across social networks presents a useful marketing strategy for stores to create emotional attachments to their brand to then develop in store. The impact of this most recently can be seen with the new John Lewis Christmas advert gaining over 5.9 million views within 24 hours and the hashtag #manonthemoon even outranking 1Direction on twitter. Although not showing any of the products on offer, the theme of the advert and the quick sharing of the video across social networks shows the potential for people to be intrigued by what products are on offer for Christmas and will then look at the website or visit the store for gifts. The Oxford Street flagship store will even be having a ‘man on the moon bench’ for customers to take photos and keep up the Twitter trend, blending the online phenomenon with a physical experience in store.

So even though there are all those laptop lovers, tablet tappers and mobile mad consumers out there, retailers do have ways in which they can adapt their in store experiences to suit the needs of the more modern digitally connected customer. The aim should be to create a personalised and synchronised customer experience for the customer to carry out the final purchase in whichever channel they choose – each one being just as easy or enjoyable.

Although innovation requires effort, and initial investment, the ability of digital and big data to engage with target audiences and drive up sales within the physical stores is clear. It is undeniably a part of the decision making process for buying products, whether price checking online at home or grabbing info through a smartphone whilst in store. The appeal of physical stores will not diminish in favour of simply clicking your way through all purchases – the figures for buying in store are still high and people like to see the physical products as well as browsing as a leisure activity too – but there are certainly ways in which digital can be better incorporated into the in-store customer experience.

by Laura Aitken-Burt, FreshMinds

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