The Omnichannel Revolution

The retail landscape is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies, ideas, and trends. As companies and brands attempt to navigate their ways through this constantly changing environment, new tools, such as omnichannel marketing, have been created to find success. Omnichannel marketing presents companies with great potential and opportunities for success, but that success, and how this unique form of
marketing is properly utilized, depends on how well companies connect with their consumers, and in turn the quality of the experience consumers receive.

Many business insiders and economists have claimed that omnichannel marketing is the future of retail business and that brands that don’t adapt to it are doomed to fail, but the term itself is often intimidating and often misunderstood. So, let’s first define this term before moving on to examine its history and the role it will play in the future of business.

A channel is anything that creates interface between a company and its customers. There are physical/offline channels, which can include print, signs, radio, and television. Digital channels include any internet marketing and interface, such as websites and social media. “Omni” refers to something that is all encompassing and all-around – think omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent. When these are combined, you get omnichannel, which is a form of marketing that caters to the customer by providing experiences across all channels.

The channels are integrated to make the consumer’s experiences as user friendly, cost efficient, and enjoyable as possible.

As omnichannel marketing becomes more prevalent, the companies that know how to utilize it in concert with other emerging trends will find success. The most successful brands will merge their online and brick-and-mortar shopping to create an experience that consumers will remember. New technologies will also play a role in the omnichannel revolution, especially in regards to data collection, personalized marketing, and inventory management.

Finally, brand identity, which is an important part of the current retail landscape itself, will play a major role in the future of omnichannel marketing.

From Multichannel to Omnichannel

In order to understand the background of the omnichannel marketing concept you have to go back to the 1990s when ecommerce was first taking off under Amazon and similar companies. Amazon was one of the first companies to develop multichannel marketing, which wasn’t truly omnichannel marketing, but it did prove to be its predecessor. Although multi and omnichannel may sound alike, and they do share some similarities, they also have some notable differences.

Multichannel marketing uses many channels (multi) in the marketing process, but it generally deals with each channel separately, while omnichannel marketing considers the many, often non-linear, steps a consumer takes on the journey to buy products.

The multichannel process has also been described as “siloed” versus omnichannel’s process being more horizontal, and most importantly, consumer-centric. Owing to its name, consumers have multiple channels they can utilize at any time and aren’t restricted in a linear path.

Studies have shown how important multi and omnichannel marketing are, and that they are the future of the retail industry. One study found that 71% of consumers thought it was important to have the ability to view local inventory information for an item online, but the same study indicated that 65% of shoppers preferred to do so in person. This indicates that although technology is now a major part of the consumer experience, most people still like to have options. With that in mind, let’s see how an omnichannel process might work.

The process could begin with you surfing social media where you see a post for a sale at a local shoe store. You visit the store’s website where you learn that certain shoes are available for 25% off with a coupon you can either download as a QR code on your phone or print out from your desktop to buy in-store, or you can have it delivered to your home for a 15% discount. You elect to print a paper coupon for the 25% discount, but are given the option to schedule a time for pickup. When you arrive at the store to buy your shoes, you pick them up at a kiosk that is clearly mark for pickups. The entire process involved many different channels, with several different options along the way. Although omnichannel marketing may seem random at first glance, it’s actually driven by the data to appeal to consumers in the most personalized way possible.

Follow the Data

For any company to carry out a successful omnichannel marketing campaign, it needs to do so in a multi-step process. The first step involves compiling data that helps the company determine how its customers are, and once that’s done they can be segmented into groups that allows the company to understand their path to purchase.

Segmenting consumers may sound cold and unfeeling, but if done properly the opposite is actually the result. Proper customer segmentation helps make a company’s inventory levels more accurate, which ultimately leads to a better customer experience. When companies decide the specific customers to target, consumers will feel a stronger personal connection with the company and develop a brand loyalty, which will continue if the company continues to utilize omnichannel marketing.

Although omnichannel marketing is relatively new, there are some brands that have successfully utilized it that can provide examples.

Omnichannel Success

Because omnichannel is so new, there haven’t been many scholarly studies on the numbers, but there are some examples we can examine beginning with Swedish furniture giant IKEA. IKEA opened in 1943 as a brick-and-mortar store, eventually becoming a globally popular brand and is now at the cutting edge of the omnichannel revolution.

In addition to its brick-and-mortar stores, IKEA offers its customers an online shopping interactive shopping catalog to use, a virtual assistant web application, a gift registry app, a planning tool, and a strong social media presence. Most importantly, though, all of IKEA’s channels are synced, allowing for customers to know how to find what they’re looking for. For example, the website will show where physical stores have items that are in or out of stock.

Another established brand that’s at the vanguard of the omnichannel revolution is Apple. Building on their established brand identity and brand loyalty, Apple has tapped into omnichannel marketing by maintaining and integrating its physical and web presence. Customers can set up appointments to meet with a tech or agent at a store via the mobile app, which then lets them know when the tech or agent is available.
Customers can also place orders on the website or mobile app and set up an appointment to pick up their item at a physical store. Apple also promotes its brand across a number of different media, online and offline.

The Future of Omnichannel Marketing

Experts believe that omnichannel marketing is in its infancy and that as technology continues to develop, so too will omnichannel. Every time a person clicks on a website and every time they use an app, it’s recorded and will be utilized by companies that are competent in omnichannel marketing. And emerging technologies are sure to play an even bigger role in omnichannel marketing.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will likely play a major role in the future of omnichannel marketing in a number of ways. Algorithms can be created and used to predict customer choices. Facial recognition can also be utilized to provide a number of benefits as well. For example, cameras will scan the faces of every customer entering a store and the AI will then find matches of loyal customers. Those customers can then be sent alerts or offers via text message or app while they’re in the store, ready to make a purchase.

The Omnichannel Revolution and the Consumer

The omnichannel marketing revolution has the potential to be beneficial for companies and consumers. It’s a fact that in today’s retail world the most successful companies are those that understand their customers and know what they want. Omnichannel marketing is unique because it allows brands to connect directly with their customers, retain them and maximize their lifetime value through a variety of channels, while providing the customer with a quality experience. The technology and consumer trends indicate that the most successful retail companies in the future will be those that stay ahead of the omnichannel marketing curve.

About The Author

Rudly Raphael is the Founder and CEO of Eyes4Research, a Chicago-based research and data collection firm that specializes in quantitative and qualitative research solutions. Rudly has more than 15 years of experience in the market research industry, implementing primary and secondary research for a number of high profile clients. He’s a frequent blogger and has published a number of articles in various online journals, magazines, and other publications.