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Omnichannel e-commerce strategy: the pros and cons

The retail landscape has changed radically. The traditional brick and mortar shops are having a hard time, as evidenced by the emptiness in the city centers. While e-commerce has been experiencing solid growth for years. Many traditional retailers want to join this trend and are turning into bricks-and-clicks, a combination of physical and online sales channels.

Combining offline and online, they continue to appeal to customers young and old, progressive or rather classic. And they try to stay relevant. So, how do you stay relevant? And how do you appeal to both the online shoppers and the more conservative customer?

Omnichannel

It's in the name, but we''ll go into the definition briefly: a company that is omni-channel is basically present on all channels where the target-group is located. Online or offline, there is always a uniform way of communicating. An omni-channel strategy, however, is a strategy that combines and outlines the strategies of the different channels. It defines the outlines for its components and contributes to the uniformity.

Omnichannel not only means that you communicate in a unified way, but that you are. Prices, products and services through all channels are the same and they work together. You aim to create a synergy (#buzzword) between the different channels.

Several touchpoints.

The pattern of the average customer has not necessarily changed, but has become more complex. For example, an average customer will still search for information and assess possible solutions and then eventually choose a solution based on individual criteria. The more complex part lies in the way customers go through the steps. They no longer only do this through word of mouth, a newspaper or a visit to the local dealer. No. Now there are also social media posts, influencers, forums and other online channels.

This does not mean that physical stores and print advertisements are superfluous, but it does mean that a different interpretation, a different added value, can be added to the omni-channel strategy. According to Comeos (2019) 79% of Belgians purchased goods online in 2018. At least 48% of all Belgians will purchase something online on a monthly basis. So it is important for companies to be and communicate online as well.

It is important to guide the customer to your solutions in every part of his/her decision making process. Regardless of where this customer is going to search information. You can easily view something in the shop and make an online purchase (showrooming). It is also possible to view an advertisement online, see the same product in a folder and then make the purchase in a brick and mortar shop or online shop. Just make sure that you have a touchpoint wherever your customers are!

E-commerce and omnichannel

It is not only the classic retailers who have to be thinking onmichannel, but also the pure players (companies that only sell products or services online). They lose customers to the more conservative shopper who likes to fit, feel and experience products, before proceeding to purchase. In the Comeos survey (2019), 34% of respondents indicated that they want to experience the product before buying it.

In fact, pure players are not able to reach all consumers through online channels. Conservative consumers in particular like to have personal advice. Face-2-face. Or like to read the leaflets and flyers to score the best deals. Even if they have seen your products and services via Facebook or a Google Display ad. Even the more conservative consumer needs multiple touchpoints, both offline and online.

Omnichannel Strategy: How do I get started?

Start with yourself

It sounds weird, but your company needs to be ready to take the omni-channel step. Is your company looking at the audience with an open mind? Are you willing to make changes in your processes and flows? Are you customer centric enough? Consumers soon notice when an omni-channel strategy is not supported. Inconsistent communication, faulty references between the shop and the online shop and hostility towards the store employees can be experienced as a threshold. And that is something you want to avoid.
 

Know your target audience

If you can properly chart how your audience, your customers, are moving through the online and offline world, then you've already got off to a good start. This way you can find out which channels will carry what message. If you talk to young people, try Instagram. Try to reach your parents? Try the combination of print and Facebook ads to help you. Also take into account the devices they use.

  • What percentage of customers regularly use a smartphone?
  • How many % of the target audience wants to be able to order online in a brick and mortar shop?
  • Does it add value for the customer to be able to find the full catalogue offline in the physical store?
  • ...
In short, map out the customer journey.

Bet on customer experience.

What you want to achieve in an omni-channel strategy is a unified brand experience. A customer can buy your product through an app, a website or in a store without really experiencing a difference. The channels are connected to each other, attuned to each other. In a physical store you can enjoy the same discounts as online. Or, in the physical store you can buy online. A good experience in one channel contributes to a positive feeling towards the other channels. It has a halo-effect.

Benefits:

  • Clarity for the customer;
  • Convenience for the customer;
  • More online conversions;
  • The same quality service for the customer;
  • Multiple channels with the same experience;
  • Growth potential and future-proofing of your company;

What should I consider?

No change in strategy comes without a fight. There are always obstacles that need to be overcome, often on an individual level. Therefore, we give you some pointers to take into account when setting up an omni-channel strategy in which you integrate e-commerce into your existing business operations:

  • It brings about major changes in business operations;
  • It requires extra effort from customer service;
  • There are investment expenses for integrated systems, returns and more;
  • Monitor the profitability. There should be no price differences between sales channels, while costs may vary.

Omnichannel cases

From an e-commerce background: Coolblue

Coolblue is originally an internet company. The company has become a success story by offering customer service at reasonable prices. Coolblue turned the retail world upside down with e.g. sunday deliveries, return rights, home service for the installation of household appliances all from the comfort of your couch. As a result, many traditional companies are experiencing competition for their brick and mortar stores. And the reactions are varied: stubbornly sticking to old mantras (and going down) or adapting and shifting to a 'clicks and bricks' model.

The streets have also changed as a result of the persistent refusal of the customer's wishes (easy online shopping). Coolblue surprised friend and foe with the opening of brick and mortar shops in addition to the online activities. Coolblue realizes that many customers see a brick and mortar store as an (omni-channel) plus. This enhances the experience of the rather conservative, Belgian customer and for Coolblue it means an increase in turnover.

From a physical location background: Delhaize

Delhaize is a Belgian supermarket chain and has existed for more than 100 years. So we can really speak of a traditional supermarket chain without e-commerce experience. However, Delhaize always put a lot of effort into the customer experience in the store and beyond. This was also apparent when Delhaize put their e-commerce platform live. Regular consumers can now easily select their favourite products and have them delivered to their doorstep at home. This means added value for, among others, the hardworking customers that work long hours and are home late. Now those customers no longer have to rush to a brick and mortar location to enjoy the same authentic products and experiences!

Is your business suitable for omni-channel?

Do you doubt whether omni-channel e-commerce is suitable for your business or business model? Contact us without obligation and we will help you identify the benefits!