A multichannel strategy is key to the brand experience

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For more than a decade, the Internet has been changing business. But most pundits underestimated how it was changing consumers. A more informed, more powerful consumer has emerged,with ever-rising expectations and increasing demands-both online and off.

We're in a tidal wave of change as it relates to marketing and branding. Traditional businesses and brands can no longer say, "That's a Web thing." We're approaching a new era-call it Web 2.0. Call it the digital tail wagging the brand dog. However you frame it, it's a relatively new phenomenon for brands that don't consider their home base to be on the Web.

As consumers, we're interacting with companies more than ever before. Not only because we can, but also because we're encouraged and motivated to do so. When consumers have unlimited options at their fingertips, every interaction becomes key - whether it's in store, online, via catalog or over the phone. Never before has it been more crucial to reinforce your brand message at every turn.

In an industry ripe with change, the path to a seamless brand experience and deepened consumer engagement begins and ends with a multichannel strategy. A few tips to get started:

Don't be afraid to send consumers online. A simple bounce back at in-store checkout as a reminder to go online for any forgotten gifts is an easy add-on.

Even when you're closed, you're open. Why wait until Black Friday when you can shop online Thanksgiving Day? Promotions for Thursday specials can keep your consumers busy through dessert. (And did we mention no lines?)

Order online, pick up in-store. For multichannel retailers that offer in-store pickup, 31 percent of online orders are picked up in store. Twenty-seven percent of those consumers make additional in-store purchases.

Show brand sites some affection. Create cross-channel messaging that's consistent. Feature in-store what's featured online.

Allow site access in-store and allow access to the entire product offering, avoiding any potential for disappointment when an item isn't available.

Allow online purchases to be returned in-store. For multichannel retailers, 6 percent of orders bought online are returned to store; 22 percent of consumers that return to store make an in-store purchase.

Localization of Web sites. Communicate local store events and specials online.

Service across channels. Offer live chat online that connects consumers to a contact center associate.

Emily Albright-Miller is retail strategist for Resource Interactive, Columbus, OH. Reach her at emiller@resource.com.

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