5 Ways to Fuse Online and In-Store Experiences

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As digital and physical commerce continue to converge, marketers must ensure that omnichannel reigns.

Photo of shopping mall.

Amazon Prime Day came and went, and though many consumers expressed disappointment in its sales offerings, Amazon's digital answer to Black Friday may prove successful as a catalyst for disruption in this last bastion of in-store retailers' dominance—super sales. Of course, little has changed for retailers in the wake of Prime Day. Consumers aren't a binary bunch, as a rule. But, the stakes have risen once again for marketers to prioritize omnichannel retail experiences, to both keep up with the constant pace of disruption being driven by Amazon and its ilk, and to, as they say, give the people what they want—and what they want is omnichannel.

“Customers don't do business with channels; they do business with brands. As such, it's imperative for companies across all verticals to support their customers, wherever they may be,” says Julie Ginches, CMO at mobile marketing automation company Kahuna.

Though marketers strive to deliver on this quintessential omnichannel promise by procuring customer data and integrating it into their efforts, some still struggle to do so in a seamless fashion. “Seamless' doesn't mean just delivering popular omnichannel use cases like buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), return-in-store (BORIS), or ‘endless aisle' visibility to inventory.  It means delivering an experience that's consistent and relevant regardless of how and where customers choose to engage,” says David Stover, global head of B2C omnichannel solution management at e-commerce software solutions provider SAP Hybris.

The following insights should assist retailers in facilitating these truly seamless omnichannel experiences—and aid marketers in delivering on the omnichannel promise—by helping them fuse digital and physical retail in the same way that consumers have.


Synergize promotions

As Web 2.0 unfurled, many marketers were tasked with driving sales and traffic to retail websites. As a result, online exclusives rose in prominence. Though viable and valuable in many cases, the days of channel exclusive offers are coming to an end, as consumers grow increasingly accustomed to their eternal access to the Web, prompting a necessity for synergized promotions.

“Coupons, promotions, and other marketing campaigns have to be aligned. A retailer cannot have an online-only coupon, or an in-store-only coupon. Synergies within the retail organization will be seen by the consumers and vice versa,” says Guy Yehiav, CEO at retail analytics provider Profitect.


Empower in-store associates

As the first, and most direct connection to the brand that many customers will interact with, in-store associates must be armed with the training and tools to facilitate omnichannel experiences.

“The coordination between a retailer's website and outbound marketing channels to their store associates needs to be seamless to best engage and service customers,” says Marc Grabowski, CEO at retail marketing platform Persio. “Customers might not notice consciously when their offers process as anticipated, but they certainly pay attention when the process breaks.”


Contextualize customer data

Big data has all but completed its transition from marketing's latest piece of industry speak into a standardized element of the profession. Marketers, however, must continue to strive to connect individual customers to their disparate data points. True omnichannel experiences aren't possible without full, single views of customers and their preferences.

“For a retailer to ensure they're providing an omnichannel experience, they need to first understand each of their customers' unique behavior patterns. Doing so requires a person-centric data layer that spans channels,” Ginches says. Grabowski adds that marketers must understand “that a cookie matches an email address, phone number or mobile device ID, and connecting all of this information within a single record in the retailer's CRM system."

Once retailers recognize that these disparate signals are actually linked, they can utilize that data to communicate more effectively to customers.


Strive for omnichannel on the organizational level

Omnichannel is a confluence of customer data, intelligence, usability, and access. Marketers cannot construct holistic experiences that embody all of this without first doing so within their organization.

“It's one thing to have business processes and a technology platform to deliver outstanding omnichannel experiences, and quite another to guarantee in-store and online experiences enhance each other.  This often means re-aligning everything from marketing spend, inventory management, pricing, order fulfillment, post-purchase support, and more to serve today's digitally savvy, constantly connected consumers,” SAP Hybris' Stover explains. “Roles, responsibilities, and KPI's in many traditional retail domains need to adapt to focus not just on optimizing their function but on the end-to-end engagement.”

Collaboration is a key component of an omnichannel business, and marketers must ensure that as many departments are working together as possible, but especially the finance, marketing, and technology teams.

“[We talk] a lot about CMO and CIO collaboration. The CFO needs to join the duet, and turn it into a trio,” Stover says. “Omnichannel use cases have different gross margin and EBIT impact depending on the merchandise category.  Without financial acumen to assess the tradeoffs, providing a seamless in-store and online experience can have more than operational disruption, it can have serious financial implications as well.”


Commit to the cost of omnichannel business

Perfecting seamless online and in-store experiences, and streamlining the organization to do so, requires a serious, concerted effort from the top down—not to mention a considerable financial commitment. Though some businesses are better positioned to transition to omnichannel than others, the pace of change in the retail space, and the changes in consumer culture have necessitated an investment in omnichannel structure and strategies.

“The cost of transforming into a profitable digital enterprise is the cost of doing business in today's retail environment.  Traditional technologies are no longer effective and traditional organizational silos are no longer efficient at serving the constantly connected consumer.  It's time for change,” Stover says.

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