Ready for an Omnichannel World? Your Customers Are.

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Ready for an Omnichannel World?  Your Customers Are.
Ready for an Omnichannel World? Your Customers Are.

There's a major change afoot in online shopping: Your customers are making online purchases at destinations beyond simply traditional websites. Whether it's on Facebook, Pinterest, comparison shopping engines, or mobile websites, consumers increasingly are buying products through multiple online locations. Further, some predict that Twitter will evolve into an online sales platform, and soon Google Glass and smartwatches may become compelling shopping devices. 

Welcome to the omnichannel world, where connected consumers enjoy the convenience and freedom of shopping across multiple online venues. This change in buying behavior is huge—similar to when online sales exploded once people got comfortable shopping on Amazon—only this time there will be shopping carts (metaphorically) on every street corner.

Consider Pinterest, which many think of as an ideal platform for e-commerce. More than 70% of Pinterest's users polled told BizRate that they turn to the social pinboard for shopping inspiration and to keep up with trends. This underscores two new realities of the online world: First, the omnichannel consumer has forced online retailers to develop tight integration between their various storefronts and the social networks feeding them. Second, retailers need to be wherever their customers wish to shop, and that's no longer just standard e-commerce websites.

So how can you deliver a socially-integrated storefront and also be in multiple places at once? For the new omnichannel world, today's online store-builder technology provides the answer.  

Shopping cart checklist

Ideally, you want an online store that's easy to setup, requires no changes to your existing site design, and can be dropped easily and seamlessly into a website or blog. The store should be highly functional and support expected features like credit card integration, multiple images and real-time shipping rates, while remaining lightweight and fast—critical for speedy downloads and quick conversions.

An effective online store also should serve as a hub for your marketing and advertising efforts, offering advanced functionality that goes beyond offering coupons and deals. New features in shopping carts allow merchants to follow up with visitors who have already perused their online storefronts, and deliver ad content targeted to the interests expressed during those visits. Today's more advanced shopping carts also can improve the indexation of storefronts on major search engines, and automate feeds to major comparison shopping engines and marketplaces.

Adapting to mobile

Mobile is the fastest growing segment of the online commerce world, so it's critical for retailers to deliver high-quality, visually appealing mobile web experiences that drive conversions. But among mobile devices, there are differences and nuances in the volume, type, and quality of content that platforms can accommodate effectively. To overcome this challenge, some organizations have dedicated mobile home pages specifically designed to download quickly on mobile devices. However, developing and maintaining these versions can be expensive and time consuming, and a hassle for users.

A more elegant option is mobile adaptive design, which ensures that entire sites—not just home pages—are designed and built once, and then used anywhere and on any device. A mobile-adaptive site detects the nature of inbound traffic (e.g., smartphone, tablet, or desktop) and delivers a version of pages based on the device's capabilities and limitations. Today's mobile adaptive-compliant shopping carts detect a device's screen size, and ensure that a site's most critical content and purchase driver, the online catalog, displays appropriately.

Going social

Last, e-commerce marketers need to integrate with social networks. A recent study from market researcher Lab42 revealed that 50% of consumers polled think a brand's Facebook page is more useful than a brand's website. Clearly, the big brands believe that too, as evidenced by national TV ads that close with a Facebook page link or a “Find us on Facebook” message, rather than the company's own URL.

While some big brands faltered in their early attempts to sell from stores directly on their Facebook pages, many industry experts believe that social commerce is, in fact, expanding. According to our data, for some merchants that have storefronts on both their websites and on their Facebook pages, total Facebook orders grew 37 percent during the first quarter of 2013 over the same period in 2012. During this same period, dollar sales increased by 26 percent.

Other social sites are emerging as viable sales channels, as well. Let's take Pinterest again, for example. Digital trailblazer and beauty products retailer Sephora reports that its Pinterest followers are spending more money per-capita than its Facebook followers. Bottica.com, a network of independent jewelry and fashion sites, similarly reported that Pinterest brought in a higher proportion of new users than Facebook, and that those same users spent more than twice as much on average.

It's not hard to join this growing trend. In fact, it is quite easy to establish Facebook and Pinterest storefronts today, giving your customers another opportunity to purchase something, without ever having to leave their beloved social networks. And to make it easy for retailers, these f-commerce and other social selling sites all can be synchronized with other online storefronts, enabling any merchant to manage and administer multiple stores from a single, integrated, backend control panel.

Go omnichannel

So, the relevant question for online merchants today no longer is: “Which social network or other online channel brings in the most sales?” or “Should I go mobile?” Rather, it's “How can I be everywhere my customers wish to shop online?” Increasingly, today's shopping cart technology makes it a reality. By being present wherever their customers are, online merchants and marketers can raise their product and brand visibility, generate sales across numerous online channels at once and deliver cumulative benefits to their entire ecosystem.

Jim O'Hara is president of Ecwid Inc.

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