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The term “multichannel experience” is no longer the reigning buzzword. Concerns about how to engage customers across different channels are being edged out by a larger challenge: connecting those channels to provide a seamless, or omnichannel experience.
The growth of mobile usage and broadband connections has made online shopping effortless and constant. Some might that argue it may be too easy as consumers now expect to receive the same experience when they move from a brand’s online sites to its customer service department or brick-and-mortar store. Connecting insights and data in a comprehensive or single customer view is critical for delivering a seamless experience, but many companies are struggling to do so. In fact, 42 percent of companies are working to achieve a single customer view to enable cross-channel marketing and to reduce operational costs, reports Experian, which surveyed 250 people in marketing, data management, and customer service departments in June. Only 24 percent of the respondents said they have a single customer view.
Ninety-four percent of the respondents are linking some customer information across channels and just more than half are linking all customer information. The most popular piece of customer data to be integrated across channels is the email address, followed by customer name and phone number. At the same time, companies are drowning in first- and third-party data and are investing in analytics teams to analyze the data to help them engage in personalized and targeted interactions with customers. On average, companies are investing $137,000 on analytics efforts annually, according to the report.
Retailers must deploy new tactics to preserve sales and keep up with consumer demands. These approaches include redefining the role of traditional, brick-and-mortar stores; breaking through organizational silos, and aggressively mining and analyzing data to track buyer behavior.
One of the ways that companies are deploying these tactics is by blurring the lines between online ecommerce sites and physical stores. Real estate costs are one of the largest expenses for a brick-and-mortar retailer. And as customers increasingly visit stores only to look at an item before purchasing it online, business owners find themselves maintaining expensive showrooms.
In response, retailers are readjusting their inventory data to accommodate the shift toward omnichannel buying preferences, notes Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.“Inventory data is the heart of omnichannel [experiences],” Mulpuru says. “It allows retailers to know what item is available in what store at any moment in time.”
Leveraging inventory data across a company’s physical stores and online site offers several benefits. Companies can fulfill online orders faster if they ship items from stores located near the customer; customers are exposed to a wider assortment of products, and having the online presence helps offset the costs of maintaining a physical location. Retailers can also drive more revenue by cross- and up-selling customers who pick up their items in stores or sending targeted offers based on data about a customer’s in-store and online purchases.
Even though most retailers are aware of the demand for an omnichannel experience, defining that experience and how it will affect customers can be challenging. One of the questions companies wrestle with is how do you create an experience that meets your customers’ needs? The drugstore company Walgreens, for example, is focusing on helping customers save time as it strengthens the connections between its online and in-store channels. Walgreens operates about 8,200 pharmacies across the U.S. and runs several ecommerce sites including Walgreens.com, Drugstore.com, VisionDirect.com, and Beauty.com.
Its mobile app includes features that are designed to help customers save time while enticing them to visit a Walgreens store. For example, app users can print photos from Instagram and Facebook at a Walgreens store, refill a prescription by scanning the RX barcode using their phones before picking it up, and exchange text messages with a pharmacist.
Walgreens released data last year that showed people who engaged with the company through several channels were likely to spend more. Customers who engage with Walgreens in person, online, and via mobile apps spend six times more than those who only visit stores, according to the company. And those who used a Walgreens app before visiting one of the stores, but not before visiting one of its websites, generated four times the sales of store-only customers. “Many of our [app’s] features start with interactions that take place outside of the store but end up with the customer in the store where we can continue to meet their needs,” says Walgreens Mobile Senior Product Manager Joe Rago.
In addition, the company could further connect its customer data across channels. When asked if Walgreens could send a customer a coupon in real time for frames if the customer prints over-sized Instagram photos, Rago responded, “We haven’t crossed the bridge yet for personalized in-store coupon mechanisms that work like that, but we’re still growing.”
Even though most omnichannel strategies are still in the developmental stages, companies are getting closer to the single customer view that they need to deliver a consistent experience across channels. Companies are beginning to focus their resources around the customer instead of the channel and are consolidating their data systems and work processes to get a comprehensive view of the customer and provide a seamless experience. Organizational alignment is also important. Analysts and experts encourage businesses to adopt similar terms and KPIs to efficiently collaborate on projects across departments. Agreeing on a set of measurements is also key for tracking progress and ensuring that businesses provide a consistent experience across channels.