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Opinion

Omnichannel obstacles no excuse for modern retailers

The importance of providing omnichannel experiences for consumers is by no means news for Australian retailers. The future of retail is ‘blended’, as consumers increasingly switch between both online, physical and even virtual platforms during their shopping journey.

With innovative technologies becoming increasingly accessible to retailers of any size, it’s paramount for the Australian industry to understand the positive impacts omnichannel experiences have on both retailers and their customers, rather than seeing them as a threat that will cannibalise footfall.

Customers are already on board

Before Amazon, retailers might have gotten away with ignoring the importance of omnichannel experiences, but this is no longer a reality. As Amazon tightens its grip on the global e-commerce market and expands further into the physical space, Australian retailers are now compelled to understand the importance of blended physical and digital experiences for improving customer service, and therefore profitability.

Your customers are using more than just one platform or touchpoint to complete their journey with your brand, so you need to too. A new report from SapientRazorfish and Salesforce found that although 60 per cent of shoppers start their hunt for products online, 58 per cent still prefer the in-store experience, demonstrating retail’s future to be a truly ‘blended’ one.

A recent GFK Global study also found that four of the top five ‘most important factors driving choice’ when consumers are selecting a shopping platform, are shared by both online and brick-and-mortar retail. These shared factors include: ease of shopping, routine shopping habits, better information, and cost effectiveness. This highlights that the drivers for physical experiences versus online experiences are not as different as previously thought, pointing to the importance of creating a synergy between the two channels.

If multiple platforms and touchpoints are used by customers during their shopping journeys, it’s imperative that retailers make this experience as seamless and personalised as possible in order to meet the needs of the customer – increasing satisfaction and encouraging brand loyalty.

Overcoming the barriers to omnichannel success

Creating an effective omnichannel experience for customers may seem a daunting prospect for most retailers, especially when considering the new and ever changing pieces of the puzzle that are necessary to achieve a seamless experience.

There are two prominent challenges retailers face when it comes to omnichannel. The first is the belief that the technology needed to allow for these blended experiences is expensive, and the other is the lack of understanding of how to make it customer-centric. But these obstacles aren’t as big as you might think. There are simple yet effective measures that retailers can take towards achieving omnichannel success.

Firstly, and one which may seem obvious but is all too-often undervalued, is mobile. Mobile allows retailers to capitalise on a piece of technology that is already in their customers’ pockets, and is now intrinsic to the modern retail experience. With 59 per cent of global shoppers using their mobile phone in store on a regular basis, retailers must be integrating mobile as a core part of their brand experience as a foundation for omni-channel shopping.

Secondly, Bluetooth connected devices planted in-store can connect the brick-and-mortar retail experience with mobile technologies. Relatively inexpensive, these devices can increase the number of customer touchpoints by sending targeted information to them as they pass the store. A recent Mood Media study found 70 per cent of under-45s were open to receiving push notifications on their mobile device whilst in store. For a small cost, these devices can provide serious ROI by directing marketing and sales efforts to a specific time and location – ultimately improving engagement by targeting relevant customers at the right times.

Lastly, the next evolution of mobile is virtual reality (VR). Thanks to mainstream adoption of VR, retailers of any size can experiment with this futuristic technology to give customers a novel experience that is unique to each store. With no special headset required, just some Google Cardboard, VR gives customers an easy new way to browse a store from anywhere, opening up another avenue for them to experience your brand and further drive customer engagement.

When used in conjunction with analytics, all of this mobile-centric technology can provide a wealth of data for retailers to unearth consumer insights and create shopper profiles to ensure personalised experiences. These technologies together can provide greater visibility of potential customers who walk through the door, including how many people are in store, how long it takes them to buy, and how much money they’re spending. This approach can also increase conversion rates due to more personalised and targeted content sent to shoppers, and decrease customer frustration from disparate experiences across different touchpoints during their journey. When retail technology is implemented with the customer at the core, all channels can work together effectively to contribute to a blended, omnichannel experience.

The retail space will be exposed to more and more technologies as they emerge and become more accessible to every kind of retailer. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and VR are just some of the innovative technologies that we already, and will increasingly see in stores as the technology gains further momentum with retailers.

As we move deeper into the omnichannel world, the retail sector cannot stand alone on either physical or digital. Today’s consumers crave personalised, multi-platform, experiences in a blended retail marketplace, and retailers need to ensure they deliver this.

Lee Hardham is the founder and CEO of Brauz.

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