As recently as 2014, leading analysts including Forrester, Accenture, IDC, Ipsos MediaCT, Sterling Brands and Google Think were building a case for the omnichannel model. It was considered a competitive advantage that most retailers were unable to leverage. It has rapidly evolved from being something that only ‘sophisticated’ retailers pursued to something most retailers today recognize as vital to their business.
At this point, we are all very familiar with the omnichannel concept – “seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experiences that occur within and between contact channels.” It’s no longer a competitive advantage; it’s everywhere across the retail landscape. In fact, 95% of consumers say they expect an omnichannel retail experience. Two-thirds will opt to leave a preferred brand to access their preferred method of access and delivery elsewhere.
Productive omnichannel experiences are connected and even, like a network of wires running from start to finish, creating multidirectional connections and options. They work in unison to enable people to move easily forward (seeking, buying, collecting) and backward (returning) across digital and traditional channels to build the experiences and access the products and services they want.
Despite understanding what it is, many retailers still lack the ability to create a fully optimized omnichannel model. In fact most are still trying to put an integrated set of retail channels in place. And at this point, it is not enough to have online, mobile, and on site shopping and buying options. The channels must work simultaneously to provide a consistent, harmonious experience that works in every direction, from any starting point, for each customer. Any absence of that equates to costly experience gaps in the customer journey.
And it is through those experience gaps that retailers almost certainly will lose customers. That’s a real – but preventable – risk.
Spot Your Omnichannel Experience Gaps
Assessing where your experience gaps exist is similar to performing a customer journey discovery within your brick and mortar store environment. It studies the movement from the first touchpoint to deal close in order to track customer movement, understand how resources are working each point, engage business intelligence to spot opportunities for micro and macro level improvements, and identify drop points. The objective is to create a more solid, continuous, and satisfying experience for your customer – and a more productive one for your staff and company – by enabling the vital connection between virtual and real platforms.
Evaluating where your experience gaps lie and what they are doing to your business involves finding the answers to questions like:
- What happens at each touch point?
- What are the unique stresses at each part of the service environment?
- How well are you managing customer demand is online and onsite?
- How do customers and employees feel about how demand is managed in each channel?
- How well are virtual and physical resources being used?
- Solicit employee input about their current and ideal role in the customer experience
It’s absolutely vital to frame omnichannel retail in business intelligence like this because it is the best way to clarify how each piece of the customer journey is working (in multiple directions) for the important omnichannel customer. This is the individual who wants to move back and forth between online, mobile, and on-site channels with no interruption to the brand experience or task. They may ‘omnishop’ – using a smartphone to discover, learn about, and compare products – right from within your store. They may place an order online for pickup in store.
And your important customer not only comprises upwards of 80% of your customer base, they also offer more than a 30% higher lifetime value than those customers who shop via a single channel.
Omnichannel retail is the reality. It’s not a competitive advantage, it’s a survival mechanism.
 Omnichannel Shoppers: An Emerging Retail Reality, Think with Google, 2015
 Frost and Sullivan
 Digitally Demanding Consumer report, Kibo
 Omnishopper Report, Mastercard, 2016
 IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Retail 2015 Predictions — It’s All About Participation Now, IDC, Nov 2014