Written by Ned Canning, Senior Product Manager for Core innovation and eCommerce at Vantiv
“Omnichannel commerce” refers to a merchant’s combined online / offline methods of interacting with its customers. The key to serving customers in-store and through digital channels is consistency and convenience. Top tier brands are investing millions in new technologies and systems integration to provide better combined online/offline experiences, and consumer preferences will continue to justify this investment. Smaller merchants, though, can also make significant strides in a convenient multi-channel buying experience.
Here are some quick steps to follow when expanding a small business’ omnichannel strategy:
Step 1: Expand Online
This first step seems rudimentary, but can easily end up degrading your customer experience if done wrong. The key with expanding into an online channel is keeping your customer and inventory data as centralized and consistent as possible. Most order management or accounting applications have partnerships with online store providers – find one that comes fully integrated out of the box with desktop- and mobile- optimized designs. This will ensure that your online inventory and purchase data aligns with that of your store. Create as much content regarding your products and brand as possible! Your customers will often come across your products (and your competitor’s!) online before showing up in store, so purchase-influencing collateral is integral. The key is to present a unified online/offline front, such that you can find your customers across devices or channels, and efficiently convert to a sale no matter the medium.
Step 2: Enable Cross-channel Convenience
Now that you are serving customers in both online and offline scenarios, you need to be prepared to service them consistently in both. Support buy-online-pick-up-in-store processing, so that a mobile browser can purchase an item, pay via their device, and show up at your store to receive their item without a wait. Most order and inventory management applications can handle this, but ensure that your software partners are able to handle combined online/offline scenarios. Nothing is worse than buying something and then being told it’s out of stock! Additionally, support online OR offline returns, so that an item purchased online can be refunded in store. Most payment processors can handle these types of returns, but make sure your partners can securely access your customer’s payment credentials from any returns environment.
Step 3: Learn and Reiterate
Once basic online/offline combined scenarios have been accommodated, the last step is to focus on tuning and optimizing your omnichannel business. Support for different payment methods can be an effective way of increasing your ability to convert customers in-store and online. Partner with your payment processor to support mobile device payments in-store and online, to provide a streamlined checkout process. Gather as much order history and preference data as possible from all of the different places you communicate with your customers, and store it in a single “interactions” database that all of your marketing and acquisition efforts can run from. A channel-agnostic, centralized set of customer data will allow you to better allocate your advertising and technology spend to your most effective buyer touchpoints.
There are few brick and mortar businesses that wouldn’t be enhanced by an online experience. A coffee shop can allow its customers to order their beverages ahead, and cut down on wait times. A guitar store can augment its foot traffic by selling used instruments online and shipping them direct to its customers. The key to enabling these online/offline experiences is a centralized customer database that all a merchant’s applications can draw from. Accounting software, online store services, payment processing and order management systems – all of these components need to be working off of a single customer record in order to ensure a consistent experience.