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How to Create Omnichannel Shopping Experiences for Your Brand

Many of us are shopping differently than we used to, from buying subscriptions to discovering new brands on social media. Some of us are rushing to do more shopping in stores after being limited by the pandemic, or ordering online and picking up curbside.     

Whether these changes are generational and/or a reaction to all that’s been happening in the world during the last few years, consumers’ expectations when it comes to shopping are now different and likely changed for good. What is it that consumers expect? Ultimately: that merchants meet them where they are. They want a cohesive customer experience that spans any channel at any time of day or night, and marketing and communications that are responsive to their preferences and life situations. In other words, consumers want omnichannel shopping experiences.

What does omnichannel mean?

"We don’t have that product here, but you can check our online store."
In-store sales associate

It used to be good enough to offer both in-store and/or online shopping, a.k.a., a multi-channel experience. That baseline is rapidly disintegrating. McKinsey reports that for most Gen Z consumers, the concept of mutually exclusive channels doesn’t even register. They expect omnichannel experiences: same products, points, programs, returns, promotions and marketing no matter how they shop with a brand or how many different channels they use to do it.

Why shift to omnichannel?

Beyond providing a better overall customer experience, omnichannel also builds brand recognition and can help you find and acquire new customers. And, the combination of selling through both online and offline channels can actually result in significantly higher overall revenue.

Connect with more audiences and build your brand

Consider these statistics, they’re pretty mind-blowing – of the nearly 8 billion people on the planet: 

  • 69% use a mobile phone (of those, 96% are smartphones)
  • 64% use the internet
  • 59% use social media

eCommerce sales continue to climb and it’s estimated that by 2026 they will account for nearly 25% of total retail sales worldwide. Forty-three percent of total eCommerce sales will come from people using their mobile phones (mCommerce) this year. Social media and social commerce continue to be big factors, with 90% of consumers reporting they buy from brands they follow on social networks; also, when they follow a brand, 75% say they increase their spending. 

What does this have to do with omnichannel? Billions of consumers are making full use of all of these channels and devices to shop. How’s your eCommerce and mobile UX? What about social content? What features and services can you offer to make these shoppers happy?

Online + offline selling = Increased revenue

Research shows that when brands open a physical store, they get 37% more traffic to their eCommerce site. Brands that sell through multiple channels, including mobile, social, marketplaces, and physical stores, see a 190% increase in overall revenue. Savvy digitally native brands are seeing the writing on the wall; Shopify reports that more digital natives are expanding to brick-and-mortar – stores, popup shops and showrooms – as online customer acquisition costs increase and online competition grows. 

3 must-haves for omnichannel experiences

“Omnichannel” doesn’t mean you should start selling products in video games tomorrow. Instead, we recommend starting with some basics. In particular, for merchants that already have both eCommerce and physical stores, we think there are three key areas to focus on: 

  1. Channel-agnostic purchase and return
  2. Cross-channel loyalty program
  3. Personalized cross-channel communications

1. Channel-agnostic purchase and return

There are several models of how you might enable customers to purchase and return however they want, including buy online, pick up in store or curbside (BOPIS); buy online, return in store (BORIS); real-time in-store availability; and buy in-store, ship to customer (sorry, no fun acronyms for those last two). 

Buy online, pick up in store or curbside (BOPIS)

If you already have a physical retail location, offering BOPIS is a no-brainer. eCommerce UX researcher Baymard Institute reports that 55% of U.S. shoppers abandon their cart because they don’t want to pay for shipping, and 16% abandon cart because the item won’t be delivered fast enough. One way to potentially capture those lost sales is by offering pick-up in store or curbside. Consumers want this option: Shopify reports that 59% of consumers are interested in BOPIS. In addition, BOPIS also helps drive foot traffic to a physical retail location, and customers may purchase additional items while there. 

For successful BOPIS, merchants need real-time inventory tracking across online and in-store (Shopify POS has you covered), as well as new processes and training to ensure pick-up orders are fulfilled and ready on time. On your eCommerce site, be sure to follow design best practices at checkout to ensure customers see and understand you offer BOPIS, and have the ability to schedule a pickup from a specific location or curbside. 

Buy online, return in store (BORIS)

Nearly 70% of consumers say they want free returns. Forty percent of consumers also say they would reconsider shopping with a merchant in the future if it took a long time to get a refund. Allowing returns of online purchases in your physical retail stores can reduce your shipping costs while making customers happy. When customers come in person to return, it’s also a golden opportunity to help the customer find a different product that they might be happier with and improve the customer experience with your brand. 

Real-time in-store availability

With 59% of consumers saying they like to browse online but want to purchase in a store, it can make a lot of business sense to highlight the real-time availability of products in stores and drive additional foot traffic. 

Buy in-store, ship to customer

Even if you’re out of stock in a product in your physical retail location, merchants can capture that sale by enabling the customer to purchase online while they’re at the store, and have it shipped to their home. Interestingly, 54% of consumers say they like to go look at a product in store before deciding to purchase it online. 

2. Cross-channel loyalty program

Customers want to be able to earn and use loyalty program points across channels, both online and in store. From your customers’ perspective, discounts, offers and loyalty points should apply whenever and however they buy from you. To enable this, customers must sign up online (on your website, via an in-store kiosk, or with help from a sales associate). Once you go digital, consider expanding “rewards” to accrue for any transaction or interaction, such as taking a survey or submitting a review. You also can make points redeemable for more than discounts, such as for virtual or in-person events. 

3. Personalized cross-channel communications

You should leverage email and SMS communications to connect with customers no matter how they buy from or interact with you. For example, don’t let retail customers walk out your door and disappear forever! If you integrate asking customers to opt-in to receiving email and/or SMS communications into the checkout process at the register, you vastly increase the likelihood of them becoming repeat customers.

So many opportunities to nurture the new relationship: send digital order confirmations, shipping updates on a custom order or specialty products; invite them to local or in-store events or promotions, or send traditional direct mail marketing promotions. Technology helps you streamline it all: segment customers by how they purchased and automate email flows, SMS messages, and direct mail printing, mailing and tracking. 

Setting up for omnichannel success

While going omnichannel is imperative, becoming omnichannel isn’t something you can do overnight. It requires planning and investment and time. Beyond technology, it may require an organizational shift and training, as well as ensuring your data is being tagged and tracked correctly for analytics. Some tips on taking a thoughtful approach:  

  • Define the strategy and then figure out the technology versus doing the opposite. We love exciting new tech, but, as McKinsey researchers highlight, it has to bring value to the customer experience or it’s a waste of money. What experiences do your customers want? Convenience? Community? Personalization?  
  • Implement Shopify POS. Shopify POS ensures that data is accurately shared between your Shopify Plus eCommerce site and in-store. This enables centralized, real-time inventory management and to more easily use customer purchase data from in-store purchases for email and SMS campaigns or personalized communications.
  • Consider a re-org. It can make a lot of sense un-silo eCommerce and in-store and become a single “commerce” team to support more cohesive, cross-channel customer experiences and marketing. 
  • Check your data. Finding success with omnichannel requires accurately tracking consumer behavior across channels to understand the customer journey and what engagement on which platforms is driving sales. 
  • Audit your eCommerce site UX. Make sure your eCommerce site incorporates design best practices that make it easy for customers to take advantage of all your omnichannel offerings. If it’s too hard to understand or do, consumers will walk away.
  • Enable automation and personalization.  Great 24/7 customer experiences require leveraging technology like automated communications triggered by both online and offline customer behavior.

Omnichannel shopping trends are here to stay and smart merchants are looking for ways to offer customers the experiences, features, and benefits they expect. If you need a partner to take you from audit to strategy to implementation, give us a shout.