The merging of online and offline in retail has well surpassed the multi-channel stage where products, information, advertising and branding was blindly diffused from all and any means available. From give-aways to pop up stores to print posters on highways, the traditional one-way diffusion model and it’s multi-channel offspring were born from a marketing scope. The Coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the movement towards a new retail customer journey that is so much more than advertising. Think experience, personalisation and interaction. The contemporary market landscape where the online and offline customer experience are merged has created a new paradigm of needs for companies, one that requires not only new skill sets but a whole new way of understanding what it means to buy and sell.
Check out our latest insider insight to get an indepth look at the challenges and opportunities for big retail in France
The New Normal in Retail
Omni-channel provides the customer with an integrated experience. This means they can be shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, via phone, or in a brick-and-mortar store, and the interaction will be seamless. The omnichannel approach inter-relates every channel from brick and mortar to mobile, engaging with customers holistically and ensuring they follow a journey with the brand over a range of touchpoints. The focus is on building a relationship and between consumers and the brand.
The multi-channel approach—where messaging was blasted out via the maximum possible number of channels, casting the widest net to get the most customer engagements—is no longer viable. In the overcrowded marketplace, today’s consumer is looking for a unique experience, and this. Here and now.
For more about how the retail scene here in Europe is morphing to meet this new normal check out our retail industry overview.
This new vision of the consumer brand relationship requires a full overhaul of how organisations go about servicing their customers. The most immediate example of this is the most simple: delivery time. Today’s consumer wants it now! Two-hour delivery expectations has become the new norm. Meeting this premise has given rise to the complete transformation of supply chains and logistics to synchronize inventory and distribution functions across all sales channels to meet consumer demand. Retailers are developing complex omni-channel logistics solutions. For example, it makes more sense to ship a customer a product from their local retail store than from a distribution center hundreds of miles away.
Now is not enough. An added layer of complexity sees data-generated-customer-insight allowing retail companies to personalise aspects of shoppers’ customer journey. For example by suggesting purchases based on customers’ shopping history. The connected world provides unfathomable amounts of data and the best in the business are now harnessing this to bring more unique offers that differentiate them within the on and offline crowd. So while it’s now become child’s play to capture data, through social media or forums, blogs, and other sources, knowing how to read and action that data to create value is not so simple. Data scientists and data engineers have become key to companies' success on the omni-channel retail scene.
AI and extended reality customer experiences need experts
Beyond data, AI and revolutionary technologies like virtual and augmented realities have given a whole new level to retail. Making everything from make-up to furniture shopping easier online, by allowing consumers to virtually try on or try out a product in their real-life physical surroundings. Younger generations have come to expect this experience as a norm within their omni-channel shopping journey, thus eliminating the divide between virtual and physical experience. Yet this doesn’t mean both these experiential aspects do not exist within their own right and together form the essential pathway for tomorrow’s consumer.
In fact, brands continue to invest heavily in showrooms that are strategically placed in areas where their customers are. These locations may no longer be the principal physical place of purchase for many companies but online companies are learning the brick-and-mortar virtual locations provide a necessary layer of authenticity and trust that come with touch and actually a whole lot of convenience. Take UK furniture direct to consumer, Made who opens large showrooms to have customers try products, experience product selections and then pushes consumers to buy on the company website, all this while avoiding the question of handling bulky inventory in inner city locations.
At a whole other level check out this latest insight that explains how collaborations between brick-and-mortar and virtual provide the necessary infrastructure to grow giant players into world forces.
The implementation and driving of omni-channel retail requires a new way of thinking about how customers interact with brands and what they expect. Understanding the customer journey as non-liner is innate to the digital-native millennial. This generation that incarnates new norms of adaptability when it comes to format and process. They expect the brands to be omni-present and shopping experiences to seamlessly cross virtual and physical worlds, responsive to customer desires, and above all with offerings ready here and now. This new paradigm needs to be supported and steered by a workforce that reflects this contemporary consumer-brand interaction, in terms of skill-sets as well as philosophy. AI, extended realities as well as digital supply chains are in their nascent form, requiring a freshness that extends the scope of current possibilities. The right workforce to drive the future of retail, is highly skilled, agile and non-traditional.