Most online retailers are multichannel, wherein they sell their products over multiple channels. Though there is a thin line between omnichannel and multichannel, very few retailers are truly omnichannel. Both multi and omnichannel include selling across multiple channels, both physical and digital, but the major difference lies in how the customer experience is connected across those channels.
Traditional multichannel retailers may have a website and physical stores, with very little interaction amongst these two mediums. Stocks of both stores, online and physical, are different and items purchased from either can be returned through the purchasing medium only. In a nutshell, the online and offline interactions are treated separately with no connection between the two business modes.
However, nowadays consumers do not see brands as online or offline. They usually have multiple touchpoints with a retailer and expect a seamless transfer from one touchpoint to the other and vice versa. Today’s consumer wants to be able to have a unified interaction with a brand through all channels, be it online, mobile or in-store. It is, therefore, crucial to make switching channels a hassle-free experience for the consumers so that they can make any transactions and communications without having to go through any process repeatedly.
What makes omnichannel superior to multichannel is the ability to join these multiple touchpoints and provide a consistent journey for customers across mediums. However, though many retailers have elements of omnichannel within their business, they are yet to fully implement it throughout their business. Some retailers allow users to make in-store purchases for items available online and make in-store stock available on the web. But very few retailers have embraced omnichannel throughout the business model.
Barrier and benefits of Omnichannel
Cost and complexity: One major reason why implementing Omnichannel is a challenge is because of the involved cost and complexity. Any retailer with a physical store most likely has a legacy in-store POS system customized as per their operational requirements. Their order management and ERP systems are highly integrated into their internal business systems. Introducing omnichannel across such a business will require significant investment in technology and business change. Moreover, this technology would need to be implemented across the business and probably replace some old systems which will involve a huge amount of vision, commitment, and resources by a business.
Solution Availability: In addition to implementation challenges, there is limited availability of technology solutions that cover significant areas of an omnichannel business. Several sophisticated POS solutions are available in the market but not many offer enterprise web or mobile capabilities, which are essential to driving business growth. Also, many enterprise e-commerce platforms are available now, but it is always a big task to integrate POS in-store.
Several platforms are now starting to set up customized POS solutions for certain retailers using innovative technologies, however, there is still a long way to go before omnichannel will be a common scenario in the retail market.
Culture: Organizational culture is yet another large barrier in the adoption of omnichannel commerce in a business. For a business to succeed through digital transformation, every member of the staff should embrace and adapt to the technological changes. This is never an easy job. For example, bricks and mortar retailers will face resistance from in-store staff when implementing omnichannel as they are likely to see the retailer’s digital business as competition. Their earning will be commission based so they have little incentive to encourage customers to purchase online. The in-store staff may not focus on online sales and may even try to encourage purchase there and then, ultimately harming the customer’s overall experience.
The best way to overcome this challenge is to use technology to keep track of in-store interactions with a customer who then continues to purchase online. For larger or expensive items, a user may have multiple online and in-store interactions with multiple people within the retailer’s business. If all the data is tracked and collated, it is possible to create an incentive scheme that rewards a member of staff for a sale, no matter where it is placed. This will also form a unified system for the staff who can then act as your salesmen.
The future of Omnichannel and Multichannel
Understanding customer behavior and expectations are one major factor to encourage brands to move to omnichannel and invest in the requisite technological and cultural change required to make it successful. Multichannel is detrimental to customer experience and will drive them towards competitor products. More innovative and affordable technical solutions are required to bridge the gap between the channels and allow consumers to script their journeys with the brands. E-commerce platform providers are continually trying to provide in-store capabilities along with online capabilities. To integrate completely with other mediums, in-store providers need to adapt to digital transformation and improve their online presence. Similarly, Omni-channel payment solutions to allow web purchases in-store using chip and pin, Android, ApplePay, etc are required to make payments easier and digital.