The world of retail is and has always been a dynamic environment. In decades gone by stores were single entities selling a specific product type, with improved communication and easier travel arrived the expansion into multi-store chains. With computers and the internet came the diversification into online retail, the advent of the smartphone brought mobile and app-based retail. Now, with Smart HomeHubs we have seen the deviation into ‘voice-shopping’. The adoption of most or all of these options to engage a client is the key to keeping and growing your customer base. Omni-channel shopping has become a marketing centre-piece in driving increased sales.

MULTI-CHANNEL, YES, BUT OMNI-CHANNEL SHOPPING MEANS MORE

As technology has developed so has the ability to shop in several different ways; it’s only a generation ago that making a telephone order was considered advanced. The vast increase in shopping options has brought ease, simplicity and convenience to getting what the consumer wants.

Multi-channel is not necessarily Omni-channel shopping.

There are two distinct channels for shopping, physical stores and online retail. While physical stores will always have a place in the retail market, eCommerce has expanded at an alarming rate in the past twenty years.

Physical “Showroom” Stores

Whether it’s on the high street or in large shopping malls, the physical store will have a place in the retail sphere for many years to come. Until technology advance to the point where we can either instantly “teleport” goods to our homes or every home has a 3d printer that can print our every retail requirement, there will still be a need for the physical retail store.

Even with the increasing percentage of retail sales that occur online, they still only account for a maximum of around 21% of retail sales in total.

Not only does the retail store serve the purpose of facilitating the instant need for a product, but it also allows people to see, feel and possibly even test the product they are seeking. Even with the advances in computer technology, 360-degree views and documented measurements, sometimes there is no real substitute for checking the feel of a mattress, trying on an outfit, or trialling a new scent.

Retail channels that facilitate the immediate availability need and the need to try out a product will succeed, at least in the short-term. Even online retailers must exhibit their wares occasionally to provide a genuinely omni-channel shopping experience.

There are a few different types of physical stores that appeal to the need for physical examination of a product before purchase.

#Showrooms – These are not common, but they carry minimal amounts of stock in-store to “display” their products and take orders for later delivery. They are not necessarily physical stores; they can be a part of the growing party business that has been used by Avon, Ann Summers, and even Usborne children’s books.

#High Street/Mall Stores – These are the ones with which we are most familiar. They have large numbers of stores, carry large amounts of stock in-store and appeal to the immediate need.

#Pop-up Shops – These are gaining ground for retailers that are primarily online businesses. Short term rents in high traffic areas, even market stalls, fit the criteria.

Online Retail

Online shopping has become huge, and now there are so many ways that shoppers can access online retail. There are several different ways to access online retail, and they frequently appeal to different subsets of demographics.

#Website stores – The most common method of ordering online and generally the best way of getting the best and most information about the products available.

#Mobile Websites –  As mobile technology developed, the need to optimise websites for use on small handheld devices such as mobile phones and tablets became important — small devices which didn’t have the processing power to display full web pages. It is still vital to optimise websites for mobile use, even though most smartphones now have more memory and processing power than early internet computers. The mobile version of a site is generally adaptable for smaller screens and to improve the display quality.

#App shopping – Apple iOS, along with Android and then Windows Smartphones brought the age of the app, and app shopping has created a more natural way for their clients to keep their shopping preferences and integrate the shopping into a custom-designed application that correctly fits the shopping experience for the business.

#Voice shopping – The most recent development in online retail has been the voice shopping option afforded by smart home hubs. Leave it to Amazon to bring the Echo and Alexa to the retail arena. Telling Alexa to purchase something while walking around your house and noticing that something is running low or a household item needs replacing.

# Social Shopping – If a shopper finds your business via social media, it may not be convenient for them to download the app or transfer to a website to order from you. Social shopping has allowed some smaller businesses to expand their reach through social retail.

What Omni-Channel Shopping has Over Multi-Channel Shopping

While the multitude of shopping options adds convenience and ease to the shopping experience, omni-channel shopping has a crucial difference that makes it better; it is comprehensive.

Omni-channel shopping is interconnected and compatible, it allows customer flexibility. An example may be the woman who receives an email voucher from her favourite clothing brand for a one day only offer.

She checks the app or website for items of interest.

The voucher is also applicable in-store.

There are two stores nearby, in opposite directions, which should she visit?

The app lists local store stock levels – one store has the items available, the other doesn’t.

The example goes much further when the customer expects to be able to contact and continue discourse about a subject (complaint?) across multiple contact channels. If a call has been made to discuss a problem or question, will they then have to repeat everything to another person when using a different contact medium like chat functions, email,  or facebook messenger?

Centrally, storing and sharing information for the specific method of resolving an issue that a customer has, creates a better conflict resolution platform and creates a space to which the customer is far more inclined to return.  An omni-channel shopping platform links all channels to form the most integrated shopping experience. Multi-channel shopping treats each channel as a separate entity without crossover or collaboration.

Choosing appropriate channels for your business.

Many businesses don’t believe they need omni-channel shopping to appeal to their demographics. However, they do not realise that as technology progresses and advances, so do their clientele. Today’s voice shopper may not be the demographic which you wish to target, but tomorrow they may be. Today’s Millenial becomes tomorrow’s new parent, and so on it goes.

It may be that you don’t need to cover all of the bases, not all target groups want omni-channel shopping options, but you do need to future-proof your offerings. While your current target market might be professionals in the 24-39 age bracket, your future audience is the 18-24 age range that is still in education, who will demand omni-channel shopping.