The Future Of Retail Isn’t Physical Vs Online, It’s Omnichannel
Commerce is a human activity woven into our very nature. It predates complex societies and urbanization, and is at least as old as the widespread practice of agriculture. Evidence of the trading of livestock and goods exists as early as the tenth millennium BC, and these activities are likely far older. Currency – coinage – was one of the earliest inventions of the first human civilizations of Mesopotamia, dating to around the same time as the first recorded written texts.
By the first millennium BC, Greek and Phoenician traders bought and sold in emporia and agorae across the Mediterranean, from modern Barcelona and Marseilles, to Tunis, to the Crimea. Shopkeeping is one of the oldest extant professions, and humans have been honing the art of the deal for thousands of years.
In the modern world, we find ourselves moving in new directions. The rise of the internet has brought with it the ability for business owners to expand their reach across continents. It enabled what might have once been a standalone store on a main street to become a global empire, with shoppers able to make purchases from hundreds of miles away, while receiving a completely unique experience to the shoppers visiting the physical store.
However, this transition from traditional retail to modern e-commerce, as with all evolution, has been relatively slow, but the reality is that now, more than ever, the most successful brands must be able to operate in both worlds. Just as the high street rose to join the early modern market faire, the internet has established itself as a new global marketplace and the requirement for customer experience synchronicity is vital to success.
When the modern shopper does step into many of these online stores, they often find the (metaphorical) staff unhelpful, the cashier closed, the aisles confusing and labyrinthine. The customer experience during online shopping has the power to make or break the success of a business’s e-commerce endeavors. In order for retailers to succeed, lessons must be learned from the successes of physical retail. As a business, having an omnichannel overview of customer experience ensures the needs of the consumer are being met, regardless of whether they are stepping into a physical store or shopping online.
What exactly is ‘omnichannel’? It’s become a commonly used term within a number of different sectors and describes a multichannel approach that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store.
In order to facilitate the ongoing evolution of retail, businesses must use what information they have in order to unify the physical and digital retail worlds and focus on how to better build an omnichannel business model.
Data becomes a fundamental tool in improving and refining the shopping experience, and the detail and precision of data available through monitoring of online and offline shopper behavior affords businesses invaluable insights into how to improve and streamline both ecommerce and physical retail.
When it comes to ecommerce, data can provide insights into mouse clicks and heat maps can show how and where shoppers are moving through a website, including where they are met with impediments or frustrations, while in-store customer feedback remains as important today as it ever has been.
The Customer Has A Voice – Let Them Use It
While data provides a wealth of invaluable raw information, this is still only half the battle. Data explains the when and where of customers stalling, up-buying, or leaving; it is customer experience insights (particularly in real-time) that explain the why and the how.
By engaging with users of a physical or online store, businesses are able to actually understand how to implement effective change. Allowing customers to provide feedback on their frustrations (and joys!) to find solutions, and to not feel that they are dealing with a faceless machine is crucial to securing and retaining customers.
When enabled in real-time, omnichannel customer feedback allows a business to let its customers guide it on what specific issues are arising and what elements can be improved: from website bugs and store layouts, to the implementation of new procedures or store features.
Businesses should also not be afraid to learn from their competitors, to see how other omnichannel retailers engage with their customers. By learning from its customers, a business can understand issues, the impact of change, and how further improvements can be made, and ultimately whether these solutions themselves are effectively implemented.