Finding Your Most Effective Retail Channel Strategy
At the dawn of online retail, retailers were split into two distinct categories; either brick and mortar or internet-based. Retailers acquired customers via phone, print, direct mail, in-store, television, and radio while consumers purchased by phone, mail, in-store, and online. These channels were very much isolated and attribution across channels was difficult to correlate. After years of ‘retail wars’ pitting e-commerce against physical shopping venues like malls and main street, retailers gradually began to see that they didn’t have to choose one or the other. Large brick and mortar retailers like Macy’s and Best Buy started to take a page from the playbooks of new online sellers like Amazon, realizing that shoppers loved the convenience and transparency that online retail offered. About 25 years ago, this led to the rise of multichannel marketing, with retailers selling products and serving customers both online and in-store. Retailers managed this shift with varying degrees of success, and some have never quite gotten it to this day. Today’s retail giants are omnichannel, both in marketing and in sales.
Today, marketing has evolved into a different beast entirely, with a variety of new communication channels and purchasing methods now being available. The popularity and value of these channels changes constantly, as does purchasing behavior, so retailers must be vigilant, actively evaluating their marketing channel strategies to best serve their customers where they are and when they want it. Let’s take a look at each type of channel strategy and how it works in retail.
The once-most advanced channel strategy has quickly taken a back-seat to the more dominant and modern cross- and omnichannel marketing strategies. While many businesses may still operate in a single-channel approach, moving towards multichannel can help lay the groundwork for future success, since multichannel shoppers spend 3x more than single-channel shoppers. Multichannel marketing features multiple channels that often work individually to hit varying goals. Their communication can be inconsistent in the eye of the customer, as there is no synchronicity between the customer experience and promotions that occur.
Jen is browsing online and finds a t-shirt she likes at Core Retail Store. Unsure of how it will fit her, she heads to the local store to try on that shirt. Upon arrival, she finds out that the shirt is an additional $4 in-store. When she asks a customer service rep to order the shirt, the rep cannot do so. She must return home to complete her purchase.
Jen tries to buy a shirt online on her cellphone, but almost halfway through the checkout process, her device dies. Pulling out her laptop, she logs in to complete her purchase, however, the cart data didn’t save and her cart is empty. In a rush, she decides to come back later to complete the purchase but forgets for the time being. The retailer loses the sale.
Jen receives a flyer with a coupon for $10 off a $50 purchase. Seeing no stores near her that she wants to make the drive to, she makes a purchase online but quickly gives up redeeming the coupon when the in-store coupon does not work online.
Benefits of Multichannel
Lays the groundwork for a more advanced, future channel strategy
Increases your customer’s ability to buy
Easier to Implement
Cons fo Multichannel
Channels Operate in Silos
Can have a lack of consistency across channels
May not always provide frictionless customer experiences
One step up from multichannel is cross-channel. Similar to multichannel, cross-channel uses multiple channels to communicate with customers and potential customers. The key with cross-channel is that it allows users to shop across channels, often offering consistent pricing, promos, and messaging. Cross-channel dives into the world of the customer journey with the goal of converting the user. These channels also communicate lightly with each other to have a synchronized strategy. With 98% of customers switching between devices multiple times a day, creating a strategy to encourage purchases, regardless of the device, is key to providing a better customer experience. This often requires the collaboration of multiple departments to create campaigns that are synced through various channels.
With cross-channel, Jen sees an advertisement online for shirts at Core Retail Store. She sees the same ad on her social network and again in her email, prompting her to take advantage of the promotion. Jen tries to buy a shirt online on mobile, but almost halfway through the checkout process, her device dies. She decides to buy the shirt later on desktop and logs in to complete her purchase and finds her cart still has the shirt in it. She purchases the shirt and continues on her busy day.
Benefits of Cross-channel
Consistent Branding/Appearance across multiple channels
Allows users to continue cross-devices
Can increase customer loyalty by providing a better brand experience
Creates a customer journey for a better brand experience
Cons fo Cross-channel
More Difficult to Implement
Requires more time to make sure messaging syncs up on various platforms
Doesn’t fully integrate the customer journey
The terms ‘omnichannel’ and ‘cross-channel’ are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different things. The key takeaway to understand the difference between cross-channel and omnichannel is that omnichannel is customer-centric and takes a single customer view. While all forms of channel approaches keep the customer in mind, in omnichannel, the customer and their every interaction with a brand are considered holistically. Omnichannel uses CRM systems to merge a customer’s profile data with the historical data of high converting upsells for previous purchases of the same goods. This allows retailers to improve and extend the customer journey to include multiple upsells and proactively display what the consumers are most likely to buy next. The customer relationship management in omnichannel marketing seeks to integrate data with the goal of keeping the purchase with the retailer, and away from competitors. While all channels that are involved in multichannel can still be at play in omnichannel, omnichannel focuses on a dialogue with the customer instead of a monologue. This dialogue matters to consumers because consumers are getting busier and plagued with more messaging in multiple streams. This overexposure to mass-marketing has caused an influx in the desire for personalization, with 44% of shoppers being open to switching to different brands that provide more personalized experiences. Once a customer’s purchase is made, whether in-store or online, ads, emails, and promos will be sent to the customer, highlighting additional purchases that might interest them. The experience extends to in-store, allowing fashion customers to go in-store and consult a sales associate who will be able to recommend great accessories for that customer’s outfit since they have access to previous purchases. When a customer visits a brand’s website, their sizing information is stored and the product feed automatically displays relevant styles in their sizes that match their preferences. This is omnichannel at its best, and it continues to morph as new retail technologies are introduced.
Jen purchases a shirt at her local Core Retail Store. She receives a digital receipt in her email on her mobile phone shortly after purchasing her shirt. On her digital receipt, she sees a list of “recommended products” that other customers liked after purchasing the same shirt. She abandons the email for now and scans her social channels. She sees ads for necklaces to complete the look from Core Retail Store. Once her shirt arrives, she tries it on and thinks it might look better with a necklace. Jen receives her digital packing slip shortly afterward and once again sees some recommended necklaces on the slip. She spots one she likes and proceeds to order it, with the coupon she received on her digital receipt.
Since Jen loves the shirt she purchased, she returns to the Core Retail Store’s site to find one in another color. She finds the recommended products for her style and clicks on one she likes. Seeing that her size is pre-populated into the selection box, there is no frustration at being shown styles that aren’t available in her size. With one click, she adds the shirt to her cart and begins another seamless purchase journey.
Benefits of Omnichannel
Optimal Brand Experience
Creates a Unified Marketing Strategy
Cons fo Omnichannel
Can be costly to Implement & Maintain