The multifaceted meaning of omnichannel

The term omnichannel can often spread sheer fear into retailers because meeting consumers wherever they are is not easy - nor is it optional.

Mon Apr 04 10:38:00 EDT 2016

The term omnichannel has been around a long time but it seems like over the past several months it’s been picking up steam. It’s trendy and used in lots of ways but when you think about what it really means, it’s quite complex. As such, it can often spread sheer fear into retailers because meeting consumers wherever they are is not easy - nor is it optional.

Omnichannel acknowledges that the way consumers shop and buy products has changed in tandem with the emergence of digital platforms. And despite mobile being used for years, it’s becoming an increasingly crucial component for a successful ecommerce experience. As revealed by our Global Shopping Survey, a quarter of worldwide customers – and a third of Millennials – most often shop for products on their mobile phones. Social media is also a growing channel for ecommerce. Sixteen percent of consumers say they browse their personal networks for products, and the figures are higher in certain markets like India (38 percent) and Brazil (20 percent).

So the definition is absolutely multifaceted. Omnichannel is about where consumers shop (brick and mortar storefronts, retailer websites, online marketplaces, etc.), the devices they use (mobile, tablets, laptops … even TV) and how they receive their goods (in-store, online and ship home, online and pick up in-store or locker, online with delivery by drone … and on and on and on). So with all these options, it’s easy for retailers to get overwhelmed by the concept of optimizing execution across every channel. So to help break it down, it’s always good to take a step back and consider how the omnichannel experience is viewed from the outside in by our most important stakeholders: consumers.  

How Consumers View Omnichannel

We are all consumers. And from a consumer lens, omnichannel means nothing.  

It’s not that consumers don’t know the word – it’s just that they don’t particularly care about the principles behind it. To consumers, it’s just shopping. And they (we) expect to purchase goods whenever, wherever and however we want.  

Whether it occurs on a smartphone, tablet, PC or even in-store, consumers expect a convenient and satisfying experience. As we learned in our Study, the definition of a satisfying experience varies depending upon the market. In China, a great mobile buying experience is absolutely crucial; in Japan, desktop sites are the preferred channel. But across the world, a poorly localized site will frustrate shoppers in just about any country.

How Retailers Should View Omnichannel

As we know, the retailing view of omnichannel is much more complex. It represents a collection of different touchpoints, storefronts and logistical considerations. Not only do you have to think about setting up a mobile ecommerce presence, but you also have to think of fulfillment functions that support your storefront on the backend. If you want to get into international opportunities, you have to think about localization needs and new payment channels.

This is why achieving omnichannel nirvana is so challenging. While retailers understand that every channel counts, the reality is that it takes a lot of time and effort to get there. Most retailers won’t realistically be able to make all the investments needed to succeed on mobile, social and traditional platforms on a global scale all at once. But if you use your data wisely and view omnichannel through the perspective of your consumers, you can focus on delivering a great experience in the channels that your buyers prefer the most. At the end of the day, fulfillment means gratification, so optimizing your delivery channels may be the best place to start.

Aspiring to achieve Anywhere to EverywhereTMecommerce should be your beacon. To get started, make sure you’re doing a great job on the channels that matter the most to your consumers.

To learn more about the buying preferences of global buyers, download the Pitney Bowes 2016 Global Online Shopping Study today.