How omnichannel commerce impacts the customer experience
By Rachel Martin, Global Director Product Marketing, Global Ecommerce, Pitney Bowes
Over the last several years we saw a dramatic change in retail shopping. We’ve gone from completely separate experiences for online shopping and in-store shopping to various combinations of the two. The growth of mobile and social is also affecting retailers in ways they likely never imagined, and international ecommerce is equally affected by this change. This evolution is called the “Omnichannel experience”, and it will be a major focus for many retailers this year. But what exactly does Omnichannel mean?
A step back in ecommerce time.
Let’s step back and think about how it used to be. A retailer had a store where it sold its products and services and a customer would visit the store whenever they needed something. In some cases the retailer might send out flyers announcing sales or new products. Some of these retailers also jumped on the ecommerce bandwagon when online commerce arrived and sold some or all of their products online in their own country. There was no relationship between the actual store and the online store. In most cases, they operated completely separate from each other. That was how it began.
Today, it’s not as simple.
Retailers cannot have a separate experience for online and in-store. The evolution of the Internet has changed things. Consumers are spending more time online doing their own research into the products and services they want to buy. They look at the retailer’s website and competitor websites, for the experiences and opinions of other shoppers. In some cases they might make a purchase online. In others, they will go into to the store to complete the sale.
One newer trend is to go into a physical store and look around but make the actual purchase online, turning retail stores into showrooms. Consumers will also price shop while in a store. Using their mobile phone they will compare the price of an item to the online price for that retailer, or compare prices at other retailers.
The worlds of online and offline have collided.
But that’s not all that Omnichannel means. It also refers to providing a seamless experience through the many different channels a consumer has available to them. This includes social media and/or mobile.
A consumer wants to be able to start the shopping experience in one channel and have it remembered when they switch channels. Whether it’s something in a wish list, a shopping cart, or starting research on their mobile phone while traveling home from work and then continuing the experience sitting on the couch with their tablet, the retailer needs to provide an experience that will build a strong long-term relationship with a prospective customer.
Omnichannel and the international consumer.
International ecommerce is equally impacted by the rise of Omnichannel experiences. In some cases, visitors from other countries might come into a retailer’s store after searching online. They also require the same desktop-to-mobile-tablet experience as domestic consumers. For international ecommerce consumers, the challenges might be even greater when visiting an actual brick-and-mortar store.
There are many ways that retailers are working to develop Omnichannel strategies for domestic consumers. But just as important, is the process for building this experience for international ecommerce consumers.
Let’s look at a couple of ideas.
Loyalty programs are designed to encourage and reward customers who purchase regularly from a retailer. Traditionally, this required a “loyalty card” that was mailed to the customer to use whenever they shopped online or purchased in-store. Today, it’s as simple as signing up online and logging in whenever a customer makes a purchase. All interactions that were once anonymous are now connected to a customer's loyalty profile. When a customer purchases something in-store, they provide their loyalty number (or phone number or email address) and that purchase recorded.
Loyalty programs are a great way to keep track of customers as they shop (online or off) and offer them special deals based on their browsing and shopping habits. Imagine you have a visitor to your website from Canada or Australia who looked at a number of products but didn’t complete an actual purchase. If that shopper later went on vacation to a country where a physical store was located, an associate could use the loyalty number to get a view of what interests the shopper and provide a more personalized in-store experience.
Personalized emails go hand-in-hand with loyalty programs or as standalone newsletter subscriptions. In either case you can create emails that are personalized to the customer’s location in real-time. If a UK-based customer is visiting a city where you have an actual store, when they open their email it can be personalized to their actual location, indicating special offers or in-store deals, even providing a map to find the store.
If your customer provided or signed up for a loyalty number while at the store, a store clerk can record things they purchased or looked at. When the customer opens the email in their home country, the offers could relate to things that they looked at in the store, or focus on special online deals as a loyalty program customer or newsletter subscriber.
Mobile shopping is quickly becoming the most popular way to purchase online. As more emerging countries get increased access to the Internet, mobile devices are exploding in usage. In fact, in many countries this is the preferred method of shopping online. This is good for international ecommerce.
If an international customer is visiting a country where there is a physical store, marketers can take advantage of Beacons. Beacons (e.g. iBeacon or PayPal Beacon) use Bluetooth low energy technology, a technology found in most new mobile devices, which alerts a marketer when that visitor is close to a retail location and pushes out notifications of offers or special deals in store. Beacons also track the shopper while they are in the store. This information can be used later when the customer is back at home, through personalized emails or online specials.
International shoppers deserve and expect a seamless experience too.
It’s not unusual for a retailer to focus their attention on domestic shoppers, especially those that have the ability to buy in-store or online. And that makes sense - after all, Omni channel experiences greatly improve the chances of a domestic shopper purchasing an item.
But international customers demand an equally seamless and consistent experience. Marketers simply need to take the time to think through their Omni channel strategy for each audience. With the growth of ecommerce expanding dramatically in emerging markets, it's is critical for retailers to take the time to develop and act on an international ecommerce strategy.
To learn more about the buying preferences of the global consumer, download the Pitney Bowes 2016 Global Online Shopping Study and learn more.