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Getting Started with Omnichannel eCommerce

Omnichannel eCommerce is a sales and marketing strategy that offers the best approach to building effective eCommerce sites.

What is Omnichannel eCommerce?

Omnichannel eCommerce is a sales and marketing strategy that offers the best approach to building effective eCommerce sites. Omnichannel marketing strategies focus on unifying all possible channels and points of customer contact. To fully implement an omnichannel strategy, you must apply it to all customer-facing aspects of your business. That includes your content marketing, social media, print, and digital advertising channels — as well as your eCommerce platform.

If you have a brick-and-mortar store, omnichannel covers point of sale (POS) and physical in-store experiences as well. For online-only stores, omnichannel integrates everything from social media to mobile apps, loyalty programs, newsletters, and the all-important checkout page experience.

Omnichannel means providing a great experience that deepens your relationship with your customers.

Most of us switch between several different devices during the day. We use phones, desktop computers, and laptops in different locations at different times for different purposes. Omnichannel eCommerce aims to recognize and work with this. By helping people do what they want as their device use changes, you remove barriers to sales. You also learn a lot about your customers, which will help you provide better service.

Here's an example. An omnichannel marketing strategy will collect customer information at the point of sale. Whether it's through a cashier or payment app, the customer is invited to subscribe to a newsletter. Is there an incentive to subscribe? Are they already subscribed? Did they opt out in the past? The same offer to join a newsletter might be made through QR codes in print media. It might appear on social media or website popups. It might create a rather harassing and interruptive experience for some people if you present an offer to them repeatedly on many channels!

Asking customers to do something they’ve already done is not good omnichannel eCommerce. It’s like the host of a party who forgets his guest’s names even after the third introduction. 🤔

Making sure a promotion is not offered repeatedly to people who have already used it requires care. It also requires you to have a central database that's updated by all customer interactions.

A great customer experience relies on personalization: recognizing and remembering your customers as individuals

A customer responding to your store's promotional “touches” should be understood and appropriately tagged within segmented lists. You want to identify this customer as someone who shops in your physical store. Maybe they read a certain magazine or have been a newsletter subscriber for a year. If they’re frequent shoppers you want to be able to recognize that and not keep treating them as new customers. If they’re not enrolled in your loyalty program, do they want to be? Have they opted out previously? If they are loyal customers, personalized messaging should indicate you're aware of this. You don’t want to treat them as if they just showed up for the first time.

If you truly understand omnichannel eCommerce as a unified approach to marketing and customer experience, it will force you to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and look at how they encounter and engage with all aspects of your brand and marketing. 👞

Your interactions and communication should be consistent and informed. Repeatedly asking customers to do something they’ve already done is not good omnichannel eCommerce. It’s like the host of a party who forgets his guest’s names even after the third introduction.

In an omnichannel strategy, you want to build better relationships with your customers and thoughtfully engage them on all channels. As customers move from one channel to another, their experience should be consistent and seamless.

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A personal example from Instacart 🛒

Like a lot of people, I've increased my online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, including my grocery shopping. There are a lot of benefits to planning a weekly food order and having it delivered. I've done this with a lot of small, local businesses before, but not for weekly grocery shopping trips to a big supermarket. That was still part of my family's routine. Not anymore!

Instacart has partnered with a lot of major North American brands like Costco, Walmart, and Loblaw. It was easy to go online, and get started on Instacart with the grocery stores I normally use. With a Facebook or Google login, all I had to do was add a credit card and existing store loyalty card. I noticed, however, that items ordered by other people in my family (to the same address and using the same credit card) were siloed. Other family members' purchases did not impact the suggestions or favorites in my shopping experience. Maybe there is a way for family members to share shopping lists across their accounts. If so, I have not found it yet.

When I started using my Instacart phone app, my cart on the app did not sync with my web-based account. That was confusing and frustrating. I also found it's impossible to set a large shopping list aside and start a different one. And, it's easy to accidentally order from multiple stores which leads to multiple delivery fees.

Omnichannel opens a process for continuous improvement — Nobody ever perfects it

No doubt Instacart is rapidly improving its customer experience as these online channels experience tremendous growth. Within a week my phone app and online experience were synchronizing properly. Now the items I routinely order are suggested to me first. It's a pretty good customer experience overall. But Instacart is obviously growing and changing all the time. There are growing pains, but I feel confident future changes made to Instacart are likely to solve the problems I've run into. I expect they will reduce snags and friction. Why? That is what omnichannel thinking does. It is obsessively focused on delivering a unified, positive customer journey and experience.

Omnichannel is more than Multichannel — It’s about thinking as your customer

Multichannel marketing is different from omnichannel. Multichannel looks outward from your brand at all your channels for ways to engage customers. It's a very brand-centric way to approach your marketing. Multichannel looks at the separate channels you create for customers and how you funnel them to a completed transaction. In this approach, you’re thinking about the technical implementation of sales funnels and checkout flows. You’re thinking as a store owner about your customer, not as your customer. Also, these separate channels may not be unified. They may not collect and update your customer data in a central database. That leaves your customer data trapped in separate silos.

Omnichannel overcomes and defeats siloed data. 🔓

If you truly understand omnichannel eCommerce, you will put yourself in your customers’ shoes. You will see how your customers encounter your brand and engage with all aspects of your business and marketing efforts. Omnichannel is about delighting your customers and making their lives easier by simplifying their interactions. Removing friction is the approach to take if you want to have a highly personalized, unique relationship with your customers. And why wouldn’t you?

The reasons why personalization and relationship-based eCommerce is a desirable goal should be clear. Treating your customers well as people and keeping them happy will generate loyalty. They will keep coming back for more. They will become fans who enthusiastically spread the word about your incredible brand and outstanding customer service.

Omnichannel marketing has a 90% higher customer retention rate than a single-channel strategy, and customers make 250% more purchases when they can use three or more channels.

Omnisend’s 2019 report on Marketing Automation Statistics

Omnichannel eCommerce gets huge results that speak for themselves

According to Omnisend’s 2019 report on Marketing Automation Statistics, omnichannel marketing has a 90% higher customer retention rate than a single-channel strategy. Additionally, customers make 250% more purchases when they can use three or more channels. An earlier study by Harvard Business Review showed similar sales boosts from omnichannel retail.

These incredible numbers speak clearly to omnichannel's effectiveness and impact on sales. But beyond driving up your revenue, omnichannel means gaining the value of better customer data, better analysis, and optimized processes. It also means you will get a better understanding of your market and target audiences. That means you can have a better relationship with those customers. Finally, by becoming a customer-centric company, you and your team may naturally develop and sustain a service-minded culture.

How to Get Started with Omnichannel eCommerce

These are all wonderful reasons to adopt an omnichannel eCommerce strategy. But how might you actually do it? What if you're just starting out? What if you're small and not technically complex? Those are all potentially good things — and advantages you have against big retailers!

It's easier to build up to an omnichannel business from the start than to try to become one after you've created an eCommerce business. If you built your eCommerce business without an integration strategy, you will have entrenched silos and “dumb” systems that segregate customer data. This will obscure business intelligence, stymying you and frustrating your customers. Fixing that will be expensive in time and money, so it's better to build with omnichannel from the start.

What to Do First

First, familiarize yourself with some good, winning models for omnichannel. Think about the model that might work best for you.

Next, ask yourself where your customers are. What channels do they use most? How do they use those channels? Who are these customers?

Have you mapped out a customer journey and created personas that help you understand the who, how, and why of your market? Do you know how people in your target audiences move toward sales? How do they learn about and engage with your brand over time?

Do you provide your customers with consistent messaging on all channels as part of your content strategy?

As people interact with you, are you properly tagging and segmenting lists of different customer groups?

Do you review these processes and your customer data?

A Checklist for Adopting an Omnichannel Marketing and eCommerce Strategy:

  • Learn from some winning models that are similar to your business or strategy in some key characteristics. 🏆
  • Be mobile-friendly. 📱
  • Focus on the one or two channels that matter most. 🎯
  • Map out your customer journey. 🗺️
  • Segment your customers. 🗂️
  • Audit and update your existing customer data. 🗄️
  • Make sure your customer service covers all channels. 📺
  • Perform regular tests. 🧪

Building an Omnichannel eCommerce Site

There are specific technical features you may need on the front and back end of your eCommerce platform to make omnichannel possible.

WooCommerce and Shopify offer solid eCommerce platforms for omnichannel. Here are a few suggestions for building out your omnichannel strategy on either WooCommerce or Shopify.

WooCommerce Omnichannel eCommerce Solutions

WooCommerce is the perfect platform to build up your own omnichannel sales system. It is infinitely customizable.

Learn how to streamline your checkout flow with the founder of CheckoutWC, Clif Griffin.

Shopify Omnichannel eCommerce Solutions

Shopify has its own baked-in approach to omnichannel commerce in Shopify Plus, which is their enterprise service platform. They offer a lot of guidance for omnichannel, but it is geared toward large, growing, and established businesses.

Firepush is an omnichannel marketing app to extend Shopify stores with omnichannel features.

Like Jilt, Omnisend integrates with both Shopify and WooCommerce. Omnisend brings powerful email and SMS marketing tools to your eCommerce platform.

Don't forget, business fundamentals matter more than software

Finally, it's your strategy and consistency that matters most.

Don't get bogged down in the technical details of omnichannel eCommerce!

It is really about speaking in a clear, consistent voice that best represents your brand.

Being ready and able to respond to customers wherever they are, on any device or social network is ultimately a matter of caring about your customers.

If your business's culture is not service-oriented, software and automation will not bring you the full benefits of omnichannel.

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By Dan Knauss

Dan Knauss is a writer, editor, speaker, and teacher. He's a long-time WordPress freelancer who enjoys helping people use digital publishing effectively. Dan also blogs about disability, neuropathy, neuromuscular disease, and medical research at cmt.blog.