A pop music star wears a denim vest ironically. Suddenly an article of clothing made for retired men is the fashionable item for young women with disposable income.
A hashtag leads a customer-to-be to your online store. At the glance of an eye and the tap of a finger she’s not only confirmed that the vest is in stock nearby, she’s also reserved hers.
On her way to claim it at the cash register she picks up a few additional items on impulse, then signs up for your mailing list for a further discount.
To her surprise but not yours, she’s now on her way to being a regular customer.
Stories like this one don’t happen by accident. And for brands whose channels don’t work together, such a customer experience is literally impossible. Instead, to create the retail and customer service brand experiences that customers expect, all channels have to work together seamlessly.
This is the promise of omnichannel retail. The challenge is that most firms weren’t designed to do it:
Back in the day (at the dawn of retail) business was done one way: face-to-face. Then came the original second channel: the mail order catalogue. Customers could browse at their leisure and order by mail, or later, the phone. Their purchase would show up a bit later at their doorstep.
The catalogue business was treated as distinct from brick and mortar. This made perfect sense, given that delivering a product to a customer and delivering inventory to a store are very different problems and require completely different processes—all the way down to the books.
Mail order gave way to online stores and once again retailers had a new channel with new rules to reach customers, fulfilled by a new internal organization to keep costs as low as possible.
The result, for retailers, is a number of systems that each operate on their own to satisfy customers however they wish to interact with the brand.
But how do things look to the customer?
Internet-era customers are used to things working together better and better. Ordering a pizza no longer requires picking up the phone (unless it’s to use an app)—or even scrounging around for cash, we pay online and eat minutes later.
Completely internet-based companies take this expectation further: for example, the seamless multi-screen experiences of Netflix and Amazon Kindle (start watching or reading on one device, resume on another). These experiences show customers what’s possible and shapes their expectations for all brands.
Anything with your logo on it—a store, an app, an email, a phone number, or your website—should be a portal to all your services. This is the expectation. If you can meet or beat it, you’ll delight your customers at every turn, increase revenue and decrease churn.
Online orders should be exchangeable in store. Coupons issued in-store should be valid online. Experiences started on one screen should resume seamlessly on the other, from video playback to digital checkout. All parts of your brand should work together to give your customer exactly what they want.
Fortunately, the tools to make this happen already exist, but for older companies there’s no way around substantial reinvestment. HTML5 and responsive design allow the same website to be helpful across any and every device, modern CRM solutions give customers a persistent identity across channels, while payment technologies like Elastic Path tie everything together through integrated billing.
This is the new nature of branding and retail: omnichannel retail for omnichannel experiences. Leading brands will have to rework their systems, lagging brands will have to rework their thinking. Either way, customers expectations have set the bar high.