6 min

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retail, unified commerce, Order Management Systems, … There are so many different names for this growing trend, yet so few details about the technological pillars that make this solution a new must-have for retail.

Why is omnichannel retail so efficient? What does it enable? What are its foundations?

With omnichannel, the customer is truly king!

Retailers, what means and solutions are you putting in place to ensure customer satisfaction?  What differentiating factors do you employ to offer “easy” shopping and customer experiences?

As you are well aware, today’s customers know what they want – to be able to buy on any channel (physical or digital), to be advised throughout the buying process and to return their product without difficulty from anywhere and at any time.

As far as customer relations are concerned, the customer no longer expects to face any gaps in information. They want you to know everything about them, whatever the point of contact, and to address them on the right sales channel, with the right message, about a product or an offer that really concerns them.

Ensuring an “easy” shopping experience and customer journey is no longer limited to the user interface of your e-commerce site. What makes these experiences easy for your customers is the ability they have to buy your products on all your available digital channels (e-commerce, marketplaces, social networks, etc.), to pick them up/try them out in-store or to receive them at home and to return them easily. Since the customer experience must be taken care of from start to finish, don’t forget to take care of returns! Indeed, many brands do not allow their customers to easily return their web purchases to the store, a real sore spot for customers!

There are other examples that support this idea of ease and convenience for your customers:

  • A responsive customer service (via a call centre or a chatbot) that offers your customers a quasi-instantaneous response is an indispensable asset.
  • Allowing your customers to track the status of their orders whenever they want and in real-time will also differentiate you from your competitors.

In short, offering ease and convenience to your customers means allowing them to obtain all possible combinations of purchase journeys and interactions, between both the online and offline worlds.

Now that’s omnichannel retail!

Omnichannel retail is a natural and necessary evolution of multichannel retail.

While multichannel retailing allows a retailer to sell through different channels, it does not necessarily provide the same customer experience. Multichannel retail does not allow a customer to start their purchase journey via one sales channel and end it via another: for example, a Click & Collect solution that starts on the web and ends by physically going to the store.

Of course, implementing an omnichannel retail solution requires that all departments in the company work together efficiently. From logistics to marketing, from store personnel to after-sales customer service, all departments are impacted. Omnichannel retail, for example, makes it possible to process a request originating from social media as efficiently as if the customer were in the store. This implies a universal and cross-department approach to customer relations where each employee in your company, whatever their position, truly places the customer at the heart of their job.

The foundation of omnichannel retailing: data!

In order to become a truly omnichannel retailer, in addition to rethinking your organisation, there is one other key element that is essential: data! This is simply because without data everything else would be impossible.

The key elements of omnichannel: OMS (stock data), PIM (product data), CRM (customer data)

Your information system must be truly cross-functional throughout your entire company. It must be able to gather data wherever it originates from, thus eliminating silos, no matter whether the data’s point of origin is internal to the company or external. Nowadays, many customer journeys don’t solely originate from within the company – just think of the rise of marketplaces, for example – and production and logistics activities that take place before and after a sale are more complex than ever.

When it comes to data, in the retail world we have three main types of information:

1. Customer/prospect data. As previously mentioned, in an omnichannel world, the challenge is to have the best possible knowledge of consumers in order to offer them a 100% personalised shopping experience. Omnichannel allows retailers to use this data and information across all points of contact that they may have with consumers. The challenge is therefore to collect and manage, for each customer, both their in-store and online purchase history, their loyalty programme, contact information, browsing behaviour, calls to customer service… All this within one CRM system!

2. Order/stock data. OMS is a truly omnichannel retail order orchestrator, gathering stock-related information in real-time: stock levels, stock location, etc. The OMS then aggregates and uses this information to define the stock point best able to fulfil incoming orders, in terms of availability, cost and delivery times. Logistics flows are thus optimised using predefined business rules. Lastly, OMS makes it possible to offer omnichannel services that would be impossible to implement without a unified view of the stock, such as Ship from Store, Order in Store, Reserve & Collect, Click & Collect and many others!

3. Product data. Retailers use PIM solutions to have a centralised view of their product information and of course to optimise its use (organisation, optimisation, price change management, distribution according to the channel or target market).
All this data – and as you can see there is a lot of it – needs to be centralised, secured and available to all the parties involved in omnichannel retail, from identifying the different touchpoints a customer may have with the brand in the purchase or post-purchase phase right through to the logistics services that have to deliver that order. To better understand your business, the management and analysis of this data are essential. Where possible, innovation should be introduced, for example through artificial intelligence, orchestration or process automation solutions.

Omnichannel retail, therefore, requires dedicated OMS, CRM and PIM solutions. Deploying these three platforms, each focusing on one type of data, is essential to becoming an omnichannel retailer. Some software editors are pushing “all-in-one” solutions that look attractive on paper but that, in reality, quickly reveal their limits because no “all-in-one” solution has the capacity to manage all the use cases that specialised solutions can provide. Thus, all-in-one solutions, because of their lack of flexibility, may give rise to problems in the medium term.

Of course, the implementation of separate specialised solutions is more expensive at the launch of a project, but in the medium term, it is a winning choice! This strategy combines efficiency and flexibility with the possibility, of adapting to future needs that are still unknown.

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Further reading