Modern shopping has evolved faster than many retailers can keep up with. The power of the internet means customers now expect to select a variety of items and have them packaged up and delivered to their door by the next day.

The power of the internet means customers now expect items by the next day.

At the same time, the vast majority of purchases are still made on the high street. One of the biggest trends of late is ‘click and collect’, which marries offline and online experiences.

Savvy retailers are starting to realise that their future success lies not only in being present on the high street and online, but excelling in each by offering a consistent service and a seamless customer journey across both.

According to Niall Bodkin, chairman of the eCommerce Association of Ireland, this is the difference between multichannel, being available on several channels, and omnichannel, joining up the dots between them.

“It’s all about true continuity of the customer experience,” he says. “It’s presenting your sales, customer experience and social channels in a consistent and seamless manner wherever your customer chooses to interact with you.

“It’s an extension of your brand and how you want to present yourself to your customers. The whole experience should be intuitive giving the user what they come to expect from you and where they come to expect it.”

 

Retailers are more focussed on customers

 

In practice, this might mean starting an order on a desktop and then logging in later on a mobile to complete it. It means customers never being frustrated by ordering something online that turns out to be out of stock nor, crucially, ordering items online to pick up in-store from a branch that does not stock them.

The majority of purchases are still made in stores.

It is increasingly working in the other direction too, Bodkin points out. Shoppers in-store are now finding online ordering is a great way of not leaving empty-handed.

“Kiosks or point of sales terminals are increasingly being used to bring internet ordering into a shop,” he says.

“It’s perfect for when a shop doesn’t have something in stock but they can help the customer order it. The alternative is to tell them to go home and order, but how many will? It’s far better to handle it in-store and retailers are finding that the public are far more willing to share their personal data with kiosks than an online marketing form.”

 

A better customer experience, every time

 

Anybody wondering what this looks like in real life would be well advised to pop in to a Maplin store. The electronics retailer has rolled out consistent branding across its online and physical stores. Within each store, the part that impresses Bodkin the most is the terminals available for questions. Rather than use a personal device to ask a question or check an item’s specification, and potentially seeing an offer from a rival retailer, the terminals answer queries in-store.

Omnichannel users are 23% more likely to revisit stores and recommend a brand.

It is a far better experience than Bodkin can recall while visiting a rival electronics store where there is little point of sale information, model names do not match up with those given online and specifications sometimes differ.

Inconsistencies can frustrate customers and send them to rivals, whereas delivering omnichannel effectively has the opposite effect, he points out.

“According to a recent study published in Harvard Business Review, omnichannel users are 23% more likely to revisit stores and recommend the brand to others,” he says.

“They’re also 13% more likely to buy instore. I think we all know from personal experience that when we know a retailer gets it right and they offer great customer service across their channels, you’re less likely to go off looking for a rival offer. You’re less price sensitive if you know you’re going to get good service with a familiar brand that makes it convenient for you to either have something delivered or pop in and pick it up, and the same for returns.”

Where this is going to take retail is not known yet. There is the potential for technology to join up the dots on the customer journey by recognising customers walking in to a store and flashes offers up on their phones. Quite whether the public is ready for this, or will find it “spooky” has yet to be seen but Bodkin suggests, if the customer gets value from it, they are more likely to accept sharing data.