Digital Transformation to Peak Omnichannel: The Evolutionary Shift

Increasing store visits online is, indeed, only the start of an exciting evolutionary journey that has thrust into full swing in recent weeks. How to drive customers in-store using digital, and how to enhance the offline customer experience, still remains top priority of any brand with long-term sustainability at the top of their agenda. It was interesting to see news last week of Burton’s Snowboards’ foray into omnichannel, with a digital transformation powered by NewStore. Two things struck me immediately.

  1. The main focus of Burton’s Snowboards omnichannel strategy seems to be in-store. In essence, it will move to a single commerce platform for both online and offline, which will arm store associates with a mobile toolkit to help them better understand each customer, however they interact with the brand, and to deliver a slicker experience in-store.
  2.  But second, those same mobile tools will not be available to in-store customers to, for instance, access product information, look up stock levels, buy there and then, and arrange home delivery if they prefer (at least not yet).

So, while innovations like this are exciting steps forward, we are still some way from peak omnichannel – which has to be primarily about online to offline. By that I mean mobile and eCommerce experiences that encourage those browsing online to visit stores where this is their preference, and then provide digital services that make those visits slicker and more rewarding.

Why? Well, first of all, the store is still the powerhouse, where 80% of retail sales are transacted. Years ago, when I was Director of Advertising at Dixons Group, we used advertising in newspapers just to get people into store at the weekends. It’s a retail fundamental – and, given where most of the purchase action is, it stands to reason that a big part of online should be about driving people into store.

That’s looking at the omnichannel challenge from a commercial perspective, as a means to sell more. But there is an even more important perspective: Customer needs. 

Quite simply, getting omnichannel right has to be about meeting previously unmet needs in a way that is both useful and satisfying for customers starting a shopping journey online but finishing it in-store.

How that looks precisely will vary from brand to brand, but it is not a giant leap to suggest most online to offline shoppers want a slick, trouble-free experience when they get to the store.  That means at least part of the online to offline experience must be about being masters of instant gratification, so that when customers want something now, literally now, they can get it straight away. 

Retailers have addressed that need to a degree with click and collect, but there is so much more that could be done. For instance, mobile customers already use the basket to gather products they are interested in buying before a store visit, so why not build on this to address the underlying need? 

  1. Why not connect the online and the offline so that the same customer can see what’s in stock in a nearby store and be alerted to sales events?
  2. Then, once in the store, a great online to offline experience might use a live store map to make finding all the items they were interested in quick and easy; it might provide rich product information or expert advice; and it might then enable that customer to avoid queuing by transacting there and then on their mobile device, before walking out with the product.
  3. Then there is personalisation. Real, practical personalisation driven by customer needs must ultimately cross the divide between online and offline to deliver an experience that matches each customer’s shopping style - which includes their own personal mix of online and offline.

At the extremes, if a customer has only ever shopped in-store, why wouldn’t they always get a store-led customer experience, and vice versa for an online customer? Somewhere in between is a more nuanced experience that reflects not just customers’ online/offline mix, but the behaviours they exhibit in each context and which enables a seamless, relevant transition between the two in any given shopping journey.

So, there remains much to do. Burton Snowboards’ move is exciting and interesting but I hope it, and those that follow, remember that achieving peak omnichannel is about responding to customer need. For now at least, that means connecting the online and offline experiences, not just for staff, but for customers too.

For information on how to increase store visits and offline customer experience using digital, get in touch with our team.