Ecommerce has eclipsed traditional brick-and-mortar commerce, but that is only the beginning of the story. Ecommerce continues to get more and more complex with mobile commerce, conversational commerce, and cryptocurrencies.
The moral of the story is that the offline and online worlds are converging and merchants need to follow a new roadmap that accommodates omni channel commerce.
Your omnichannel mantra should take a like from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come.” Meaning, if you build a great omni channel experience, the customers will show up. Why? Because omni channel is all about meeting the customer’s’ needs and offering the opportunity to buy how, when, and where the customer prefers.
Understanding the Omni Channel Approach
The focus has largely been on perfecting the ecommerce experience – and the data supports that push. According to census.gov, the total ecommerce sales estimate for Q3 of 2017 increased 15.5% over Q3 of 2017, topping out at an estimated
$1,268.9 billion. Every merchant wants a slice of that pie. But there’s a much bigger slice available to merchants that make every path to purchase a pleasant one – and that goes beyond the online experience.
Brick-and-mortar and ecommerce experiences should go hand-in-hand and support each other. It’s not an either-or proposition. The best way to ensure you’re on the right track with all channels is to ask “Shopping at StoreX would be easier if_______.”
Optimizing Customer Experience to Win Big Across Channels
Customers are inclined to make purchases that are easy. That may mean bridging across channels at different stages in the purchase process. If merchants are not prepared to offer a path of least resistance, the customer will often abandon the purchase. So how can merchants ensure that the path is short, unobstructed, and well-lit? Here are some best practices based on recent consumer trends:
- Offer in-app or online purchases that can be picked up at a physical store (offer ship-to-store for online purchases, too).
- Provide online or in-app maps for specific products in the store (including aisle # and inventory count)
- Provide barcode scanning technology within your app that allows customers to see detailed product information.
- Allow app users to create wish lists (or general shopping lists) that can be saved and shared.
- Test products online before bringing them in-store (many customers webroom – researching products online before going into the physical store to buy).
- Offer free shipping on returns for items purchased online
- Enable social shopping, where customers can purchase items displayed in your Instagram feed using a platform like Like2Buy
- Use social data to organize your brick-and-mortar store based on product popularity on social channels like Pinterest
Ensuring a Seamless Experience from Start to Finish
Implementing some of the tips above can make for a positive customer experience, but what about when it’s time to pay? Merchants need to remember that the payment process is also a part of the customer experience, no matter on which channel the transaction takes place.
Brick-and-mortar merchants should have up-to-date POS systems that are up to EMV standards. For busier stores, many retailers enable their salespeople to check people out via smartphone or iPad to cut down on long waits in line.
Online merchants have a few more nuts and bolts to consider. Card-not-present transactions pose extra risk, so merchants need to be sure their fraud prevention tools are up-to-par to combat the latest schemes and fraud. Online payment processing also needs to be PCI-compliant to protect sensitive cardholder data.
Those precautions are table stakes. To provide a truly positive experience, merchants need to consider the best path from website visitor, to shopper, to buyer. This means presenting a clean, easy-to-navigate website or app experience. It also means making the checkout process as seamless as possible. A few tips:
- Accept a wide variety of payment forms. This includes the major card brands but also alternative methods like PayPal. Be sure to display the “payments accepted” information prominently.
- Enable a progress bar during the checkout process so customers know how many steps they have completed and how many they have left. Use intelligent forms and geolocation to autofill information where possible.
- Be transparent: display all costs on a single page (products, taxes, shipment) so there aren’t any surprises at checkout. If you’re international, you may also want to consider currency conversion so that non-domestic customers can see the total price in their local currency.
- Don’t require registration to checkout. New customers may not want to register right away, so don’t make it a requirement for them to finish the transaction.
It’s important to remember that customers don’t think in “channels” but rather experiences. Optimizing both is the merchant’s responsibility and it extends from the moment a customer sets foot in your store (or eyes on your site) all the way through payment.