Omnichanneling Your Way to Retail Marketing Success in 2021
Physical retail outlets were facing uncertainty long before the term became widely used. This is due to multiple factors, including high commercial rents, a shift toward digital-first consumer shopping habits, and the ability of online competitors to undercut prices. These influences have resulted in the gradual digital transformation of retailers, where online offerings have become a primary focus for business efficiency.
Proof of this is the year-on-year increase in online sales. The spike experienced in early 2020 is the basis of the first prediction, which is that high levels of online shopping will continue into the next 12 months, with no going back to pre-Covid ways. Many organizations already are in a position to accommodate this trend, particularly as 85,000 new businesses enabled e-commerce functionality or joined an online marketplace during the U.K.’s first national lockdown.
Now that these businesses have made the digital switch, they will want to continue maximizing sales through online channels as the pandemic has created a permanent digital shift in consumer shopping behaviors, with more predicted to shop online post-pandemic than before it.
Alternative sales channels
The next prediction is fueled by both digital innovation and the rise in e-commerce. As more and more businesses enable e-commerce functionality, there will inevitably be greater competition and an increase in options for consumers to choose from.
Therefore, to generate the greatest chance of items or services being seen and, ultimately, chosen over those of competitors, the channels businesses sell their products through will widen and become more accessible.
Fortunately, the rising popularity of online marketplaces and developments in social media shopping functions means that businesses now have the opportunity to distribute products through more channels than ever before – a trend that will only continue to increase in the year ahead.
Social media marketing
When it comes to marketplaces, Amazon is leading the way with a year-on-year rise in net revenue. Not only is the business’s performance evidence of this, so is the consumer shopping behavior shift, which is seeing more consumers go directly to Amazon first when searching for a product (40%), as opposed to Google (30%), or a brand’s owned channel (19%).
Facebook and Instagram are also notable channels for e-commerce businesses, with YouTube also growing in popularity and prominence. Although by nature these platforms were designed for social interaction and content consumption, in recent times they have placed greater focus on shopping with Facebook’s Marketplace, Instagram’s Shopping Tab, and YouTube’s Shopping ad functions, for example.
One of the biggest benefits of using social media as a shopping channel is the streamlined customer experience you can create. Fundamentally, shoppers can see a product on their feed, click through to view it, and then place an order without even having to leave the app.
But as well as convenience, social media is an effective shopping channel as platforms are key influences on consumer consumption decisions anyway. In fact, 80% of Instagram users and 68% of YouTube users say content on the respective platforms helps them decide whether to buy a product or service.
Therefore, as more businesses realize the impact of these platforms, we’ll see social media being added to an increasing number of online sales strategies.
Many are hopeful for a return to some form of normality in 2021. With the potential reopening of physical retail, businesses will be faced with the opportunity to maximize their presence and, in turn, their sales through both online and offline channels, creating an omnichannel brand offering.
In this way, brands will appeal to a larger customer base. And no matter which channel a customer chooses to use to interact with a brand, they can expect a consistent quality of service and overall experience.
But in 2021, what many will realize is the challenging nature of upkeeping both channels. Of course there will be a greater financial burden because of property costs and employee wages, which will only be felt deeper owing to the volatile, Covid-struck economic climate.
So instead, a true omnichannel experience will be created through integration and innovation, whereby each channel is used to support and supplement the other. For example, we’ll see retailers using their physical locations to relieve some of the pain points of the online service, such as delivery and return processes. Some retailers are already excelling in this, and have all integrated click-and-collect services and other smart shopping options firmly into their primary offering.
As technology and creativity move on, we’ll also begin to see an increasing number of concept stores that make shop visits an unmissable experience that is personal to each customer and adds value to their purchase, rather than simply being a distribution channel.
With all these additional sales channels, retailers will see the benefit of digital management systems that relieve some of the administrative burden and enable greater efficiency. The optimal solution is a single comprehensive commerce platform for brands and retailers. Combining activity across every sales and logistics channel, these types of platforms allow for a unified customer experience, lower cost of ownership, and increased business capabilities across physical stores, websites (B2B and B2C), third-party, and company-owned marketplaces.
With all this information in one place, businesses can provide better customer experiences as order information can be retrieved faster and response times reduced. Customer updates can also be automated to ensure any important information about an order process is communicated in a timely manner, with no additional workload for employees.
As well as customer-facing benefits, these systems enable better collaboration between points in a supply chain, which can streamline a business’s processes, reducing waste and increasing efficiencies. For example, orders for items that are low in stock can be placed automatically and only when they are needed. This way, businesses won’t have cash tied up in unused products and materials, and resources can be reallocated to other critical activities.
As these systems collect and analyze data, they also can provide meaningful insights into market trends that can inform accurate future predictions and business decisions.
These trends are evidence that the e-commerce landscape is ever-changing. While digital transformation is set to continue, the speed at which it has occurred for retailers this past year means that the e-commerce market will inevitably undergo further significant changes in the months to come.
Businesses that are prepared to adapt now will experience better growth and success than those that remain static or stuck in their ways.
Nate Burke is CEO and founder of U.K.-based Diginius, a software and solutions firm focused on helping businesses achieve maximum impact from their online sales and marketing activities. An early e-commerce pioneer and entrepreneur, he launched his first Internet business in 1997 and is a two-time Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominee.
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