OmniChannel.  Most of us have heard of it.  Some of us have an idea of what it means.  Few of us fully understand its importance.  So new we’re not even sure how to properly spell it (I got the red squiggly line under my spelling of it).

Past: Introduction of Social Media

Think back to a time before social media (if you’re old enough to!).  A time before our shopping choices were influenced by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and all the others out there.  During this time, our knowledge of products available to us and the prices of those products were limited to our own personal experience.  It depended on what stores we physically shopped at or which retail shopping ads we scanned in the Sunday newspaper.  Then came sites like Myspace and Facebook which allowed us to share in our friends’ and family’s experiences, including the brands they liked, music they listened to, stores they shopped at and products they were buying.  This introduced us to interests we may have never discovered otherwise.

Today: Cross Channel

Today, with the aid of smart phones, our shopping experience is continuous whether we realize it or not.  While surfing Facebook on your mobile device, you see a picture of the puppy your best friend brought home last night, followed by a post for a detox tea you liked weeks ago and have been contemplating trying, followed by an announcement for an upcoming concert by one of your favorite artists.  Next is a map with the location of a new restaurant your sister just ate at and enjoyed.  Under that is a reminder that it’s your mom’s birthday – shoot, I better go buy her a present!  Strategically thrown into the mix are prompts for you to like a brand, business or organization you’ve never heard of.  However, they catch your eye because these have been carefully suggested to you based on your previous behaviors.  Any action you make of who or what to like, follow, Google, attend, purchase (…you get my drift) are tracked and analyzed.  This is highly valuable information that businesses use to find their target audience, to predict shopping behaviors, and to market products you are more likely to be attracted to.

Today: Price Competitiveness

Even further, not only can you easily compare prices while shopping online today, you can easily do it while you’re shopping in-store with the click of a button.  You’re standing in the aisle looking upon a sexy 55” Smart TV that you know would look awesome in your man cave, but then you wonder if you’d be overpaying.  In the past, you’d likely go ahead and purchase it because driving around from store to store on the off chance you may save $20 or $50 just didn’t sound worth it.  Today, you simply pull out your smart phone, scan the barcode of the TV, and in a couple seconds you’ll know not only whether or not you’d be overpaying, but what store has a better deal, how far of a drive it would be, or if the best deal would be to order it online and have it delivered to your door.

Future: OmniChannel

Now that we’ve set the stage and we’re all keenly aware of our past and current shopping behaviors, let’s really stretch the imagination and think about what these behaviors will be in the future.  It’s fairly commonplace today for a business to realize that their mobile app experience should match the design and functionality of their website which should highlight elements and themes found in their stores.  It’s a unification of brand identity.  This is referred to as “cross channel” marketing.  The customer knows what to expect and brand recognition improves significantlyOmniChannel is the next, natural step forward and takes this idea of unification to a whole new level.  It is the idea that the customer shopping experience should not only be seamless within each brand, but integrated across all brands.  Let me repeat that.  OmniChannel would provide a continuous customer experience across every brand, across any product, no matter the device used and even when stepping into a store.  This is HUGE!!  

Early Adopters vs. Laggards

But why would a brand help customers shop for another brand’s products, you ask?  As we discussed earlier, it’s becoming overwhelmingly apparent that retailers’ attempts to keep customers from shopping other stores is futile.  Loyalty points are a dying dinosaur.  This is the Information Age and customers are savvier than they have ever been.  In fact, they are demanding information from their brands.  Haven’t you seen a Progressive Insurance commercial lately?  “On progressive.com you can compare our Progressive direct rates with our competitors’ rates so shopping is easy.”  They “nailed it!”  Customers want transparency and whoever makes this the easiest is likely to win their business.  Think back to those brands who were too staunchly to embrace social media in the customer experience.  Any of them still around today?  Would you rather be one of the first retailers to embrace this new, revolutionary customer shopping experience, or do you want to be one of the laggards that’s last to integrate and get with the times?  Newsflash: your customers are long gone by then.

Now What?

So what are we supposed to do now that we know this, Alyssa?  Get prepared!  It’s all about the relationship you have with your customers.  They’re going to be evaluating you based on price, relationship, service and continuity.  The more convenient and personalized their shopping experience is with you before, during and after the purchase, the more they’re going to keep coming back.

Are you tracking all the customer data possible from the moment they walk into your store, or open your website, until they walk out?  What did they look at?  What did they pick up and then put back?  What did they leave in their cart without finishing the transaction?  With the tools and resources available to you today, there is no reason why you shouldn’t know the answers to these questions.  Are you making it easy for customers to pick out what they want online and easily locate it when they walk into the store?  What about your operations?  Are you flexible enough to pull from your stores and have available for pickup or ship directly to your customer?  You should be.  Target, Kohl’s, DSW.  They’re all doing it and you should too.

For more information on how you can avoid getting left behind by this shopping experience revolution, keep an eye out for awesome events like the Operations Summit Powered by MultiChannel Merchant (http://www.operationssummit.com/) on April 14-16 in Louisville, Kentucky.  Follow the action at #OpsSummit.  We’ll be there exhibiting how PAC Worldwide can help you create continuity in your customers’ shopping experience.  We provide service solutions for ship-to-store, ship-from-store, great returns experiences, and many more.  Now go reflect, take a look at your operations through a wide-angle lens, and remember you want to be an early adopter, not a laggard.  Discussion about what it means to be a Social Business next!