Omnichannel retail – simple steps to get it right
For years now, big-name retailers looking to establish themselves in the world of omnichannel retail have spent time, effort and astronomical budgets on understanding, targeting and reaching out to millennials. And, in many instances, failing spectacularly. Not without good reason, however. Attempting to homogenise the motivation, desires, needs, behaviours and beliefs of an incredibly disparate tranche of the world’s population is doomed to almost-certain failure from the outset.
But the social and commercial landscape is changing. Daily. There are new kids in retail town. And they know exactly what they want.
They’re Gen Z and they’re changing the game.
Roughly speaking, Gen Z describes the global population born after 1996. Right now, they represent 32% of everyone on the planet, making them hugely influential in consumer habits today, and the true shapers of buying behaviour in the coming years and decades.
Unlike millennials, they share a far better-defined collective mindset. Driven by mutual beliefs, values and concerns, Gen Z will force any retailer with long-term aspirations to change the way they do business and interact with the outside world. According to Forbes, they’ll be packing serious buying power too – soon to be in the region of $150 billion, in fact.
So what are those new beliefs and concerns?
- Speed – Gen Z wants instant gratification. Same-day delivery. Mobile self-checkouts. No call-centre hold-ups. Access to information, products and services right here, right now. In fact, recent research shows that 60% of Gen Z are more likely to hang up if their call to a retailer isn’t answered within 45 seconds.
- Conversation – this is fast-becoming the age of the chatbot, the instant messenger and voice assistants. Gen Z is more than comfortable working with the new capabilities of AI and its neural-network powered conversations. They want genuine, two-way dialogue with retailers and their brands, in which the voice and opinion of the customer is always heard, always listened to.
- Brand responsibility – the environment, social impact and ethical activity are all important to Gen Z. They want to know the ‘why’ of a brand, as explained by Simon Sinek, and as many as 55% of them choose brands that share these values, according to a study by the IBM Institute of Business Value and the National Retail Federation.
- Individuality – most of all, Gen Z is looking for individual retail experiences, personalised to their wants and needs, and based on their previous behaviour and interests. One-size-fits-all is no longer an option for retailers. Honesty, transparency and understanding is the order of the day.
“Honest transactions, honest brands, authentic voices and experiences are ideas that marketers have been practicing with millennials for the last decade. Gen Z will turn this up to 11, and brands will need to become good at the game really fast, because Gen Z is writing the rules now.”
Angela Woo, Forbes.com
You could be forgiven for thinking that such a sharp focus on one demographic might not be necessary. Some retailers only provide products and services for a much older audience, for example. But this would be short-termism at its most dangerous. Gen Z is already influencing the buying habits of households across the world. They influence their parents. Their grandparents. Their new-found work colleagues and older friends.
They’re setting a new blueprint for retail. And they’re setting it now.
In the face of such market change, how can any business hope to succeed then? Look no further than omnichannel retail.
The concept of omnichannel retailing isn’t something completely new. It’s been discussed in retail circles for a year or two now. But, until now, only a select few have understood its true nature, and only those select few have got it right.
Error #1 is typically confusing ‘omnichannel’ and ‘multichannel’ retailing. The latter revolves around offering customers a number of different purchasing routes – in store, online or by phone or post, for example. Each is a distinct channel, run in isolation from the others.
Omnichannel is quite different. It succeeds when the physical and digital retail routes are completely synchronised, totally harmonised. And that’s why it’s so appealing to Gen Z. They’ve never known a world without mobile technology or instant internet access. They’ll base each and every purchasing decision based on a number of touchpoints, with every one validating or augmenting the other.
As the 2018 Omnichannel Buying Report from Big Commerce states, ALL of today’s consumers (not just Gen Z) will shop around, look online for evidence and information and seek independent corroboration before deciding to buy.
- 39% visit a brand’s website during the purchase decision-making process
- 36% read customer reviews
- 33% price-match products
But this is no way suggests the death of in-store as a legitimate and incredibly valuable retail channel. The sometimes-suggested ‘retail apocalypse’ isn’t with us just yet. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the same report, even when including Gen Z shoppers, the ‘physical’ retail experience still holds sway, with 65% of purchases made in store and 35% online.
Showroom vs webroom
The difference lies in the lead up to that purchase decision. Whereas once a showroom might be the only connection between a retailer of white goods, for example, and its customers, today’s buying habits – and the influence of Gen Z preferences – has seen the rise of the ‘webroom’.
In this scenario, all product information, pricing and competitive comparisons can be studied in detail online prior to taking the next step towards buying, with that information fully personalised to the consumer, and followed through with a seamless experience once they take the decision to visit the store.
To succeed, the omnichannel experience must connect the online behaviour and preferences of individual customers with the service they receive in store. Incomplete online shopping baskets should be followed-up by email offers or dynamic web content that recognises and reaffirms their interests. The retail brand’s own web presence and its social platforms should also be part of this living, breathing eco-system, in which the customer is the only focus and their journey through the buying process painless.
The way a brand demonstrates its values and ethos must be clear, unified and proven. Customer service should reflect those values and identify each customer as an individual. Its refund policy should match the integrity of its ethical and environmental policy. And its marketing should do the same.
The bottom-line difference
For anyone still in any doubt of the hard-and-fast, bottom-line value of an understanding of both Gen Z and the omnichannel retail experience, consider this. A recent report by the Harvard Business Review laid bare the real truth.
Customers who were exposed to, and involved in, an omnichannel retail experience, were:
• Likely to spend a minimum of 4% more on every visit they made to a retail store
• Shown to spend over 10% more online with the same retailer
• Spending 9% more when exposed to four or more retail channels than those who followed a single channel
So if you’re in retail, and you want to get ahead, stay ahead and plan for a future in which your customers keep you ahead, look to the younger buyers in today’s market. Study their behaviour. Understand their priorities. And then shape your retail experience into one that moves away from single-track targeting into a world of multi-variant, multi-connected, omnichannel efficiency.
Panasonic’s rugged TOUGHBOOK tablets and point-of-sale (POS) workstations take multifunctional performance way beyond what you’d expect from standard consumer devices. Their ability to perform in every environment – in store or dining areas, outdoors and in warehouses – makes them the perfect tool for work in all retail applications.
Critically, they help retailers deliver the omnichannel customer experience that sets successful businesses apart today. Even before the customer has arrived in your store or premises, they help create an integrated, seamless series of interactions and touchpoints, combining the physical retail world with its digital online counterpart.