6 mistakes omnichannel rookies make (and how to avoid them)

By Brett Bair

October 8, 2015

The concept of omnichannel retail has been a hot topic at ecommerce industry events over the last five years or so. I’ve seen several standing-room-only panels and presentations discussing the “future of retail” and the “great new omnichannel world.” But I haven’t seen or heard about are true omnichannel success stories; only excuses as to why omnichannel is still an aspirational ideal and not a concrete company objective.

Here’s the reality. Your customers are already living in the omnichannel world. It’s here. It’s no longer aspirational—it’s an essential thing you must embrace to meet your customers’ expectations.

mobile guide

Mistake 1: Respecting the silos.

Silos within an organization come in all shapes and sizes. It’s all-too-common for an organization to keep customer data from one channel separate from another. Luckily, there are easy ways to start bringing that data together to create a unified customer view. The bigger problem is the internal conflicts and separation between the physical and digital worlds.

Reality check: Your customer doesn’t care about your internal siloed revenue goals. They just couldn’t care less. Put the grudges aside and get the stores, the catalog, and the digital teams together and start talking about how you can as a group exceed your customers’ expectations.

Mistake 2: Rejecting ever-changing customer expectations.

All it takes is one brand to start leveraging customer information to create cross-device and cross-channel experiences in a creative way to set an expectation. The fact that I can now pre-order and pre-pay for my daily Starbucks order is game-changing stuff. Don’t be the last of your peers to start delivering for your customers this way. If you’re not already planning for this, you’re already behind.

Mistake 3: Not using product inventory as the marketing asset it is.

One of the more creative ways I’ve seen a company bring omnichannel to life was when a small regional brand starting using localized online shopping data to decide what to stock in its stores. If a certain pair of boots was selling well to customers in Kansas City online, it makes sense to make sure they’re fully stocked in the physical Kansas City store. “Omnichannel” doesn’t always have to be super-technical term. Sometimes it’s just a matter of leveraging the data you already have in novel and unique ways.

Mistake 4: Failing to leverage that super computer we all carry around in our pockets now.

More and more of your customers are opening email and visiting your ecommerce site via smartphones and tablets everyday. Guess what. A lot of those customers are highly unlikely to make a purchase on their phones.

I personally open the vast majority of emails I receive on my phone, but very rarely make a purchase in the same session. I think marketers that use technology to embrace this phenomenon instead of trying to change this behavior are going to win. If an offer or product catches my eye in an email, the brand serves me better if it captures that information and uses that knowledge to create a more relevant experience for me the next time I visit their site, no matter which device I’m currently using.

Mistake 5: Waiting for the perfect moment.

Even if you can’t immediately create and deliver seamless experiences across every channel right now, it doesn’t mean you should wait to start down that path.

Often it’s the little things that get a customer’s attention and make an impact. I’d put my focus there. Try to identify where your most glaring cross-channel experiences are. Even when you can’t completely solve an issue, maybe you can soften the blow. When online promotions aren’t available in-store, a simple message relaying that fact will go a long way and set the right expectation.

Rethink your assumptions. I’ve spoken to a number of brands that say “of course our online conversion rate is low. Most of our customers go on to complete their purchases in-store.” I see two big issues here:

  1. Even if they do end up converting in-store, why not make the most of that opportunity? Perhaps a decent proportion of your customers will convert in-store, but a good amount of potential customers just won’t get around to it, too.
  2. This sets them up for disappointment. What if the item they’re eyeing up isn’t available in-store?

Mistake 6: Half-ass implementation.

I’ve had my fair share of omnichannel experiences that backfired and actually let me down. Both of my bad omnichannel experiences occurred when I found a product I wanted online, complete with an “available in a nearby store!” badge, only to show up at the store to find that the item was definitely NOT available.

It’s almost worse when a retailer tries to deliver omnichannel customer experiences but doesn’t properly follow through. If you’re going to go through the trouble to deliver true omnichannel functionality like in-store availability, make sure your implementation is all-but foolproof.

Like it or not, omnichannel retail isn’t in the not-too-distant future any more. It’s here. Let us know what your organization is doing to embrace omnichannel—and the challenges you’re facing along the way on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Brett Bair is an author and ecommerce strategist with over 20 years of experience. As Monetate’s Sr. Director of Digital Marketing Insights, he helps leading ecommerce brands leverage technology to drive growth.

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