In our last blog post, we went over the basic definition of omni-channel. This seamless fusion of a multi-channel experience, driven primarily from the developing insistence on a broad, yet interactive platform for customer engagement, is a burgeoning trend and term delighting the retail sector and sparking related innovations in both payments and marketing.
Omni-channel has emerged as a response partly derived from the growing influence of mobile devices and portable technologies, which have utterly transformed the way we interact with one another. But omni-channel can’t ignore its roots completely, despite its obvious link to mobile usage. It truly began earlier, ages ago, when the internet was just a bumbling static dial-up noise, forcing us into a patience we would never have again. So our internet progressed and improved, bringing eCommerce and online shopping as a means of convenience and novelty. As eCommerce bloomed impressively, concurrent developments in portable technologies advanced to culminate in the ever-present mobile device. Once the internet married the device, creating the smartphone, it became clear that consumers were greatly interested in consuming directly from these devices.
Thus, the great push for omni-channel emerged as a response to escalating desires for a wholly integrated experience, where each touchpoint (mobile, online, physical) might read and respond to each other. Now the shopper can peruse online at home, in their wool slippers and with abandon, no longer constrained by the realities and frustrations of wandering the aisles in great search. And what if, as it so often happens, you might need something right this instant, and you cannot wait for even the speediest of costly overnight shipping? You might wish you could pick it up in the brand’s physical store, the one down the just four blocks and two major intersections over, tucked behind the bagel shop you wish was open until late in the evening to satisfy your cravings for their obscenely delicious deli sandwiches. Sun-dried tomato pesto. And maybe you want to pay online beforehand, so that your coveted item might wait tucked away behind a counter, especially for you. Or you might want to make adjustments to your purchase on the fly, while waiting in line at the bank or the DMV, simply with a few swipes and taps.
Welcome to 2014. Welcome to omni-channel.
At the end of 2013, there were more mobile devices on Earth than there were people. And adoption is pushing forward at full throttle, leaping 8 times faster than basic web adoption did. In the first quarter of 2013, 80% of consumers reported using mobile in-store in order to “enhance the shopping experience.” This was a 25% increase from the year before. 72% of people that own tablets buy something on them every single week. And it’s estimated that within 5 years, mobile wallets will be how half of the smartphone using population will pay.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for such meat-and-potatoes figures. Mobile device adoption and engagement is simply insane. It’s escalating at rates we could never have anticipated. But, of course, we never could have anticipated the precise manner in which our web-based world would take us.
Omni-channel takes a significant portion of its cues directly from the statistics and trends of our internet consumption. We need this now. It’s no longer a matter of simply being a nice idea. It’s consequential to having sales that consistently perform. Long-time physical retailers have branched out to establish an eCommerce platform, finding that great care and consideration to a mobile experience is just a requirement that comes along with it. And long-time eCommerce merchants, such as eBay and Amazon, are finding that mobile and physical spaces and showrooms are just as important as their successful web presence. Innovations and disruptions in these areas are just beginning. Amazon’s initial rumor of physical stores back in 2012, however, did whimper softly and dissipate (The Digital Reader) into the netherspace of fantasy.
Consumers desire smartphone-savvy commerce, but still have a need for bricks-and-mortar, according to Forbes. People want their stuff immediately. They just also want the total package, meaning: reviews, endless inventory, intuitive and easy purchase options, and more. This is omni-channel, the odd and quirky cousin of traditional retail and eCommerce.
Beyond simply being a reaction to technological invention, omni-channel addresses the concept of an integrated experience in a customer-centric business model. This becomes a psychological, even philosophical, consideration. Today’s shoppers, and the much-discussed Millenials (read more about them from Brian Honigman via Medium), are requiring levels of experience and engagement that overlap, debate and discuss, respond, and interact in ways like never before. Consumers aren’t likely to simply take whatever’s being presented to them; they need a facet of volition embedded within their experience. This experience also needs to be cohesive, considerate, and intuitive. Smartly designed.
As a result, adopting an omni-channel strategy goes beyond simply opening an online store alongside your bricks-and-mortar and then finding a web-savvy developer to adapt it to a mobile device. All aspects of your strategy, including payments and marketing, need to be underscored and reconsidered with an omni-channel perspective.
Omni-channel marketing considers the presentation of brand and narrative as it is engaged by a customer through every single channel. This, of course, expands beyond traditional marketing directives and into the world of an omniscient and embedded brand that intelligently engages in a dialogue with its users, at every touchpoint. This includes social media, another business trend that developed in part as a reaction to technology, but also as a development in our methods of communication. In a way, omni-channel is similarly social – there is, and will need to be, a lot of chatter. A lot of talk in-between, smoothing over the previously separated channels. This might take the form of email and mobile marketing, among other things (like the previously mentioned social media).
But an imperative aspect of the omni-channel experience, not to be ignored or delayed? An intelligent omni-channel payments solution. This is also a good opportunity for omni-channel marketing, as the brand’s story must develop in every single facet now, not simply along all of the channels themselves, but also in the details that might slip by, if allowed. The payment experience is a highly important detail of every channel or touchpoint that a customer might engage with during an integrated retail journey. When a customer reaches that end-point, that culmination, there is simply nothing more integral to the successful completion of a sale than an omni-channel payments solution that breathes your brand, embraces its narrative across all channels, and instills trust through its security, power, and simplicity.
A smart omni-channel payments solution will enable a merchant to take payments via every channel they wish, without interruption. Mobile payments should sync with the physical POS – and an online eCommerce checkout solution, for example. Some payment providers might only offer one or the other, which would create dissension among the channels. As the omni-channel strategy is considered a seamless, interconnected web of customer experience, so should its payments be woven together. This enables a merchant to access reporting from a single source, not fret about multiple payment gateways and processors, and usually pay a single price for their entire package. (Need one? You’re in luck.)
The easiest way to remember? Pull together everything. Leave no stone unturned and distant from the others. Every channel, every message, every experience needs to consider the working evolution of a united and integrated front. This is your omni-channel strategy. Offer customers methods of payment and retail experiences that range across different channels, working on an uninterrupted encounter that utilizes each channel in a smart, engaging way. Do this not only because consumers are switching largely to mCommerce and eCommerce options, but also because it is part of the changing landscape of the retail environment overall, one that invests in a very social, adaptive and thoughtful way of experiencing a brand. You might want to bring on some algorithms, but that’s another story.
Photo credit: Skakerman