What is omnichannel eCommerce?

Ruth Peters
March 29, 2022

Ten years ago, companies could get away with having one single online store. If designed well enough, that would help a business stand out from the crowd and facilitate sales. But as eCommerce became mCommerce and, now, social commerce, today’s competitive landscape is much tougher indeed.

We’re talking about omnichannel retail, a strategy that’s embraced by almost all of the world's most successful businesses. IKEA, Apple, ASOS, Walmart and Adidas are just a few examples of brands placing a strong emphasis on nailing their omnichannel shopping efforts.

When you see the results, it's easy to see why so much effort is placed on mastering omnichannel between online and offline channels. And if you're not prioritizing this strategy in your business, there's a good chance you're missing out and risk being left behind.

What is omnichannel retail in eCommerce?

Succeeding in an omnichannel retail approach means offering customer’s a consistent experience across all of the channels you choose to sell through.

From an eCommerce standpoint, this would mean that customers can follow a clear and simple journey across your digital channels, from your Instagram page to your webshop for example. And if they reach out to you via Facebook Messenger on their mobile device and then, later, via email, you’ll route all the contextual information about their purchasing query from one platform to the next.

An omnichannel approach also trickles down to how you market your brand. You can collect data from a customer’s shopping habits, search engine activity, or chatbot conversation, then feed them your ads at specific times and places to maximize the chances of increasing sales. 

Omnichannel vs Multichannel retailing - What's the difference?

It’s easy to confuse omnichannel and multichannel retail, but these are not one and the same.

  • Multichannel = Reaching out to potential customers on different channels with the goal of gaining as much engagement as possible.
  • Omnichannel = Creating the best customer experience possible by integrating all of the channels you sell through, including the physical store.

If you’re going for a multichannel approach, the strategy is to use as many channels as possible to reach as many potential customers as you can. The sole purpose is to drive traffic to your channels and maximize exposure.

Omnichannel retail, on the other hand, aims to make the entire shopping experience smooth and effortless throughout all the channels you provide. Consistency is king — and brands that can offer a customized shopper experience in omnichannel retail have the most to gain.

When you get an omnichannel retail approach right, both your business and your customers can reap the benefits.

What are the benefits of omnichannel commerce strategy? 

Benefits of omnichannel retail for shoppers

Simplicity and ease are the two biggest benefits of omnichannel for your customer base. Omnichannel retail offers a friction-free online shopping process and fewer steps in the customer journey. Making sure a customer’s shopping cart is updated no matter what device they’re using is an example of how you make the customer experience smarter and savvier.

The most effective omnichannel strategies are those that go unnoticed by customers. As the old adage goes: good design is invisible. In 2022, you're unlikely to get reviews saying how seamless the shopping experience was. But, believe us, the business results will be clear.

And the potential fallout of not integrating all your shopping channels can be very costly indeed.

Benefits of omnichannel strategy for retail sales

The ROI of omnichannel retail comes down to happy customers returning to spend more with your brand. Where multi-channel retailing casts the net wide to promote your brand to as many shoppers as possible, omnichannel retail takes this one step further: to customize the experience.

Let’s imagine a customer wants to know whether you have a specific shade of lipstick available in their nearest store — a common-enough behavior, as 46% of shoppers check a store’s inventory online before heading to a physical store. Omnichannel retail design would tell that shopper if they can purchase the specific shade in-store, for one. But it can also kickstart a custom retargeting campaign if the lipstick is out of stock. Emails, display ads, and social media can be used to update the customer of when that particular shade is available again — that’s the power of omnichannel integration.

This amounts to more sales — and less customer support work at the brand side as shoppers can get product information when and where they need it — resulting in a more efficient retail model.

The four-pillar approach to omnichannel eCommerce functionality

Implementing an effective omnichannel strategy is by no means an easy task. It requires a lot of time and resource, as well as expert partners to help measure performance and guide the way.

But whether you’ve got a twenty-strong marketing team or are tackling the omnichannel retail experience solo, the process of building omnichannel retail follows the same key steps:

  1. Define your sales channels

Not all sales channels are created equal. Remember, this is omnichannel retail not multi-channel, so we’re here to integrate our channels to the best of our ability. Understanding your customers’ behaviors and preferences is key to integrating the right channels. 

What social media platforms do they use most? Do people prefer to shop online or in brick-and-mortar stores for your products? Do you need a mobile app or is a desktop site enough?

Another key difference between the omnichannel and multi-channel retail experience is that omnichannel works to be customer-centric, not channel-centric; the right channels, at the right time, integrated to create the best customer experience.

  1. Design a customer-centric marketing approach

Now that you’ve identified which sales channels to use, you’ll need to attract your audience. 

Just like step number one. Marketing & advertising is all about understanding your customers. The following are some of the digital marketing and advertising channels that are recommended:

  • Social media
  • Email & SMS
  • Google shopping ads

You'll have to figure out which channels are best for your business based on your brand, products and customer base. Keep in mind that marketing strategies are practically infinite — and what works for other businesses might not be the perfect fit for yours. Are you meeting shoppers where they are? That’s the most important consideration for omnichannel advertising.

  1. Make sure your operations can deliver

Can you logistically deliver an omnichannel retail experience?

Connectivity is critical to omnichannel success. All your channels will need to be connected in order to automatically update inventory and to provide the customized experience that shoppers will come to expect.

In our soon to be published report, The State of Social Commerce in 2022, we found that 98% of online shoppers have experienced availability issues in the last 90 days. This becomes all the more irritating when the very same out-of-stock items then get re-advertised, despite being unavailable for purchase.

  1. Don’t let shipping and fulfilment let you down

Now that we’re at the final hurdle, and the customer has made a purchase, fulfilling their order is every bit as important as winning the sale. 

An omnichannel retail experience only works if your entire structure and supply chain, including shipping and fulfilment, is geared up to facilitate it. Whether you employ a shipping program or a third-party logistics provider, making sure you have visibility into shipping statuses and quick delivery timeframes are fundamental to the total customer experience.

Remember that the goal of omnichannel is to give customers a seamless shopping experience from the moment you grab their attention until their order is completed and the order is in their hands. Missing even a single step can jeopardize your brand equity, risk a future sale and lose a loyal customer’s lifetime value.

The omnichannel retail toolkit: technologies and platforms you’ll need to use

Omnichannel retail wouldn’t be possible without technology. From headless e-commerce to CPaaS platforms, these are the partners and programs you’ll want to onboard along the way.

Setting up shop: your e-commerce infrastructure

Shopify and Bigcommerce both help facilitate an omnichannel retail experience; businesses can quickly set up online webshops as part of their omnichannel approach without being an expert on coding or web design. 

Headless e-commerce and omnichannel retail design

Headless e-commerce is the perfect partner for omnichannel retail strategies. It’s more flexible, customizable, and agile than traditional e-commerce — you can tailor the webshop experience to consumers in a way that works best for both your customers and administrative users on the same platform. 

Come back to read more about headless e-commerce blog next week.

Marketing your omnichannel retail brand

Customer data platforms

Data is the fuel behind modern marketing campaigns — and data carries equal power in your omnichannel retail experience, too. The more you know about how customers react to certain ads, and in which stages of the purchasing process most of your shoppers are lost, the easier it gets to solve those issues.

Customer data platforms collect data from all of your sources, such as e-mail, social media, website/webstore, and so on, in order to gain a full, comprehensive, channel-to-channel understanding of how your consumers behave. You can then layer over analytics tools to make sense of the feedback and optimize your omnichannel marketing and retail approach.

Loyalty and rewards

So far we’ve talked about the potential of omnichannel to retarget and recover lost sales, but you can also pull data from your omnichannel workflow to reward customer loyalty and encourage repeat business.

This can be particularly impactful in the context of social commerce, where shoppers interact with your brand and each other through the omnichannel retail experience.

Learn more about social commerce in this ultimate guide.

Customer service for omnichannel retail

With integrated sales channels comes a need for integrated customer support. Your support agents need a way to track a shopper’s interactions with your brand from channel to channel, without dropping the ball.

With Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) businesses are able to speak with customers through any and all channels in real-time, without having to build any back end infrastructure. 

Purchase to delivery

Remember how essential we said the delivery and fulfilment part of omnichannel retail is? It’s here that having the right technology in place will make or break your process.

Automation in sales and inventory management is key here, to save your team from racing to keep up with increased sales — and to save your shoppers from stock-out disappointments.

Download our proprietary report "The State of Social Commerce 2022" and learn why customers do or don't buy on social commerce, tips for brands, and the latest consumer statistics from our survey.

Nail your omnichannel customer experience from the get-go

The key to getting omnichannel in e-commerce right is by knowing your customers and then providing the solutions that best meet their needs. Omnichannel retail has the ability to boost sales, establish customer loyalty and help you outperform your rivals — but it needs to be customer-centric and entirely seamless, end-to-end, offline and on.

SimplicityDX’s platform simplifies the buying process for omnichannel retail store experiences, ensuring real-time updates and awareness of revenue performance issues between the business and its touchpoints. Take all the guesswork out of your omnichannel approach and try simplicityDX today.

To learn what customer analytics matter in your omnichannel strategy read our post Which customer analytics matter most for Commerce?

Take a deeper dive into ecommerce for retail as part of your omnichannel strategy.

Headless Commerce Demystified

What is omnichannel eCommerce?

Product News: Alert! Get notified when your eCommerce customers are struggling

eCommerce checkout best practice: 3 checkout UX tips to secure your sales

Download The State of eCommerce 2021: how much do you know about your retail rivals?

Ready to Get Started?

Join our newsletter to stay up to date on social commerce and eCommerce news, as well as the latest survey data.