Omnichannel vision: improving connected e-commerce experiences

In the battle between traditional retailers and online pure players, both sides are winners. The digital and physical realms are not opposing forces. The true challenge is to combine both into a seamless omnichannel experience. Consumers deserve the best of both worlds.

Have you ever bought a product online, only to have the retailer send you e-mail offers and helpful reminders focused on the very same product you already purchased? And how often do you walk into a store without being recognized as a loyal, returning customer?

Moments like these always seem to stand out. They reveal the gaps in the customer experiences we decide to participate in, and they diminish our trust in the brands and companies that deliver them. In an increasingly connected world, such blind spots feel glitchy and outdated. They are the jarring reminders that everything is not yet as we expect.  

Omnichannel is the competitive advantage of the future.

The needs of the modern consumers seem paradoxical. We crave immediacy and recognition. Our world is always online, always connected. We expect these connections to pervade every interaction and bring the universe to our doorstep at the click of a button. At the same time, however, there is no substitute for tactile, physical experiences. In an ideal world, the traditional and the hypermodern would be combined, providing the advantages of both and the disadvantages of neither.

Omnichannel commerce makes this combination possible. The physical familiarity of traditional retail intertwines with the digital immediacy only e-commerce can provide, creating a seamless experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. In a world where both traditional retailers and pure players are always looking for a better edge, omnichannel is the competitive advantage of the future.

3 practical reasons for omnichannel digital commerce

Omnichannel commerce has profound effects on top-line revenue and will help your company stay competitive. It offers several advantages over both traditional retail approaches and online pure play business models.

Firstly, customers are likely to spend more money when they receive great service. Studies show that consumers spend up to 30 percent more when service is optimal throughout all touch points and channels.

Secondly, there is the harrowing cost of missing out. Analysis of revenue streams in retail reveals the potential of omnichannel commerce quite clearly: companies that cannot effectively marshal a good omnichannel experience see up to 10 percent less revenue compared to competitors who can.

Then there’s the third reason: opportunity. Right now, traditional retailers are in a good position to capitalize on the potential of e-commerce experiences. There are many pure players that dominate a single channel, but their online business models lack physical presence. For the moment, that is.

As more and more pure players catch on to the potential of omnichannel commerce, they are taking steps to branch out into tangible customer experiences. In the US, Amazon is opening brick-and-mortar stores. CoolBlue is doing the same in the Netherlands. But traditional retailers still have the advantage in many areas. They grew up in the physical world and have a formidable network of real-world infrastructure, which puts them ahead of the pack – provided they act quickly.

But above all, the most fundamental reason to take the omnichannel road boils down to a simple truth: the customer always comes first. Omnichannel commerce is not a goal in and of itself. Rather, it gives you the means to provide the best possible service to your customers, wherever and whenever they interact with your company and your brand. This is the guiding principle in modern service design, and an immensely important trend in its own right.

Overcoming challenges, minimizing risks

Transitioning to an omnichannel approach never happens by accident. It happens because you choose to go there, because you control the direction and lay the foundation in terms of technology and business characteristics. This, then, is the first challenge to overcome: building a realistic vision that strikes an optimal balance between results and ambition.

When it comes to next-gen customer experiences, it’s not just that context matters – context is everything.

Many companies try their hand at omnichannel commerce, but only some truly succeed. More often than not, this is a matter of strategy and vision, of focusing on the right business dimensions and technological groundwork. Traditional businesses tend to focus on solving one problem at a time. This generally creates a host of disparate initiatives that are not united under a single vision and therefore cannot provide a unified, desirable customer experience. While each component may be expertly crafted, their isolation prevents them from providing real synergistic advantages. Often, these stand-alone solutions cannot be scaled towards additional channels and touch points. Unique value remains locked away in different departments and siloes, unable to connect with other links in the chain.

Omnichannel vision: improving connected e-commerce experiences - Shop online AR - Accenture

Minimizing this risk requires a strong, overarching vision. But this vision is essential for other reasons, as well. Omnichannel commerce relies heavily on quality and accessibility of information. When it comes to next-gen customer experiences, it’s not just that context matters – context is everything. You have a responsibility to provide your customers with seamless digital and physical experiences. To provide this level of service, you need to know who they are, where they are, what their personal preferences are, how they’ve interacted with your company in the past, and what they truly want.

Getting these things right builds trust. Interconnections between your departments, services and channels show customers you care. This will motivate them to interact with your company more frequently, which can have a profoundly positive impact on your image and your bottom line. But the inverse is also true, and managing all this new data requires advanced, well-integrated IT solutions.

A unifying vision with evocative, achievable short-term goals will go a long way toward justifying the investment necessary to build this infrastructure. At the same time, it will make it considerable easier to gain top-level support – especially if your omnichannel strategy includes clear, measurable targets that keep it grounded in the reality of everyday operations.

Ideally, your vision for omnichannel commerce should be as ambitious and specific as it can be without losing sight of your underlying business goals and immediate needs. It should be based on the right architectural solution, one that allows for future developments while still focusing on today’s requirements. And perhaps most importantly, it should be flexible, adaptable and able to accommodate changing customer needs. What your customers want will continue to evolve. It is wise to use their input to improve your vision and keep it moving in the right direction.

Preparing for the future of digital commerce

Consumers prefer delightful experiences. Given the opportunity, they will always choose the most delightful experience they can get. Companies like Apple understand this. They put their customers first, emphasizing user preference in every interaction. By linking their Apple ID to every channel and touch point, they have succeeded in creating a universal experience. Whether you buy an app via iTunes in the Netherlands or purchase a product at an Apple Store in the UK, you will be recognized instantly and treated to precisely the kind of experience you desire.

The rise of next-gen artificial intelligence will only make it easier to deliver hyper-personalized user experiences with laser-like precision. This ability to analyze emerging needs is key to understanding the future potential of omnichannel commerce. New technology will enable you to serve your customers proactively, giving them the answers they want before they even ask the question.

Imagine a smart fridge that automatically orders fresh milk, produces locally-sourced meat before you run out, without burdening you with any of the details. In a lot of e-commerce scenarios, such as reordering, human interaction will become wholly optional. Now scale that idea up to an entire company. Or the whole industry. This is what omnichannel commerce will become: a global network of physical infrastructure and e-commerce capabilities, all bundled into a single unified experience.

The first steps are happening right now, as we speak. Netflix is already using artificial intelligence to recommend content to specific users. Amazon is experimenting with AI-based ‘anticipatory shipment’, essentially shipping products before they have been ordered. And Knorr is piloting an AI chef that whips up custom-made recipes based on the ingredients users already happen to have at home.

Clearly, there is a bright omnichannel future ahead of us. 

Clearly, there is a bright omnichannel future ahead of us. Building the heart of this pure omnichannel experience requires a consistent source of information that is instantly accessible, a scalable foundation of e-commerce technology, and a strong artificial intelligence engine to back it up. You will need to tap into new sources of customer information, integrate existing data, develop new IT solutions and deploy AI in novel and exciting ways. But most importantly, it starts with vision. To catapult your business into the world of tomorrow, what matters most is how much you want to be there.

Author: Mehmet Olmez