Omni channel retailing the merging of the online and offline environment

Omni comes from the Latin word Omnis, which means “all”. In the world of retail, omni channel refers to a cross-channel business model that puts customer experience at its core. Omni-channel retailing is the merging of the online and offline environment, giving customers a unified experience whether they are browsing the shop via mobile devices or giving the store a physical visit.

Omni channel retailing versus multichannel channel

There seems to be confusion when comparing omni channel and multichannel retailing. In its essence, multichannel is about the product (which channels are used to distribute it), while omni channel is all about the customers. From the retailer point of view, they are targeting customers via several different online and offline channels, including brick-and-mortar, mobile devices, and stationary. All channels are no longer analyzed separately: they must be studied as a whole.

Difference between Omni-channel and Multi-channel. (Image Source: Magestore.com)

With omni channel retailing, different sales and marketing channels have to be linked so that retailers can have an overview assessment of their customers’ shipping path. Real-time information about inventory visibility must be available across all channels, ensuring that a customer will not walk into a store just to find out that the item color she is looking for is out of stock.

Omni channel retailing the merging of the online and offline environment

According to an article from Huffington Post, the rise in popularity of omni channel is credited to the ever-increasing usage of smartphones. In a way, we can say that omni channel rooted way back in 2007 with the introduction of iPhone to the market. The omni channel trend, however, did not get big until 2013.

As the customer base grows bigger and bigger, retailers find it more difficult to get to know their customer on an individual basis. Omni channel breaks down the barrier between online and offline retailing to offer customers seamless, intuitive, and unified smart shopping experience. A customer now must be able to look up a product online, see product availability at the nearest store, come in-store to actually testing the item, and then buy it later at home using mobile app (knowing that the product is still available to purchase). Whether they are webrooming (preview, compare and contrast products before buying them in store), or showrooming (physically checking the product before buying it online), information cannot conflict.

Starbucks – the early bird of omni channel retailing

Take Starbucks for example. Starbucks omni channel effort is best reflected through its reward app where seamless experience is provided in both online and offline environments, resulting in 21% of total transactions being mobile ordering.

Not only do customers are continuously encouraged to keep buying beverages until they can get the ultimate reward of getting a free one, they are also greeted with very dynamic reward incentives every time they open the app. These incentives are conveniently time limited, fresh, and with different level of star rewards based on given actions (visit stores at given time, eat a certain kind of sandwich, or make 10 purchases). Furthermore, the franchise embraces omni channel in the way that customers can access their seamlessly synced points and card balance and use them whether they are online (via mobile or website) or are ordering in store. Balance changes are updated in real time.

Ecommerce platform for omni channel retailing

One of the most challenging issues that retailers face with when applying omni channel approach to their business model is merging data and info across different channels. With channels no longer being kept dependent of each other, there is a calling need for an integrated information system that can coordinate separated information into real assets. Consumers must be able to buy product online, pick up, as well as return it in (any) store, and thus retailers must have SKU and customer data shared across channels.

This issue calls for an ecommerce platform that is stable enough to accommodate efficient inventory management and viable order fulfillment systems. The platform must understand customer behavior in terms of click-and-collect points, and synchronized webrooming/online and showrooming/offline activities. These conditions are of extreme importance when you are looking towards to scaling up your business and trying to keep track with an even longer list of customers.

Magento, Shopify, and BigCommerce are potential ecommerce platforms for omni channel retailing. When all these 3 platforms have their own pros and cons, we are particularly interested in an option that is open source, meaning it will be easier to scale and customize according to the needs of both retailers and customers. These platforms feature mobile-, in store-, SEO-, and social media-friendly attributes, with a robust inventory, order, and point of sales management system for retailers to put into consideration.

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