Welcome to the era of omnichannel retailing. These days it’s not enough for brands to exist on multiple channels. They have to break down the borders between those channels, to create a truly seamless experience throughout the customer journey.
In the realm of fashion e-commerce, that means having a consistent brand message across every touchpoint. It’s enabling customers to connect with your brand anywhere, any time, on any device. And it presents unique challenges for retailers who are looking to grow their business using an omnichannel strategy.
Ahead we take a look at five key challenges facing omnichannel retailers, and spotlight on some omnichannel retailing examples that have much to teach us about how to overcome them.
5 Key Challenges of Omnichannel Retailing
1. Creating pathways between physical and digital
With omnichannel retail, the relationship between online and offline is more complex. During a single purchasing journey, a customer may switch between digital and bricks-and-mortar multiple times, so it’s important for retailers to understand and leverage the interconnectivity between the two. That means not only encouraging in-store customers to meet the brand online, but also driving online customers into stores.
Offering services like click-and-collect or “buy online pick up in-store” (BOPIS) has several advantages:
- It mitigates shipping and fulfilment costs that could otherwise impact bottom line;
- It drives additional sales. Up to 75% of shoppers who collect in store end up buying additional items, according to surveys.
Another variation of this is “reserve online, try-on in-store”. Consider this example from Nordstrom:
The customer reserves items via Nordstrom’s app. When the items are ready to be tried on at their nearest store, they’re notified via text. Once the customer arrives in store, they’re again notified of where to find a dedicated dressing room containing their items.
An initial pilot in six stores proved a huge success for Nordstrom: 80% of shoppers who tried the service used it multiple times, and it has now been expanded to 43 stores across the US.
2. Using data to create a personalized customer experience
Part of successful omnichannel retailing is knowing how to take advantage of data to create a personalized customer experience. How can you best use a customer’s preferences and buying history, for example, to generate personalized offers and suggestions?
Rebecca Minkoff provides a truly omnichannel example, blurring the experience between online and in-store. The brand’s sales have reportedly shot up more than 200 percent each year since the installation of smart dressing rooms in their New York flagship. Digital mirrors in the rooms allow customers to request items, view inspirational content, even change lighting conditions. Stylists in store not only deliver requested items and offer advice, but also complete purchases on the floor using a tablet device.
The customer’s fitting room visits, along with purchase history, preferences and more, are accessible across devices and can be shared with staff for a highly personalized shopping experience.
3. Creating a luxury experience on digital
Imagine the experience of shopping in store, with high end customer service, carefully selected background music, and the ability to feel the softness of a leather item in your hands. How can this experience be maintained across digital channels?
With millennials increasingly choosing to buy experiences over things, this question is more relevant than ever.
Burberry combats this challenge by giving their digital customer service a human touch. For example, by having 24-hour phone support and live chat available to online shoppers, and by using social media, like Facebook and Twitter, for responsive and personalized customer service.
By live-streaming their fashion shows, using a See Now Buy Now model, and offering product customizations and bespoke orders online, they also make the luxury experience highly accessible to anyone, anywhere and on every channel.
4. Controlling the brand message
Successful omnichannel retailers maintain a consistent brand message and style across all channels. That way the customer knows what to expect and is never left disappointed. Since social media platforms like Instagram usually go beyond a brand’s own marketing materials and into broader inspirational content, the challenge is therefore controlling how this brand message is presented and spread.
The key? Engaging with the right influencers. Take the example of Versus Versace. The Versace sister line has a distinctly unique feel, reflected not only in their designs but in the associations they build with both macro and micro-influencers who perfectly fit their brand message.
5. Giving customers more ways to shop
As noted in our e-commerce ebook, online fashion purchases via smart phones are expected to grow between 8 and 20% in 2018. The challenge for omnichannel e-commerce is to not only connect with customers on mobile but to turn mobile engagement — especially on social media — into sales.
Instagram is touted as the new “holy grail” of online sales with good reason. 80% of all users follow fashion brands, and customers are hungry for ways to turn inspiration into reality. After a successful trial period for an integrated shopping feature, Instagram is allowing more brands to get on board with tap-and-buy functionality.
“Traditionally, our customer had turned to Instagram for inspiration,” said Kate Spade’s executive VP and chief marketing officer in a release, “and we’re seeing that she’s reacting positively to the new shopping experience, which allows her to seamlessly tap and shop the product.” Retailer Lulus has also reported success from Instagram shopping: “We have seen that nearly 33% of people who tap to learn more about a product visit our site through ‘Shop Now’.”
Find out more about omnichannel e-commerce
Successfully implementing an omnichannel retailing strategy is a challenging feat for retailers — not only on a technical level, with the need for integrated inventory and supply chain systems, but also in creating a seamless customer experience and unified brand message.
But alongside the challenges are immense and exciting opportunities to better engage with customers, to build brand loyalty, and to ultimately drive more sales. As the omnichannel retailing examples above show, there are ways to overcome the challenges.
Find out more about mastering digital in our Ultimate Fashion E-Commerce Checklist ebook.