Historically, the e-commerce industry has developed from the top down. Innovators create technologies and businesses identify how to leverage those technologies. Then they market to consumers, encouraging them to adopt these technologies for the mutual benefit of both parties. Consumers weren’t clamouring for e-commerce in its early years; businesses had to convince consumers to adopt it.
The power balance has now shifted. Instead of top down, the latest developments in e-commerce are coming from the bottom up. Today’s industry trends are not coming from the mind of a business or marketing strategist, they’re coming directly from the consumer. Because people have grown accustomed to cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) infrastructure, they changed their relationship they have with their devices. What today’s consumer wants is an omnichannel experience.
Frost & Sullivan have projected that by 2020, customer experience is going to drive sales more than price or product offerings, but businesses are struggling to adapt. As recently as April, 45% of retail executives said their efforts to deliver omnichannel services are not advancing quickly enough. So why are consumers demanding it and why is it so important to meet that demand?
Omnichannel vs. Multichannel
Online business has had a long history of telling customers what they want: sometimes for good reasons, like when teaching people that annoying security features are actually a good thing; and sometimes for misguided reasons, like when trying to convince people that they should be excited about the latest new technology even when it doesn’t benefit the user experience.
This type of thinking gave rise to multichannel marketing, which dictates that brands need to engage with their customers via multiple, distinct channels tailored to the touch-point – whether customers are using a laptop, tablet or phone or shopping at a brick-and-mortar location. The assumption is that brands know what kind of experience the customer wants based on their choice of channel.
Consumers have rejected this and instead demand a seamless experience regardless of their point of contact. It’s up to them to choose how to engage with a brand, so the success of brand marketing depends on how well a business empowers its customers. Instead of perceiving the brand in terms of specific touch-points, marketers need to maintain consistency in their products and promotions across all channels.
What Omnichannel Looks Like
- A commuter on the subway is browsing an online store on their phone and, stumbling onto a great deal on a juicer, adds it to their shopping cart.
- When they get home, they open their laptop and visit the same website. The juicer is still sitting in their shopping cart, but the shipping fee is a little steep so they can’t decide whether to purchase it or not.
- A couple days later, the store sends them an email reminding them of the juicer in their cart and offers free shipping if they add more to their order.
- Not wanting to spend money on something they don’t need, the consumer checks the in-store stock and discovers that there is a store nearby carrying the juicer.
- Arriving at the store, the consumer finds the juicer waiting for them, just as described online and at the same price, saving themselves the shipping fee.
This is an example of well-executed omnichannel marketing because the brand experience was consistent across all channels. Consumers expect to have the same services, prices and user experience regardless of how they choose to interact with the brand.
Sales avenues that were once totally separate have converged. E-commerce, m-commerce and in-store shopping are no longer distinct because consumers don’t view them as distinct channels – they view them only as different ways of accessing the same things. By empowering consumers to experience the brand however they want, businesses can build trust and loyalty and elevate their brand to something greater than the channel.
This is what consumers want from a brand. What more reason to embrace omnichannel marketing do businesses need?