April 7, 2017

The multichannel retailer has understood for some time now that it’s necessary to offer access to products and information in multiple ways. You know you need to have a robust digital commerce platform just as you need to maintain a highly viable brick-and-mortar operation. Not every customer likes to come in the store and browse, so there’s no sense losing out on potential sales just because a pet owner doesn’t feel like getting off the couch—perhaps having learned that behavior from his or her cat.

But some customers do like to come into the store and look around! One of the challenges of the multiplatform retailer is to target customers according to the way they prefer to shop. You can help yourself to some degree by collecting information from them, but if you put too much emphasis on one channel at the expense of others, you risk being out of alignment with the way your customers shop and think.

The apparent solution to that problem is omnichannel retailing. To oversimplify somewhat, omnichannel means you’re making the experience of every channel seamless with all the others.
Whether the customer buys from an app on a mobile device, responds to an email campaign or comes into the store to make a purchase, both you and the customer are operating according to the same data. Everything that happens is logged everywhere.

The customer might want to browse online but then come into the store to make the purchase, which when you think about it is actually the fastest way to lay hands on what you want without wasting time hunting all over town for the item. Or the customer might want to do the opposite—look around in your store to see what you have, but then make the purchase online.

As far as the omnichannel retailer is concerned, it’s all the same. The customer is freely giving you the same data and is getting the same offers. It’s all unified in one system. And because you can now reach the customer in multiple ways, you have the opportunity to pelt the customer incessantly with news, offers, discounts and specials. Don’t do that.

Omnichannel is a very powerful approach to digital retailing, but it can also be unwieldy. Absent some strategic thought and effort, it can backfire in the form of very irritated customers who are willing to give you their loyalty, but who are not willing to be harassed via every conceivable way of reaching them.

Let’s start with the matter of how you collect customer data. Are you completely transparent in how you collect it? Does the customer understand that an online purchase of a given item might result in subsequent offers involving similar items? Does the customer have a way to opt out of that?

You might be surprised how many don’t opt out even if you let them. But you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know the option of doing so earns you a lot in terms of customer good will.
Then there’s the matter of what you do with the data once you’ve collected it. Do you let the customer know how you will use it? Do you give the customer a say in how you’ll use it?

Maybe the customer doesn’t mind receiving push notifications via an app but doesn’t want his or her email inbox cluttered with commercial offers. Maybe the customer is perfectly happy to follow you on his or her social media newsfeed, and keeping that feed rolling with useful material is all you need to do to keep that customer engaged.

It takes a little more work and a little more time to sort it all out this way. It’s tempting to just blast everything to everyone in every conceivable way—figuring the resulting ubiquity of your information can’t help but result in more knowledge, and thus, more sales.

“Fine, so we’ll irritate them,” you tell yourself. “They still need pet products so they’ll show up and buy anyway. They’ll get over it.”

But if you’re right (and you probably are) that they need the products, doesn’t it also make sense that one point of contact is probably sufficient to let them know you have what they need, and that overkill risks putting them off with no real reward?

Remember, it’s not the sheer volume of store-to-customer contact events that matters. It’s the quality of the ones that happen.

If you send the same person 10 emails, each containing the same offer, they’re not going to buy whatever you’re selling 10 times. In fact, if you push that hard, you’ll be lucky if they don’t unsubscribe and report you for spam law violations. Judicious use of omnichannel retailing follows the exact same principle.

But the most powerful principle to apply here is probably this one: When a customer provides you with data via omnichannel platforms, that customer is giving you an astonishingly vast look into who he or she is. You’re getting the chance to know what each of your customers want, how they think, how they like to do things and what’s important to them.

What is the value of customer knowledge that deep? How much could you advance the relationship with an individual customer if you had a detailed answer to the question, “What do I need to know about you?”

Omnichannel provides a platform for customers to tell you all that, mainly because the customer makes a judgment that the more unified shopping experience that will result is worth the bargain. Customers don’t mind telling you what they want and need as long as they trust you will use the information to their benefit. If you also benefit as part of the bargain, that’s fine with them. But if all you do is pelt them everywhere they look, they’ll quickly decide it’s worth the effort to find somewhere else to get their pet products.

Don’t make a mistake like that when it’s so easy not to.

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