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Omnichannel experience is not just a new buzzword. It’s what brands must create to survive. Customers expect to interact with a brand where and how it’s most convenient regardless of the channel. Disneyland creates an omnichannel marketing experience that makes people feel like they’re in a dream, Walmart and Kroger develop omnichannel strategies to compete with Amazon and with each other. Orvis, with its target audience of 50+, has also gone omnichannel. So what are the best omnichannel experiences and what can we learn from them?
Walmart struggled, at first, to make it into the omnichannel world but their efforts were not in vain. Walmart dominates in omnichannel grocery shopping. It has done a great job improving the experience of shoppers both in its brick-and-mortar shops and with their delivery and click-and-collect options. The company has also invested in experiments with e-commerce and delivery. These included driverless delivery in collaboration with Ford and Postmates, a high-tech grocery distribution center serving 200 stores in California, and a pickup-only location in Chicago. The company has also grown the number of pickup kiosks called Pickup Towers to accommodate increased sales Customers with the Walmart app, can also use these kiosks to make returns.
It’s inspiring to follow the development of Walmart’s omnichannel strategy in creating the seamless experience. A recent example of these developments, is the merging of its on and offline supply chain teams.
The beauty company, Sephora, developed what it calls omnitude. They point out the importance of real-life contact with a beauty assistant in their physical stores alongside e-commerce interaction. Sephora stores include sophisticated technology to help shoppers to choose the products that perfectly suit them. With Sephora’s assortment - thousands of SKUs - it can’t be easy. They have Color IQ to scan skin color and choose the tone. their website also includes augmented reality fitting rooms. Sephora has launched two chatbots: Color Match which helps to define the make-up shade on the image of your choice (say, the lipstick a celebrity is wearing in the picture), and Sephora Reservation Assistant to book a consultation. Sephora’s customer profiles include 360-degree data on online browsing, online purchasing, in-store purchases, and interactions with shop assistants.
In 2018, Sephora merged its digital and physical retail teams, with Mrs Laughton as EVP of omni retail. This was done to adjust the approach to sales metrics, engagements and experiences across channels, with mobile holding together online and offline strategies.
Outdoor wear company, Timberland, successfully integrates digital technology in the offline shopping experience. It has introduced interfaces called TouchWalls that allow in-store users to search and learn about online-only inventory while creating a shopping cart that merges in-store and online products. Tablets combined with near-field communication (NFC) chips used for self-service inspect NFC-tagged products, access detailed product information and read reviews. The customers can email themselves their shopping lists. As shoppers use the device in-store to look for more and more items, the software on the tablet starts making personalized suggestions.
Nordstrom, the American fashion retailer founded in 1901, is undergoing a transformation to provide their customers with an omnichannel experience. Nordstrom expanded its online offerings and launched an e-commerce site for Nordstrom Rack (where you can find outlet and discontinued items). Nordstrom’s website and app have been integrated with an inventory management system so that customers can easily find the item they’re looking for.
Nordstrom is actively experimenting with its physical presence. It opened unusual stores in Los Angeles and Santa Monica (California) for customers to try out what they find online. At these stores, customers not only pick up their orders, they can also reserve an item and try it on. They can easily return items using the self-service bins. These are just some of the services that improve the customers’ experience. Although there is no inventory, there is a juice bar, tailoring services, barbers, personal stylists, and much more. The stores are enhanced with high tech: you can view your image wearing an item you’re considering on screens, and if you reserve an item to try on later, a personal fitting room with your name on the door will await you.
As it went omnichannel, Nordstrom took an innovative approach to customer data and changed its metrics to create a holistic view. However, they did have technical issues when the company website crashed on the first day of the annual anniversary sale. It’s quite sad when you do your best to develop a strategy and then, a technical issue hampers your work.
Deckers Brands, the parent of the footwear company, began piloting new omnichannel models back in 2014, if not earlier. Then, it opened technology-driven concept stores.
The “Infinite UGG” program enables shop assistants to help customers find and purchase products absent from the stores. "UGG By You" and "Bling It On" programs allow customers to customize the look of their future footwear. “Magic Carpet” RFID technology is activated when shoppers try on shoes and step onto a carpet. The display shows product information and options, suggested complementary products and style tips. The company executives point out that earlier, company marketing was multi-channel and channel-centered. The employees, processes, and technologies were aligned separately to each channel. Then, they understood that the retail customer and the e-commerce customer were the same audience, and made an organizational change.
The pharmaceutical retailing giant, Walgreens, has developed a connected health omnichannel strategy. It aims to produce a blend of digital and physical experiences for their customers. For example, Walgreens’ customers don’t have to remember to refill their prescriptions. Instead, they can choose from a number of options to do it automatically: via Walgreens app after scanning the barcode, via email, by phone… or do it the old-fashioned way, in-store. The loyalty program is also managed via the app and it’s connected to geolocation so you get a reminder about your loyalty points when you’re somewhere near a Walgreens shop. Also, via the app, Walgreens customers can schedule a virtual appointment with a doctor or talk to a pharmacist, and ask any questions about their medication.
On their way to creating the perfect omnichannel experience, the company has faced an obstacle: they discovered their inventory management tools were outdated. This often resulted in disappointed customers and embarrassed employees who had to suffer during the prolonged ordering process. Now, Walgreens is undergoing a tech upgrade, which was completed in the summer of 2020.
The branded footwear and accessories retailer, DSW, operates an e-commerce website, 500-plus physical stores, and a mobile app (in additional to an optimized website version). Their service is not only seamless but also personalized. They offer a variety of delivery options and a cross-channel loyalty program. DSW stresses the importance of making product information and inventory accessible at all times via mobile technology. In 2019, they don’t need to think about making it into omnichannel but focus on personalization and unique experiences for each customer, on building an emotional connection. The key point is to take a more holistic view of the shopper.
Zumiez the retailer with a specialization in clothing and accessories for action sports has 500-plus retail locations in the U.S. In 2016, Zumiez implemented a platform to enhance the point-of-sale experience and support its omnichannel strategy. It enabled its shops to operateas high-class fulfillment centers and gave consumers the freedom to choose how they would make a purchase.
Customers can buy online, pick up in-store (on the same day that they place the order), search for in-store products online, return products across channels. Zumiez provides customer service across three channels — phone, mail, and email. The pricing is consistent across channels. One of the best parts of its multichannel strategy is its loyalty program that also works across channels. There is a Zumiez Stash app that helps manage loyalty points, which can be redeemed both in-store and online.
Alibaba coined the term New Retail for the personalized experience it provides regardless of the channel. Very illustrative, Fresh Hippo supermarkets (formerly Hema) aim to deliver to customers the same rich experience in-store and online. Using the mobile app, you can scan items as you shop in a physical store to get product information. All information, like prices that change at various times of the day according to special algorithms, is updated live to the online store. You can pay both online and offline using Alibaba's Alipay, which also provides personalized offers.
However, Freshhippo is still loss-making and the store in Suzhou’s Kunshan plaza was closed in May 2019. Now Alibaba has plans for Freshippo to become a standalone business. Alibaba is an e-commerce holding that claimed the title New Retail so it can afford fail with some experiments.
The houseware retailer, Crate and Barrel, is also focused on the omnichannel strategy. They had picked up that many transactions start in one channel and finish in another. For example, the customers use Crate and Barrel stores as a showroom first and then check the extended assortment online. On the other hand, when buying online and collecting orders in-store, customers often bought additional goods. Some of their close competitors don’t have a physical presence so it’s really beneficial for Crate and Barrel to develop offline stores. In 2016, they experimented with Connected Store technology.
The shoppers could use their tablet, without having to check-in and share their personal data, to scan items’ barcodes and view detailed product information. The connected tablet also served as a mobile tote - the customers added the items there and the shop assistants prepared the order for collection at a separate checkout line. The customers could email their wish list to themselves (if they were ok with sharing their email address with Crate and Barrel). This experiment not only provided an exclusive experience for Crate and Barrel customers but also provided the company with insights into customers’ behavior in-store, what they browsed, how long they browsed, and what they ended up buying.
The US’s largest pure-play supermarket chain, Kroger, has 2,764 stores. 1581 of them offer online grocery ordering and pick-up. Kroger is one of Instacart’s retail partners, which adds to the number of online orders. The Kroger mobile app contains store search functions, localized shopping lists, and a “Scan, Bag, Go” feature which simplifies shopping in many ways. The grocery store company experiments with tech solutions: it partnered with Ocado to build robo-driven fulfillment centers around the US and with AI firm Nuro to organize self-driving car delivery. In July 2019, Kroger announced that it was going to refresh its brand identity to match the omnichannel strategy and innovative spirit with the help of the marketing agency DDB New York. Experts say that partnering with the right innovators is an important part of Kroger’s success.
Nike focuses on building the relationship between the brand and its customers and growing its community of loyal clients. Its app serves as a consolidating point to build membership and to ensure an omnichannel experience. In July 2019, the Nike Plus ecosystem united more than 170 million members. The brand’s omnichannel retail system integrates Nike stores with its online strategy. Nike adds experimental features in the design of physical stores, like the sports assets, video games where customers can try on new shoes in virtual reality (in China). Nike is testing mobile app features that enhance the in-store experience. In stores located in the US, the mobile app allows customers to reserve products to try on, scan the product to get more information and check out easily. One of the planned features is to enable the app (and in-store technology) to help correctly size footwear.
Disney provides a seamless, fairy-tale experience via the website, mobile app and/or smart wrist band together into one unified ecosystem.
The experience starts with a beautiful, mobile-responsive website. My Disney Experience tool is an app available for a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop on which you can plan your trip. In the park, you can use it to locate the attractions you want to see and check the estimated wait time to visit them. You can synchronize the app so that every time you are photographed in Disneyland, the photo will automatically appear on your phone.
Magic Band is a wearable device with the same functionality. You can use it in the park instead of the app on your phone. It serves as a FastPass key, a hotel room key, connects images to your account, and it unlocks special personalized surprises. All this functionality is also available in the form of a card.
Everything works seamlessly, from the site to the special wearable device, and accomplishes two tasks: removes the pain of waiting in queues for attractions and creates the magical experience, taking care of all the small everyday details with no intervention required.
The Oasis fashion brand has a brilliant strategy for creating a unified experience for its customers wherever they are. The Oasis Instagram account prompts users to share their Oasis looks and leads to the mobile-optimized Insta store. Insta Stories are dedicated to special offerings and collections and promote the Oasis mobile app. The ‘Find in Store’ feature allows you to find the nearest store where you can buy or pick up your desired item. The Oasis offline experience is also integrated: shop assistants have iPads and know about customers’ preferences and saved items, and they instantly provide all the required product info and even style advice. In-store associates can arrange for the item currently not in stock to be delivered wherever the customer needs it. The fashion brand provides a variety of delivery options and what is less common, a variety of return options, including the return to a store and home collection.
Omnichannel distribution implies delivering a seamless experience via all the channels that a customer might use. BarkShop, selling dog-related products, ventures to do this without opening their own physical stores.
Their Instagram pages are full of cute pictures of puppies and dogs. Many images also contain products from BarkShop. They also post pictures of their products on Pinterest to raise interest. In the offline world, they sell through pop-up stores called BarkShop live. These are temporary stores that exist for short periods ranging from several days to several weeks. In pop-up stores, the dogs themselves can try BarkShop’s products. Then, the owner receives a list of what they loved. As well as standard e-commerce delivery options, BarkShop offers a subscription with which you can receive a curated box of treats and toys each month. They also grant that if the dog isn’t 100% happy with the box they’ll work with the owner to make it right.
This fashion chain is implementing an omnichannel strategy with a variety of touchpoints: an e-commerce website, a chain of physical stores, a smartphone app, shoppable Instagram and Pinterest. They introduced ‘Memory Mirror’ - a mirror with a camera that you can use to see what outfits look like from all angles, save outfits to consider later, and share 3D images of you wearing the outfit. So, a customer can try on several outfits, then post the images on social media or ask friends directly, decide on buying some of them and do it online or offline. A “Snap. Find. Shop.” feature in the Neiman Marcus app allows customers to take pictures of a bag or shoes they like and get a list of similar products.
Orvis is a mail-order and retail company specializing in goods for high-end fly fishing, hunting, and sports. Their customers are mostly 50 and older. Even so, Orvis has also developed an omnichannel strategy. Orvis has equipped its employees with tablets with pre-installed CRM and e-commerce tools. So, the shop assistants can order out-of-stock products for the store and charge customers for both online and in-store purchases. The app also serves to give detailed and accurate product information. In addition, with these e-commerce tools, shop assistants can instantly gather information about customers.
Starbucks rewards app allows customers to collect stars and get plus-ups for everyday coffee. To do so, customers pay with their registered Starbucks card (also available in the mobile app). They can reload the card on the app, on the website, in-store and through the phone. The opportunity to collect additional stars motivates customers to continue to use the app and to complete surveys for rewards.
Banks are also becoming digitized. Many customers, however, prefer to interact with a real consultant, in person, especially when it comes to complex operations. So banks need to find a perfect balance. Banks have yet to accomplish seamless movement between the channels. Using the Bank of America app, you can pay monthly bills or deposit a check, manage appointments and make card requests. The experience is the same whether you’re using a smartphone or computer. In 2017, the bank experimented with “robo-branches” - completely automated branches with no human assistants, each of them consisting of an ATM and a room for videoconferences (to talk with remote support representative). Why would you need a branch then when nstead you could make such calls via personal devices from home? In banking, security and privacy concerns impact the acceptance of internet-based interactions.
R.E.I. outdoor retail has an app feature that allows customers to access the reviews after scanning a barcode. Also, the R.E.I. app offers gear lists for various trips. When you plan a trip, you can order everything you’ll need. The rest of the omnichannel strategy aspects are just as good. The in-store experience is also empowered with tech: employees have iPads that instantly deliver detailed product information and check availability. The R.E.I. loyalty program allows members to earn and redeem points across channels.
What can we learn from these experiences?
- Physical stores matter but not in the same old way. They are no longer just places where sales transactions take place. They can be showrooms, fulfillment centers, brandships, you can even sell in pop-up stores. What also matters: train the shop assistants and arm them with tech. They should have the means to provide product information at least as efficiently as your customers can find it on the web. Use the innovations to create a wow-effect in your offline stores.
- Rethink and adjust inner processes. Merge teams if they treat different channels differently without understanding the need for coherence. Adjust metrics. Plan marketing campaigns together and ensure that they correspond.
- The technical foundation is very important. Carefully plan which systems and platforms will support your omnichannel strategy.
- Experiment with new ways to create the experience. Despite the fact that experiments are often costly and not always successful, you won’t progress without them.
- A loyalty program should cut across the channels.
We hope, this article helps you to develop your omnichannel strategy. Let us assist you with the technical side.