Technology has empowered consumers in ways we could never have imagined and the impact is enormous, exciting and perhaps a little daunting for many retailers. As consumers become more tech-savvy and channel agnostic, they are learning to use this power in more social and experiential ways, expecting more and sharing more of their retail experiences.

Omni-channel retailing is the seamless integrated approach to the customer experience through all available shopping channels and involves thinking about your customer experience in a different way to traditional multi-channel retailing. Unlike the more siloed multi-channel experience, today’s shopper simultaneously uses all avenues available to them and this means, as a retailer, you need to be wherever they are to ensure your business has an ongoing and relevant presence in their world.

Every road through every channel converges to one destination – your overall brand experience. Don’t think of them as different destinations – your customer doesn’t.”

Omni-channel truly blends all channels and you can no longer think of these as just your physical and online store spaces; it’s all encompassing to include catalogues, mobile devices, kiosks and social media right through to your customer call centre. Place yourself in your consumers’ world and that’s the omni-channel world of retailing – it’s a world where consumers are experiencing your brand, not just your different retail channels.

To guarantee your place in the sun you need to embrace this new wave of retailing, understand the implications for your business and learn how to communicate with your consumers. In order to keep up with it all, let’s take a look at some key implementation strategies to help guide you through.

 Trust matters

In this influencer-led environment, trust between retailer and consumer is everything. If consumers are being influenced to such an extent outside of the retail environment, it has become imperative to build trust by continuously delivering the greatest omni-channel experience.

Last year, the Ebeltoft Group of global retail experts (of which we are the elected Australian member) published a research paper that identified the strongest driver of trust all over the world is reliability. No surprises. No deception. Just the absolute fulfilment of customers’ expectations every single time and the complete understanding that non-fulfilment is your biggest trust threat. By gaining trust, you acquire a money-can’t-buy asset – an advocate.

 Understand your customer and your target market

The key to defining and implementing a fit omni-channel retail strategy relies on the thorough understanding of your customers, your target market and the ability to map their journeys.  Each of your communication channels will play a different role in your overall business by offering consumers different benefits and interaction capabilities. Define these roles and benefits, who uses them and then paint the complete cross-channel communications map of your business. Once you have a map, you can look at the roads you need to travel to reach your destination. But remember, every road through every channel converges to one destination – your overall brand experience. Don’t think of them as different destinations – your customer doesn’t.

 Understand your cross-channel capabilities

Our global partners, Ebeltoft Group conducted a global study to benchmark retailer advancement in the field of cross-channel. The study assessed 47 cross-channel indicators across five core cross-channel capabilities (see Figure 1). As a result of this comprehensive study, Australian retailers now have a benchmarking system to help identify and close their gaps. Assessing and understanding these gaps is critical to becoming a ‘fit’ omni-channel retailer and harnessing the insights from studies such as these will help you to prioritise your omni-channel solutions.

Core Capabilities

Figure 1: Cross Channel Benchmark Framework. This benchmarking framework is available to Australian retailers for measurement against the benchmarks of this Cross Channel Retailing Study.

 Unify your brand exposure and make it context-relevant

Your customers are buying a brand experience through many different channels simultaneously. It’s vital, therefore, that you unify your brand experience so that when they meet you, they are meeting the same powerful, consistent brand everywhere.

 Facilitate interaction between your brand and your customer

To help facilitate interaction and build an omni-channel brand experience, have a think about the following:

  • Be innovative and different in your retail product offering and your overall brand experience so that they talk about it.
  • Be the richest source of your own content and product information.
  • Make your product/store information easily accessible to your customers across all channel touch points.
  • Provide customers with access to reviews and recommendations. Facilitate the ability for customers to review, recommend, influence and endorse your brand using the appropriate channels.
  • Provide pre, during and post customer service that’s second to none across every channel touch point.
  • Give customers the choice of how they access your product, how they purchase it and how they receive it.
  • Facilitate social interaction across all touch points – look to drive traffic seamlessly from one to another.
  • Provide an experiential bricks-and-mortar store experience they’ll never forget and make sure this is translated across all channels.

As next-gen retail evolves to this virtual and physical mash up, we should keep in mind the prevailing power of the physical store space. Your job as a retailer is to blend the virtual and physical worlds in a relevant way for customers to positively share their in-store experience. By embracing and harnessing new technology and consistently delivering at every touch point, you’ll be fit and ready to ride this new wave of retailing.

Happy “fit” retailing.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of retail consulting company, Retail Doctor Group. He specialises in the development and implementation of retail and franchise strategies.

First published on SmartCompany on the 31st of March 2015