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Omni-channel marketing: why all the fuss?

Omni-channel marketing; why all the fuss?

Multi-, and Omni-channel: these terms are thrown around all the time, sometimes even used interchangeably when in fact they are different concepts. The best way to think of omni-channel is to see it as an evolution of multi-channel. Chris HowatsonCHE proximity managing partner recently featured in Campaign Brief says: “Omni-channel marketing will be the focus for brands in 2013.”

What is Omni-channel?

Essentially, omni-channel retail is more seamless than multi-channel. Omni-channel sees retail bricks and mortar, eCommerce, mobile commerce, social networks, catalogue, tv and tablet all collide to connect the entire shopping ecosystem and experience.

Some consumers prefer to utilise multiple channels, oftentimes employing many simultaneously. The omni-channel method makes the customer the centre of the process, with the ability to act across “touch points,” rather than simply channels within a brand. It offers the customer the ability to receive information in whatever way is most convenient.

Functionally, this might mean that the same information is available to customers in multiple formats – from cell phone apps to websites to wireless devices like tablets. Omni-channel also offers the ability to market to a customer based on his or her preferred touch points, social networks, purchasing history, website visits, and so forth. In addition, the most evolved omni-channel platform may develop intelligence about consumer preferences, for example, based on his contact habits. Typically, a customer contacting a company through their cell phone will receive voice alerts, as the platform identified it as the preferred medium. Perhaps the best example of an omni-channel retailer to date is Apple.

The diagram below displays the concept best.

Omni-channel marketing

Multi-channel:

Gone are the days where brick and mortar stores were the only places clients could purchase products or obtain more information. Multi-channel allows for transactions across a wide variety of channels or mediums. Multi-channel involves offering the consumer several different ways to purchase the product from one particular brand. This could be through the store, eCommerce, mobile commerce etc. Discrepancies occur when Brick and Mortar have different prices to online or when the product purchased online can’t be returned in store.

Examples of the types of channels that may be used in multi-channel communications include physical stores, online websites, telephone, email or mobile apps, fax, etc. Any platform that offers more than one channel for transactions and information is considered “multi-channel”. Even smaller retailers that allow for transactions through a website are engaging in multi-channel retail. Although such a system is often convenient for the customer, multi-channel retailers often do not offer a seamless transition between channels.

Empowered customers:

Omni-channel isn’t something that retailers have invented or are necessarily even happy about. Omni-channel is a result of technology and an advanced consumer demanding to be the centre of the retail experience. Bricks and Mortar stores will still be an important part of the customer experience, but the way customers are behaving on the path to purchase is radically changing.

Issues with Omni-channel retail:

Of course eCommerce, mobile commerce, and social media are all intrinsically linked together which both aids and confuses the situation for retailers. On the plus side, a standard eCommerce site optimised for mobile can avoid creating two separate systems. But then how does the retailer treat and register that sale? Is it an eCommerce or mCommerce sale?

The challenges of setting up omni-channel retail are immense, and highly evident by the lack of retailers adopting and concerting to omni-channel. To be omni-channel would mean connecting the entire organisation’s operations including logistics, supply chain, IT systems, social networks and advertising, and ensuring each platform knows what the other is doing, tracks stock and communicates seamlessly. This is such daunting task for most retailers, which is why it’s still really just a concept and future plan for most retailers to date.

Watch this space!

More reading:

The future of Mobile Marketing is NFC (Near Field Communication)
10 marketing/advertising trends to focus on in 2013
The rise of the ‘mopper’ (mobile shopper)
Which eCommerce strategy applies to your business?
Exciting digital & innovative trends happening in the retail industry

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