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Why an Omnichannel Strategy is Needed During a COVID Holiday Season

Rajneesh Kumar
Rajneesh Kumar

Taking an omnichannel approach can lead to a successful holiday season

Driven by "safer at home" restrictions, shopping online has become a norm for customers. So much so that more than 25% of customers are planning to continue shopping online, even after stores reopen. The pandemic has fuelled online retail with multi-channel shopping trends, more web searches, more interactions and transactions, increased traffic and pipelines, unprecedented stock and inventory imbalances, and whatnot. And the numbers will increase further in the upcoming holiday season. There is a growing trend toward offering safer ways of shopping. Every brand is giving safety a huge priority. 

To capitalize on the massive digital traction that channels will receive this holiday season, retailers need to strategize with caution. Preparing for sudden demand fluctuations in the coming months means going virtual, digital-centric, and agile – and doing it at lightning speed. As stores throughout the U.S. close in response to the COVID-19 crisis, retailers are accelerating their omnichannel transformations to meet consumer needs for contactless commerce and the rapid fulfillment of essential goods.

Post-COVID holiday season: A customer exodus

The upcoming trends are about recognizing buying patterns and digital footprints, predicting supply and demand, and being operationally active to dance to customer rhythms. These will be compounded by changes needed to balance the effects of COVID-19 on how markets and supply chains function. Don't just "lift and shift" operations; take the opportunity to re-engineer them using today's digital tools.

Digitalization is evident throughout the retail landscape. However, customer channel transformation occupies a significant portion of the pie (almost 50%). Omnichannel initiatives have become a go-to-strategy for retailers aiming to fulfill fluctuating customer demands and need for contactless commerce.

The idea of seamlessly connected channels to cater to customer preferences and then steering them towards the most efficient one has been around for years. But this holiday season, the customers are deprived of social connections and are spending more time surfing online than ever. They want more information, more convenience, seamless flows, and personalized interactions, just like at a brick-and-mortar store. More than half of customers are engaging with three to five channels for making one purchase. The average customer is also switching nearly six times between channels.

Retailers can deliver a robust omnichannel experience by putting site-specific data to use along with a balanced mix of email, mobile, social media, display advertising and offline initiatives. An omnichannel effort implemented to the primary brand-customer interaction points can also enhance self-service options, reduce call-handling time, and enable efficient issue resolution.

In the past few months, Armani has remodeled its business model on the concept of doing less but doing it better. Implementing this transformation into a new multi-channel retail offering, the company aims to connect with customers in more personal and direct ways while balancing e-commerce and boutique integrations. Another fashion retailer, Levi Strauss, has also reacted quickly to the changing market dynamics. The brand leveraged creative ways to connect with customers, including a mobile app and curbside pickups.

In the upcoming holiday season, most brands are returning to a normal state of operation, the lessons learned from dealing with this crisis could be extremely valuable for long-term business resilience.

Chances are that your organization has already been working on some initiatives supporting digital business transformation and optimization strategies. These may have included programs like the modernization of workplace tools, adopting new technologies, integrating smarter tools and on-premises applications, and expanding customer service channels.

Many brands are now able to successfully implement omnichannel capabilities by carefully strategizing for the new normal. So what is the key to ensuring an impactful omnichannel game plan? It is identifying and prioritizing the essential cross-channel journeys. By focusing on the two or three cross-channel journeys that are most relevant for most customers, retailers can embed customer-centric interfaces and design an exceptional omnichannel experience in a modular fashion.

  1. Prioritizing the right cross-channel journeys: By identifying the proper channels, you can analyze customer propensity towards multiple channels and the importance of their journey. This depends on the cross-channel journey’s complexity and popularity and also the customer’s emotional levels. After that, the efforts should be focused accordingly on each channel. The channels with low propensity and traffic can be used as ancillary channels that steer customers towards the main channels. Likewise, the main channels should have additional functionalities for personalization and directed targeting.
  2. Designing for the channels that matter: Designing for the main channels, secondary channels, as well as cross-channel intersection points is a crucial step of the omnichannel strategy. The basic functionalities should be present in all of them in-line with customer preferences. It could be more beneficial if you deploy small, incremental changes with learning technologies (e.g., chatbots, virtual reality) to create a personalized learning experience. For instance, if you are redirecting a website browser to a payment gateway/online wallet, there mustn't be any technical glitches. The same goes for chatbots, social media links, messenger apps, etc. The information must flow freely across channels. The channels should have the capacity to allow required traffic flow and seamless integrations for quick hand-off to human operators and superior customer service.
  3. Infusing customer-centricity: In order for a brand to earn their share of the positive feelings, emotions and memories, they need to compete for attention and time. They need to infuse personalized experience across the customer buying journey. Omnichannel strategy means permeating the customer-centric mindset throughout brand touchpoints. Omnichannel presence in the post-pandemic holiday means gratifying customers in any way they demand. Everything from curbside pickups to buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and more can help innovatively deliver products to the customers. The omnichannel strategy also requires segmenting customer needs based on age, geography, and income to optimally utilize critical resources. This way, they can induce a positive customer experience and instill loyalty that would last not just the holiday season but even further.

The old playbooks for holiday shopping are irrelevant this season. The tried-and-tested gimmicks, offers, deals, discounts, and online UI/UX will not be sufficient for retailers in the new normal. This season, retailers must reinvent their customer-facing strategies to rebuild the connection. Along with the promise to deliver on time, anytime, and anywhere there is a need to streamline engagement with the right omnichannel strategy.

The omnichannel strategy should be "phygital." It should include a model to optimize offline and online digital sales channels. This way, it can augment the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and establish long-term associations. One customer going through just one journey — returning an item, for example — will in actuality involve multiple departments. Retail brands can capitalize on the new customer mindset, create enriching experiences, manage data consistency, and optimally designate resources.

Retailers can deliver added value and interact with the customer at any point in the purchase process. With an omnichannel strategy (and not just the omnichannel presence), both retailers and customers can enjoy a win-win situation. Retailers that tap onto this opportunity can indeed generate new revenue streams and build amplified brand loyalty. Set the vision and embrace omnichannel for great CX by addressing new digital touchpoints and interaction modalities.

Image Credit: CentralITAlliance/Getty Images
Rajneesh Kumar
Rajneesh Kumar
business.com Member
Leading the Digital Marketing initiatives of Happiest Minds Technologies and Pimcore enables Digital Transformation for enterprises and technology providers. He is responsible for online demand generation strategies, executing the marketing campaigns and, aligning marketing initiatives closely with the business. He is also responsible for Account Based Marketing, support for buying cycle and overall marketing ROI. He has hands on experience on Marketing Automation tools (Pardot & ACT On) to centralized and automate marketing campaigns. He manages all the collateral development, content assets creation to support pre-sales activities and marketing campaign. Rajneesh is an emerging industry watcher, Go Getter and does competitive landscaping and target market shaping for new services - mapped to deliver. He closely track competitor activity in the market and gather intelligence inputs through various sources viz: research organizations, consultants and database agencies etc. He owns and drive the market insights roll-out and adoption. Operationally responsible for the marketing program and driving business outcomes via contextual insights. He builds data driven decision making frameworks – customer segmentation, Go to Market strategy, targeting, cross-sell/ up –sell.