The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the retail industry and boosted eCommerce like never before. It also changed many consumer behaviors permanently. While many brick-and-mortar stores are suffering, those that survived have adopted online experiences that work across multiple digital channels.
Even before the pandemic, most forward-thinking retailers have made forays into omnichannel strategies. Apparel and cosmetics, for example, have long relied on Instagram influencers while automotive and FMCG brands have leveraged social media to promote customer engagement.
As we move closer to 2021, retailers know that previous customer behaviors are not coming back. From shopping consolidation to voice search, to AR (augmented reality) and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in stores), customers are expecting a new era of retailing.
The point of omnichannel retail is not to have things work on your channels – it’s about providing an exceptional experience across them. Regardless of where customers are – mobile, Instagram, phone, text, the experience should not be about the channel, but the customer.
Benefits of omnichannel retail for 2021
Now that we’ve identified what omnichannel retail is, how does it help brands?
At a time when customers are stuck at home and foot traffic is down, brands must divert their marketing efforts into digital. Customers still expect seamless and personalized online experiences (regardless of the device), so brands must not sit still. Aside from meeting customers where they are, brands must leverage omnichannel retailing to drive efficiency in all aspects of eCommerce operations: inventorying, fulfillment, and supply chains.
Here are some other benefits of omnichannel retailing:
- Unified message. Whether a website, social media page, or a physical store, your brand should exude the same look, feel, and messaging. Customers are bombarded with information, so singular communication over multiple channels helps your brand stay top of mind.
- Greater reach. When your brand is accessible on multiple channels, you can drive engagement in multiple ways. Customers seek out your brand online, whether to check your hours or find out if a product is in stock. Engaging with customers on new channels helps you build new relationships and maintain customer ties.
- Memorable experience. People buy from people, so when your brand is available and consistent, customers will notice. With a unique experience, they are more likely to tell others about it and return to purchase more.
Omnichannel retail trends for 2021
Whether you’re in B2C or B2B, customer journeys start online. In fact, Google revealed that more than half of shoppers report using Google to research an offline or online purchase.
In short, when customers perform research, they expect to find you. And when they do find you, they prefer to shop and purchase on their terms, whether it’s on an eCommerce website, a mobile app, or a marketplace. Here are some other trends to watch out for as we look into 2021:
Blending online with offline
While we’ve seen offline retailers moving online, we’ve also seen traditionally online retailers like Amazon establish brick-and-mortar locations to augment their web experiences. For example, Amazon Go’s leading the way in cashier-less stores. Walmart and Walgreens are following suit by promising in-store pickup within an hour when ordering online. These trends are uncovering opportunities for new collaborations, partnerships, and startups.
Changing customer expectations
Customers pay attention to their brand interactions, whether it’s attentive staff or immersive self-service experiences. They expect notification, updates, and the ability to check, modify, and track orders without interacting with a sales representative. Due to COVID-19, customers are looking for a sense of community from brands. Omnichannel retail brands can better broadcast their vision and attract customers that align with it, building loyalty and maintaining expectations.
Growing digital commerce
More and more brands will start embracing digital channels, and those that are currently outgrowing their systems will actively consider re-platforming. Retailers will make investments into omnichannel eCommerce features allowing flexibility to launch audience-specific storefronts and adding “Buy on Amazon” buttons to their products. This type of flexibility in platforms will become more pronounced, helping retailers spread risks among different selling models.
More systems integration
To meet buyers at their preferred purchase channels, brands need accurate, real-time data on their customers. At the core of that is integrations between business systems like CRM, PIM, ERP, and, naturally, your B2B eCommerce solutions. Integrations help boost customer visibility to facilitate personalization, improve back-office efficiency, increase staff productivity, and cut costs.
AI and Automated workflows
Automation enhanced by AI and big-data is a trending topic, and retailers will use these technologies. Whether it’s to gather and analyze customer data, guide sales activities, streamline back-end process, or make accurate inventory projections, there are many uses for automation in eCommerce. With reduced manual order entry, brands can ensure reliable operations and divert resources towards growth.
Alternative sales channels
Retailers are exploring new sales channels and partnerships. From Instagram influencers to prominent bloggers to selling D2C (direct to consumers), brands are actively looking to cut out the middleman and get closer to customers. These trends apply to changing B2B selling models as well: brands are increasingly selling B2B2C, B2G, or to other target markets.
New ways of delivery and fulfillment
Even as customers get accustomed to COVID-19 and the importance of safety, the desire for convenience and personalization remains as essential as ever. Delivery will remain a differentiating factor for retailers as customers look for personalized delivery options, packaging, and curbside pickup. This is driving transformation at physical stores, where stores get repurposed, and layouts changed for use as partial fulfillment centers.
It’s time to accelerate omnichannel retailing.
Retailers planning omnichannel strategies in 2021 must plan with flexibility in mind. It’s not enough to ask for customer feedback, track traffic, and suggest products to upsell. Technology allows for integration, automation, and real-time data capture about your customers. Winning brands will use these technologies in their B2B eCommerce strategies to target the right customer with a personalized online experience.
Indeed, the pandemic has demonstrated how a truly agile approach allows brands to implement omnichannel experiences in record time. Some retailers launched new storefronts and delivery methods. Others, like Foodmaven, a B2B food marketplace supplies kitchens, and restaurants could sell directly to consumers when their B2B business hit a rough patch. Their flexible eCommerce approach allowed them to move quickly without losing market share in the face of shifting buying behavior and unpredictability.
Let’s take these lessons into 2021.