The Challenges of Omnichannel Commerce

Back in the day, interaction with the (potential) customer was simple and straightforward: they would somehow hear about your product (maybe a catalog or newspaper ad), visit your store, look at it and – if they really did find it as interesting as expected – buy it. These days, things are more complex: enterprises are faced with a wide array of possible channels through which they can reach out to the customers and the clients have multiple options of getting to know the product – and some of which are not controlled by the companies. In this article, we will have a closer look at the opportunities and challenges of doing omnichannel e-commerce.

Omnichannel Commerce

Let’s use a hypothetical example to underline this message: not too long ago, when buying a mobile phone in Switzerland, people would go to one of four possible places: a Swisscom shop, an Orange shop (now Salt), a Sunrise shop or to Mobilezone. There, they would look at the different models, ask for assistance by the staff, weigh those recommendations against what they’ve already heard from friends and eventually buy a new phone.

Today’s customer journey is not straightforward

Today, those mentioned outlets face new competition: big pure players such as Digitec, traditional retailers like melectronics and a large number of others. Furthermore, there is no longer the one path a client takes in order to buy a product. Customers see a billboard ad for a mobile phone when they commute to work in the morning, check out the company website on their mobile phone, look at some reviews on news sites and community forums on their desktop computer the following weekend when they’re at home, review price comparison portals and finally go to the a brick-and-mortar outlet of their mobile phone provider to buy it. After the purchase, they might need assistance over a service hotline or might look for matching accessories on the company website. In short: what used to be straightforward is now a complex landscape that first needs to be understood and untangled.
We can use the following model to better understand the journey a customer can take in today’s world:
Omnichannel Commerce
First comes an inspiration phase where the customer has a first contact with the seller or his product respectively. This can happen in a large number of ways: traditional advertisement, social media, e-mail newsletters, seeing the product in use somewhere on the street etc. One of these contacts (or a combination thereof) should eventually lead to an interest in the product and the customer moves on the the next step in the process, the information gathering. As not all of these channels are controlled by the company, this proves to be a big challenge.
In the next step, the customer uses various sources in order to get a better idea about the product in question. Do I need this? Is it better than another product? Why is it better? Where do I get the best price? How and where can I purchase it? These sources might include: online shops, print materials, crowd-based review platforms, search engines, professional advice in-store, friends and family etc. Eventually, the customer will come to one of the three following conclusions: buy the product, don’t buy the product or decide later. This is not a linear process! The customer might be going back and forth between different platforms until he reaches a decision and then goes on to actually purchase the product.
However, the process is not over once the decision has been made – nor is the product actually sold. Multiple obstacles can possibly lie in the way: opening hours of physical outlets, availability of items, ease of use of the online checkout-process etc. Only if the purchasing process is designed in a smooth and effortless way will the customer actually be able to finish his transaction.
The customer journey is, however, not done yet. He will begin to use the product which can, in the best case, open an opportunity for up-selling (e.g. accessories) or for positive reviews online. On the other hand, it might become necessary to do maintenance or repair work should the product break. Furthermore, there is always the possibility that the client wishes to return the product. All these activities must be actively managed in this phase of the customer journey, since if this is done successfully, the customer will return.

Multiple touchpoints across multiple channels

During that whole journey, the customer always has multiple possible touchpoints across multiple channels with the company or its product (hence the term omnichannel). Some of them are online, some are offline, some are the company’s own, some are managed by third parties. The customer will, naturally, not always use the same channel but will always choose that channel that is most convenient at the given time. He might look at items in the store and then go on to buy them offline. He might use a company’s app in order to find the nearest outlet to go pick up a product or he might return something in-store that he bought online.
This is only a very brief overview regarding the challenges of today’s multi-channel world. In the next articles, we will look at the four phases in more detail and will also look at what is necessary on the technical and business side in order to support such a setup. In the meantim, what you need to remember are four things:
  • It is inevitable that the customer uses different channels to get to his goal. Manage these breaks actively.
  • Design the customer experience coherently across all channels. Ensure that the customer has access to the same features and information on all channels.
  • Analyze your user data in order to recognize dominant customer journeys. This will enable you to tailor the experience to your most important customer segments. If you don’t have data available, try to predict it as well as possible.
  • Don’t slack off once the purchase is made, try to engage and bond with the customer, get him to write positive reviews and offer a good customer service experience should the need arise.

If you want to read more about Customer Journey Mapping, see this post by fellow CTP consultant Daniel Truninger.

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Damian Amherd

Lead: Customer Experience & Digital Marketing at Atos Consulting CH
Helping customers leverage the power of digital transformation. At Atos Consulting since 2015.
Damian Amherd
The Challenges of Omnichannel Commerce
Article Name
The Challenges of Omnichannel Commerce
The different channels that customers can use, provide a new complexity for companies. See how to manage them successfully in order to design a full omnichannel experience.
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Atos Consulting CH
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