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According to Shopify, businesses that use an omnichannel commerce strategy earn a significant payout.

On average, brands that sell across online marketplaces, mobile, social media, and physical locations experience a 190% increase in revenue. That’s a massive impact on a business’s bottom line. 

But despite these eyebrow-raising numbers, why does omnichannel commerce continue to be so elusive for many retail businesses? And what does omnichannel commerce mean exactly?

What Is Omnichannel Commerce? 

Omnichannel commerce is a strategy that retailers and ecommerce businesses use to deliver a consistent customer experience at every touchpoint. No matter what channel they choose to engage in, whether in-store, via an online store, marketplace, social media, or mobile app, the brand experience is consistent.

Most importantly, all channels are openly sharing data. Therefore, it’s possible to create a personalized experience using up-to-date customer information. Building an omnichannel strategy is a common challenge for physical retailers looking into building an ecommerce presence for several reasons. 

This can be tough for brick-and-mortar stores that want to take an omnichannel approach since it introduces new challenges they haven’t had to deal with—issues like online order fulfillment, fraud prevention, and SEO

Ecommerce retailers who want to expand into a physical retail space struggle with creating a retail space that reflects their online brand and community, the particulars of visual merchandising, and generating foot traffic. 

However, both business owners deal with the same problem in both scenarios: How do we leverage all channels and provide an excellent, consistent experience at every customer touchpoint? 

This article will cover how omnichannel commerce differs from multichannel commerce and how it impacts all aspects of the business, including marketing, inventory management, order management, and shipping. We’ll also present strategic steps to build a robust omnichannel strategy for your business. 

To learn how to maximize visibility and sales while creating a unified brand experience, keep reading our ecommerce and retail guide for more tips. 

Multichannel vs. Omnichannel Commerce: What Is the Difference? 

Most brands, whether they started as brick-and-mortar shops or as ecommerce sites, usually have multiple channels where they interact with customers or followers. Businesses cannot ignore social media platforms in this day in age. Nor can they ignore the importance of email and SMS marketing. 

Multichannel and omnichannel have been used interchangeably, but there are noticeable differences between the two. 

Multichannel commerce uses different promotional channels that work in silos and don’t interact with each other. Brand messaging can vary based on each platform and focuses on creating more channels to reach customers. 

Omnichannel commerce uses different channels but actively uses information from each platform to build a robust ecommerce strategy that revolves around the customer journey and experience. The benefit of omnichannel is that the brand messaging is consistent and highly personalized. Customers can switch effortlessly between channels without disrupting their buying journey, which results in better conversion rates. 

Another way to put it is: When a customer explores and interacts with your channels, whether Instagram, a mobile app, or in-store, information is collected from their interactions, and all channels work together to nudge them towards taking action, whether it’s adding to their cart for the first time or making a repeat purchase. 

Omnichannel Commerce Customer Journey Example

73% of customers use multiple channels before making a purchase. On average, it takes between six to eight touchpoints with a prospect before they finally convert. 

Customer journeys can differ from customer to customer or by age group, but here’s an example of what a customer journey can look like for a potential omnichannel customer who discovers a product online before deciding to purchase in-store.

  1. A prospect searches for “cloud couch” on TikTok and discovers one of your brand videos.
  2. They view your TikTok profile and click through to view and follow your Instagram page.
  3. They start seeing retargeted Instagram ads for cloud couches based on their past social media engagement.
  4. They use a search engine to locate your website and sign up for a newsletter that offers a 10% discount for new customers. 
  5. They enter an email flow for new customers that provides product education and incentives.
  6. They look at similar offerings from different brands and compare their pricing and features with yours.
  7. They are finally ready to make a purchase and do so in-store since they are interested in the sensory feel of the product. 
  8. Based on past online interactions, the sales associate is already aware that the buyer is new to the brand and can give them a 10% new customer discount for their purchase without being prompted.

This customer has interacted with the brand on multiple channels (social media, website, email, and in-store). However, since the brand has an omnichannel commerce strategy, it can use this customer data to its advantage. 

Since they know this is a new customer and have analytics on the content they’ve interacted with, the brand can build a customer profile that will help them create a more personalized experience. The sales associate also knows that the buyer has a discount they want to use since they’ve already signed up for their online newsletter. 

Based on the product pages they’ve viewed across different channels, you can create a list of recommended products just for them. Did they click through multiple ads to learn more about your coffee table but haven’t converted yet? You can send them more information about the product or a timely discount. 

With a multichannel approach, you wouldn’t be able to leverage data from other channels to your advantage. With omnichannel, the shopping experience is always seamless and customer-centric

Are you eager to start creating an omnichannel strategy now? Below are some steps you can take to create more of an omnichannel approach for your customers. 

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Omnichannel Strategy: 10 Steps for Success

1. Consistent branding and aesthetic 

For a strong omnichannel strategy, brands should provide a seamless experience between online and offline. Take tech giant Apple for instance. Their retail design does a great job of emphasizing their brand aesthetic, similar to their ecommerce site with its minimal vibe and light and airy colors. 

Apple stores don’t contain clutter or unnecessary decor items to help put the spotlight directly on their product assortment. The setup and spacing of their tables encourage customers to interact with products while providing enough room and space for customers to take their time without feeling hurried. 

In recent years, newer Apple stores have featured more earthy and organic materials to emphasize their commitment to sustainability, as more of their products are made with recycled materials and clean energy. They claim that by 2030 all Apple products will be carbon neutral

image of apple new york store
A digital rendering of Apple’s New York store on Fifth Avenue.

For retailers looking to create an ecommerce presence, think about what design elements can work well in creating a more unified customer experience accessing your website for the first time. 

Using similar colors and creating a similar look and feel can help make each channel feel like an extension of the other rather than two contrasting and conflicting spaces. 

2. Growing online traffic with SEO 

Experienced retailers know that foot traffic can depend on location, time of day, or season. However, when building an ecommerce presence, organic traffic depends on search engine optimization efforts. The know-how and ability to grow traffic online depend on using specific keywords. 

You will need to examine and analyze keywords relevant to your niche and product assortment and use them throughout your website and socials to gain online visibility. A strong SEO strategy will go a long way to bring in traffic, whether you are a small mom-and-pop shop or a major retailer. 

Sporting goods brands like Stanley do a great job of optimizing their product descriptions for SEO. While Stanley might describe this item differently and more simply in-store, adding more relevant keywords to the Amazon title description allows Google to understand how it might be relevant to someone searching. 

Along with describing materials used and key benefits (e.g., cold for 12 hours, leakproof), they also promote how customers can use the travel-friendly design for different situations such as home, office, and in the car. 

Image of stanley cup amazon product listing
Stanley’s Amazon product listing with an SEO-optimized title.

Regarding visual merchandising in-store, retailers are limited in the number of words they can use to describe a product. When it comes to ecommerce, having more descriptive words helps people find your product. 

3. Leveraging analytics from social platforms for trending products

TikTok’s evolution from a dancing app to an everything app has greatly impacted several industries, including book retailers. The hashtag #BookTok has over 103 billion views and growing as users swap reviews and ratings on their favorite reads and curated book recommendations. 

Canada’s largest book retailer Indigo took advantage of titles going viral on the TikTok app to grow their sales and saw a major lift in revenue in return. To draw attention to their TikTok presence, customers can now find dedicated retail shelf space reserved for books “Trending on TikTok” and a TikTok recommendations page on their website. This strategy is aimed at visitors looking to grab the next viral read while discovering other popular titles. 

Indigo also formally announced a partnership with TikTok and launched the #BookTok Book Club. Every month, they spotlight an author and book the app to drive sales to their retail stores and ecommerce site. In-person book events are also live-streamed directly on the Tik Tok app. 

image of indigo trending on tiktok display sale
An image of Indigo’s Trending on TikTok display table. (Source: CBC)

This is a creative and strategic approach by Indigo. By taking advantage of a fast-growing hashtag like #BookTok, their branded content gains visibility as they continue to grow their TikTok presence and see which genres and titles are trending with their target audience. 

This also allows them to be more nimble when reserving shelf space for trending reads and enables them to forecast demand for books by authors like Colleen Hoover, who are going viral online. 

4. Faster order fulfillment 

Information sharing between online and offline stores via dynamic inventory management systems can also improve the customer buying experience.

Say a product is out of stock. Rather than relying on a store to call the warehouse, request an item to be sent to a store, and call the customer to come to pick it up, omnichannel fulfillment allows customers to get their products more quickly by leveraging all available channels

For example, a shirt that you want to purchase is out of stock in your size. A sales associate can quickly help you find a nearby store with your size. You can pick this up yourself, or they can ask the store to deliver it to you directly, saving you the hassle of going there yourself. 

For stores with an existing ecommerce presence, retail staff can order products for customers that are only available online if physical stock is low. This is a win-win since customers can purchase what they want, and the brand doesn’t lose out on a crucial sale. 

An inter-connected omnichannel system ensures no sales opportunity goes to waste because an item is out of stock. 

5. Investing in cybersecurity

To prevent fraud and customer information from being hacked, cybersecurity is necessary for any ecommerce site. For customers checking out on a website, having an SSL certificate can help prevent any cybersecurity threats or information being intercepted by hackers and used for identity theft. 

Customer data privacy is a hot issue, and companies that are transparent about the software and tools they use to secure transactions are awarded higher conversion rates. SSL certificates can also help build customer trust and view your website as authentic, leading to improved SEO rankings.

6. Diversify delivery options

The lines have blurred when it comes to ecommerce and retail. It’s common for customers to purchase online and pick up their order in-store or vice versa, depending on stock availability. Returns in-store for online orders are also possible. This great workaround for larger items like furniture significantly benefits customers. 

Brands like IKEA do a great job of diversifying their delivery options. Customers can get a product shipped directly to them to pick up in-store or at a nearby pickup point. Not only is this more convenient for customers but providing them with a range of delivery options makes your brand appear more appealing and strengthens customer loyalty

7. Take advantage of your strongest channel 

For retailers new to the world of ecommerce, take advantage of your existing foot traffic to direct traffic flow to your ecommerce store or social channels. An easy way to incorporate this into your store is through your visual merchandising. 

We saw how Indigo leveraged TikTok’s book community to draw attention to the signage on their display table. If your products are trending online, display them at the front of your store to attract new customers

Have QR codes ready and available throughout the store for customers who need more product education and want to connect online. This is a simple way to signal you offer other ways to connect with your brand beyond your brick-and-mortar location. 

Use shelf talkers to encourage social media followers with an incentive. This can be in the form of a gift or a discount on their next purchase. Don’t forget to include a link to your site and social media handles at the bottom of your customers’ receipts. 

8. Put your customers front and center

The rise of user-generated content in the ecommerce world has made it possible for retailers to highlight creators and influencers throughout their digital displays or window dressing. 

A well-known face in the online world signals to customers that your brand is in tune with what’s happening in the social media space. It also gets them interested in checking out your online presence. Content creators can also build content that feels less polished and more organic if that’s more aligned with your brand’s look and feel. Using imagery like this is a great way to marry both mediums and maximize visibility. 

Aritzia’s recent collaboration with YouTube star Emma Chamberlain gave its Sunday Best collection a much-needed boost with its younger target audience. As a long-time fan of the brand, the partnership feels organic and adds youthful vitality to its curated collection. 

image of aritzia collaboration with emma chamberlain
Emma Chamberlain posing for Aritzia's Sunday Best Collection.

9. Create immersive online experiences that are pandemic-proof 

Whether it's an Instagrammable photo opportunity or an exclusive event offered in a retail store, encouraging customers to share a photograph using a branded hashtag can help build social buzz

Beauty retailers like Sephora host events year-round in their retail locations. They also leveraged their 20th anniversary to host an annual Sephora event that invited beauty lovers from all over the country. Guests participated in a two-day event filled with meet-and-greets with beauty influencers, live demos of new product launches, and complimentary beauty services like manicures and flash facials. Live shopping platforms are great for this; you can incorporate engaging images and videos in selling products.

In recent years, they’ve pivoted this in-store event to an online event that invites everyone to a virtual beauty house filled with exclusive content. 

Sephora event screenshot
A virtual room in Sephora’s online annual beauty event.

Beauty insiders can still navigate different rooms, like the spa and sunroom, that showcase different brands and products in a game-like environment.

Scanning a QR code encourages participants to take photos in virtual photo booths with friends. Exclusive discounts and offers can then be redeemed either in-store or online. 

10. Grow other channels

Once your ecommerce and retail channels are up and running, expose customers to other channels like your newsletter, SMS marketing, or mobile app. Have staff ask customers for their email addresses and see if they want to opt-in for email or SMS communication. 

If you have a dedicated mobile app for your brand, encourage downloads by offering a gift or discount for new users or access to exclusive new product drops. Building a loyalty program within the app is also a great way to reward customers for shopping with you. Your top spending customers can also be segmented and given more perks in return for their loyalty.

When Starbucks launched its mobile app, they were able to accelerate downloads by offering free wifi. The coffee chain decided to provide wifi for free and use it as an opportunity to get customers to opt-in for email communication

The coffee chain could target its customers with tempting email offers if they download the Starbucks app and join the rewards program. They emphasized key benefits like the convenience of ordering ahead and having your grande caramel macchiato with soy milk waiting for you. 

Customers can customize drinks based on their preferences via the app, which echoes the coffee shop’s retail experience and friendly baristas. Push notifications also drive more traffic in-store with double-star days and other fun offers, and customers can play games to earn free Starbucks for life. 

Today, Starbucks averages two million app downloads per month. They have about $2 billion in unused amounts in their loyalty app, turning this into one of their strongest sales channels. 

Omnichannel Experience: Looking Ahead and Beyond 

When creating your omnichannel commerce strategy, identify what aspect of the business needs improvement and which channels could give you more customer insights. 

A central data source is key in omnichannel commerce to prevent misinformation or errors. But once your channels are in sync and information flows between platforms, you will better understand the customer journey and how they navigate and interact across different mediums. 

And once they’ve completed their customer journey and made a purchase, you have a ton of data across different channels you can leverage when you want them to make a new repeat purchase.

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By Frances Du

Frances Du is a content manager and writer with 10 years of experience in ecommerce and digital marketing, turning customer insights and market trends into actionable content strategies that drive engagement and discussion. Frances' editorial work has been featured in The Ecomm Manager, Village Living Magazine, GOOD Magazine, Traveler's Digest, SHE Canada, The Culture-ist, and The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto.