IT in the retail industry is facing an incredible amount of change. Understanding how consumers shop today and creating a seamless shopping experience can have a profound impact on a merchant’s bottom line. Jason Hatfield, Director of Product for Vantiv, shared his insights into the world of Omnicommerce.

Omnicommerce and omniconsumer

Let’s address the omniconsumer first. An omniconsumer is a person who interacts with a brand across multiple channels, or combines different channel interactions into a single buying process. For example, they may research an item using their mobile, then purchase it in the retail store.

Omnicommerce, or omnichannel, is the ability to deliver a consistent customer experience across every channel. It’s about giving the customer the same experience no matter what channel they use to purchase a company’s products and services. This includes branding, marketing, pricing, inventory, all the way down to payment, delivery, policies and services.

Omnicommerce is changing consumer buying behavior

Omniconsumers are more connected and able to make more informed buying decisions today because of omnicommerce. Omniconsumers often do more research about brands and products before making a purchase, especially for big ticket items. Social channels are leading to greater brand and product transparency. It’s harder for merchants to hide behind an inferior product or service.

Today, consumers can shop 24/7 from just about anywhere they have a device and connection. For merchants, this means they must be able to support both around-the-clock and mobile shopping experiences. E-commerce started the trend by extending business hours, and now mobile and social are extending the paradigm by incorporating location analysis. Location search data enables merchants to market and serve onmiconsumers based on where the search query took place. This can be an empowering tool to help merchants as well as manufacturers identify nuances of customers’ behaviors that can help them make smarter decisions about inventory or advertising.

Electronic payments are also a cornerstone of the omnichannel experience, and we are seeing them become a fundamental anchor of entirely new business models and sales channels. Think about Uber, for example. Its outstanding and innovative mobile customer experience is built around seamless electronic payments.

Omniconsumer and company technology infrastructure – what should the CIO know?

The biggest challenge for merchants is systems integration and delivering a consistent buying experience across all sales channels. For example, say you buy a pair of jeans from the website of a national retailer. When you receive the jeans, they don’t fit. So, you decide to exchange them at the store’s brick and mortar location nearest to you. When you get there, the sales associate tells you she can’t do an exchange because they were purchased online. She explains that the store and online are separate entities and online inventory can’t be exchanged for in-store inventory. This exact scenario has happened to me, and it’s exceedingly frustrating for consumers like me that expect retailers, especially large national ones, to operate in an omnichannel model.

From a consumer point of view this is damaging to the brand. Today, consumers don’t see the online or mobile store as a separate entity, but as an extension of the retail store. They expect to receive the same level of service whether they buy online or in-person. It’s critical that retailers ensure 100 percent seamless integration between all channels. This includes everything from offers, pricing and inventory to fulfilment, payments and refunds.

Fortunately, omnicommerce also presents new sales opportunities for merchants. CIOs need to stay flexible and constantly monitor the customer’s buying behaviors. For example, you can’t be afraid of in-store mobile because you think the consumer is “showrooming.” They may just be looking for a product review or to get a quick answer to a question without having to talk to a sales rep. For forward-thinking merchants, the real power of in-store mobile is getting consumers locked into your local WiFi or Bluetooth beacon so that you can offer location-specific offers and promotions, which can increase the amount they spend in your store.

Omnicommerce is reshaping the retail industry

Consumers, especially millennials, have grown up with technology. Omniconsumers rely on technology and expect business to operate this way too. Unfortunately, many businesses are playing catch-up to these expectations. Merchants can no longer wait for the customer to tell them they want an omnichannel relationship; it is expected today, which means if you aren’t there, you are already behind the competition.

Successful retailers must be savvy in multiple environments and be able to engage their customers across whatever channels they are spending time on. Retailers that are actively engaging consumers through social and mobile today have an advantage over those who haven’t embraced omniconsumers. 

How mobile, POS, and digital signage factor into omnicommerce

Instead of looking at mobile as a threat out of fear of “show-rooming,” it should be looked upon as a sales and marketing tool. Mobile can be used to deliver customer reviews and product specifications by making this information easily accessible through in-store QR codes or other means. Merchants can use location technology to make special offers to combat price shopping and to combine items into compelling bundles to sell slow moving inventory. And by digitizing gift cards into the iOS Passbook and Android PassWallet, you can use location services to electronically remind consumers about their gift card or a special offer if they wander into your store unplanned.

In omnicommerce, the POS must be integrated into a multi-channel inventory and fulfilment system. Merchants must be able to locate items in the inventory network and ship/fulfil them according to customer preference. An associate shouldn’t have to call another store to check on product. The sales rep should be able to view inventory online and place an item on hold, or request that it be shipped directly to the customer.

Digital signage is one of many tools in a merchant’s marketing toolbox. In omnichannel, it can help by harmonizing the brand and brand message across channels. For example, you can feature the online campaign in-store as well. It can deliver branded digital content and give customers a reason to interact with the brand once the customer is back at home or searching using their mobile device. Digital signage also allows merchants to bring social media into the store by featuring recommendations, positive pins or tweets, or Instagram photos of products in the real world which can help shoppers connect and identify with a product. Digital signage is also a great tool to drive consumers to your online portal to purchase inventory that isn’t stocked in-store.

Together, all of these pieces must work together to create a seamless omnichannel shopping experience.