How to Embrace Omnichannel & Online Selling

Patrick Foster
Patrick Foster
Guest Contributor

Today’s shoppers take shopping journeys that bounce from online channels to physical stores and back, and the retail brand that can deliver a seamless, cross-channel shopping experience has a definitive competitive advantage.

Physical retailing can benefit from an online arm – whether that is your website, a mobile app, a third party site, or your own ecommerce store. Physical retailing might be your ‘hub’ but how can you use

the spoke a little better? Here is how to embrace omnichannel and online selling – be where your customers are.

Survey the field & use data insights

Not sure where you should invest next? Have a look around you and delve into your own data for retail insights.

  • What state of mind are customers in online and in-store? Are they in a hurry, or are they relaxed? State of mind will impact people’s buying habits and should be factored into store planning and design.
  • Go back to your buyer personas – analyze how people are using your shopping channels and why.
  • Refine shopping experiences based on persona and customer feedback – embrace technology if needed, but don’t go chasing after fads that don’t resonate with your audience.

Brand consistency & clever planning

Having more than one channel is about brand consistency. Think about the bigger picture – don’t let one channel fall behind in innovation. Plan for events across all channels, not just the one right in front of you.

  • Having a branded website and separate online shop used to be the way to go, but as technology advances, a more unified approach to e-tailing is emerging. Don’t dilute your brand by having loads of web environments – bring it all under one roof.
  • Use in-store tech like iPads to offer an integrated shopper experience – customers can pre-order in-store, or search for products that are out of stock.
  • Plan for big seasonal pushes as a brand. In-store, you may need to hire more staff or renew stock; online, you might need to fix 404s, update title tags or check your server response time.
  • Here is a recent National Retail Federation report on unified commerce in which 300 businesses share their struggles and triumphs.

Make sure offers & deals match up

There’s nothing worse than customers finding a deal online saying they can come claim a free gift in-store, only to come in-store and have the staff know nothing about it.

  • A joined-up data system is needed to mitigate any miscommunication. Everyone should be aware of offers and where they are being advertised. An online customer might call the store to check how to use a voucher or clarify eligibility.
  • Offers are time-specific. You will need to manage cut-off dates across different channels to ensure that they’re all joined up – kill a web page as soon as an offer ends and redirect any customers back to the home page or create a custom “this offer has ended” page.

Add value to a specific channel

It’s important to add value to a customer shopping in a specific channel, as well as provide a great brand experience.

  • Weigh things up from the customer’s point of view – why does online buying add value? Is it the convenience, or maybe the ability to get a good deal? What are customers looking for in-store? Use these insights to refine customer experience. Here are some ways you can create a great omnichannel customer experience.
  • There’s nothing wrong with offering exclusive online discounts or offers that only run in store – you just have to communicate those offers correctly.
  • Focus on building long-term relationships with consumers and encourage them to shop in a way that best suits them.

Collect customer data & serve effectively

Remove barriers between channels to offer a more seamless and consistent service anchored in customer data.

  • Ruthlessly segment out sales and customer data per channel. Use this sales data to help customers along their purchase journey. If a customer has given you key information about their purchase habits – use it wisely. Realize that customers will suddenly jump from being online to offline customers.
  • Match ‘online only’ data with the data you get off customers in store – encourage in-store customers to sign up for a company e-newsletter by offering them an incentive like a small free gift. Bring the online shopping experience to the retail environment.
  • Treat online customer service with the same respect you give your in-house customer service reps. Don’t leave it in the hand of a ‘bot’ if you don’t know what’s going on.

Bring it together on social

Social media is where customers find your brand no matter how and where they are buying.

  • Mix up in-store content with content aimed at a digital-only audience. Fun and personal stories work on social media – share the fact that one of your workers became a mom or that Bob from accounts just did a charity run.
  • No matter where people bought a product from, they care about your brand and what you are providing. Stay true to your brand.
  • Online reviews are a great social proof asset. Encourage reviews on your website, on search engines, on social media, and on any relevant third party websites.
  • Always listen to customers and respond to them on social media. An unhappy customer can quickly spiral out of control, so react fast and take any complaints offline or into a private chat.

Explore your options & try before you buy

Not embracing digital yet? There are plenty of ways you can get started.

  • Third party websites like Amazon and eBay can be attractive for retailers looking to earn extra revenue, but be wary of diluting your offering. Don’t put your whole stock on there – start with some high markup products you’re likely to get a big return from.
  • App development is a lot more affordable these days and a custom app can help you get a slice of the mobile selling market. If you do develop an app – make sure it adds value to your customers.
  • You can build an online store for free during a trial period to see whether ecommerce is something that will work for you.
  • You could start an online affiliate program and let other retailers sell your products for a small commission.

I hope you’ve got some ideas on how to manage omnichannel selling and how digital can add value to your retail business. Are you tempted to take the digital plunge? Tell us what you think is the best thing about omnichannel retail below.

About the writer:  Patrick Foster is an ecommerce entrepreneur, coach and writer, currently writing on where he shares engaging ecommerce content for entrepreneurs and business owners. Follow Patrick on Twitter, or add on LinkedIn.

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