Aligning the in-store experience with the online experience is a priority for every omnichannel retailer—at least, it should be. Consumers expect to be able to transition from online to in-store (and vice versa) seamlessly, receiving a consistent brand experience across both channels. They’re looking for convenience, instant gratification, and the best possible experience regardless of whether they’re in a store, online, or on a mobile device. If they don’t get what they want when they want it, they won’t hesitate to take their business to a retailer who can deliver the unified experiences they desire.
As an omnichannel retailer, there are several steps you can take to seamlessly integrate your in-store and online experience to attract, convert, and delight customers. Here are four of them:
1. Provide inventory availability
One of the keys to a fulfilling customer experience for today’s omnichannel shopper is having access to real-time product availability. Using a centralized retail order management system ensures that both shoppers and associates have the ability to view accurate inventory status for all products across the chain. Displaying this information on your website is especially critical for shoppers who engage in webrooming (the process of researching products online and then visiting a store to make a purchase). They expect retailers’ websites to show which products are out-of-stock in their physical stores. As a retailer, the last thing you want to do is frustrate a potential customer by indicating that a product is available in-store, only for him to find out when he arrives that it is sold out. That’s a sure-fire way to lose a customer for life, not to mention the additional damage that can be done when he shares his negative experience on social media.
2. Empower associates
Some of the things that attract consumers to online shopping—such as not having to wander around a store to locate an item, being able to quickly and easily find product information, and never having to stand in line to make a purchase—are the very things that cause friction in physical stores. You can give customers everything they love about the online shopping experience by empowering your store associates. When you arm them with mobile devices, store associates become brand ambassadors and trusted resources that can more effectively assist customers in-store. With your inventory at their fingertips, store associates can access the product information customers are seeking, enable the endless aisle by ordering out-of-stock items for in-store pickup or home delivery, and facilitate a fast and hassle-free mobile checkout so customers don’t have to wait in long lines.
3. Offer live chat
One of the things online shoppers miss about the in-store experience is the ability to interact with real people when they need assistance. Whether it’s to ask questions about a product or to solve a problem with their order, many consumers dislike the traditional ways of getting support when they’re shopping online. Email can be slow and impersonal, and phone support can be slow and frustrating when they have to navigate a complex IVR to reach an agent who can assist them. Live chat, on the other hand, makes the support experience quick and easy. Customers typically don’t have to wait as long to get help because most agents can handle several chat sessions at a time. Customers also benefit from being able to continue shopping while they’re chatting with an agent. Ultimately, live chat helps bridge the gap between the virtual and in-person experience by giving online shoppers a fast and convenient way to get all of their questions answered by a live representative without ever stepping foot in a store or picking up the phone.
4. Align promotions
The days of online-only coupons and in-store-only coupons are gone. As consumers increasingly start shopping on one channel and then finish on another, the necessity for synergized promotions has become paramount. Part of delivering a seamless and consistent omnichannel experience is making sure that all coupons, promotions, and other marketing campaigns are aligned. Consumers expect the discounts they see in an online promotion to be applicable in store as well (and vice versa). For example, the email promotion a customer opens on her smartphone advertising a 20 percent discount off her next order should be redeemable with a promo code on your eCommerce site, in addition to being valid when she’s checking out at one of your brick-and-mortar stores. Aligning your promotions across channels goes a long way towards building trust with customers, and ultimately results in greater sales and loyalty.
In today’s omnichannel retail world, providing an exceptional online experience or an outstanding in-store experience simply isn’t good enough. You have to do both. The retailers gaining market share are those that are finding innovative ways to blend all channels into one cohesive experience that truly meets consumers’ expectations. If you can streamline and integrate the shopping experience across channels, you’ll be well on your way to winning new customers and giving them a compelling reason to keep coming back.