How Retailers Can Apply the Lessons of COVID-19 for an Omnichannel Future
Unsurprisingly, retailers saw a shift in consumer shopping behaviors in 2020. Stores experienced a dip in foot traffic as consumers adopted more online and hybrid shopping behaviors. Now, as customers make a return to in-store shopping, retailers will need to focus on new omnichannel business models that retain the elements of convenience that customers have become accustomed to.
Today, consumers are relying on fast and convenient shopping models like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS); home delivery; and contactless purchasing to obtain the goods they need. Similarly, evidence suggests that tomorrow’s consumers will be more focused on "channel-agnostic" buying journeys. Instead of focusing on specific channels to research and purchase goods, customers will now use the channels they prefer most for each step of their buying journey, expecting retailers to accommodate their needs regardless of how they engage.
For example, it’s not uncommon for customers to step into a grocery store with the intent of filling up a shopping cart, only to research promotions, prices and nutrition facts on their smartphones. Similarly, some customers may conduct online research at home before heading to a store, or they may enter a store to browse products before buying online.
Retailers that intend to capitalize on omnichannel shopping habits must align their marketing strategies to build better experiences for this new breed of omnichannel and channel-agnostic customers. Traditionally, marketing strategies have been broken into separate silos for shopper, e-commerce and brand marketing. But now, retailers have an opportunity to capitalize on this shift in habits by integrating their marketing and designing a truly omnichannel shopping experience that provides consumers with the same value and convenience regardless of which channels they use.
Retail tactics such as "click to cart," for example, can help make the purchasing journey more frictionless. In particular, click to cart could help retailers funnel more purchases through their e-commerce platforms by streamlining the digital path to purchase by adding a single item or multiple SKUs to an online shopping cart with a single click. Similarly, contactless payment technologies make in-store purchases more streamlined while location-based advertising drives consumers in-store and delivers personalized promotions.
Moving forward, however, the challenge for retailers won’t just be to balance their in-store and digital strategies to support consumers' shifting buying behaviors. Instead, they must create an end-to-end marketing strategy that bridges the online and in-store shopping experiences. This has been an elusive concept for many retailers in the past, but many of the technologies and strategies emerging in the post-COVID-19 landscape hold promise.
Retailers could look to create dedicated spaces in their stores devoted to pickup and home delivery. Those that are successful with this strategy could become much more competitive in the e-commerce space while also maintaining their local footprints. Alternatively, retailers could leverage their stores as edge warehouses for home deliveries and launch location-based mobile promotions, discounts and advertising to bridge their online and in-store shopping experience.
All of these strategies are indicative of the hybrid, omnichannel shopping model that many retailers are now pursuing. Although some retailers believe business models like home delivery, BOPIS, and others are temporary solutions for an unprecedented time, their competitors may be gaining an edge on them. Consumer shopping behavior has shifted to a point that it may never return to “normal,” and retailers that have deployed the infrastructure to support their customers are likely to reap the rewards in the coming years.
Gil Larsen is the vice president of the Americas for Blis, the global leader of location data technology.