Owning the Omnichannel Experience: Why Brands Need to Re-Engage Consumers on Their Own Digital Turf
Ever since lockdowns came to a close, brick-and-mortar sales have been going gangbusters. However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Long ago, we could have been comfortable assuming that the average in-store shopper experienced the bulk of their buying journey in the brick-and-mortar space itself — but those days are long behind us.
Over the past 15 years, the average number of customer touchpoints per sale has skyrocketed from just two in 2007, all the way to eight today. The customer journey is far more complex and multifaceted than ever before. And, perhaps most importantly, it seems to defy traditional ideas around the physical-digital divide.
Knowing how and where a customer ultimately transacts isn’t enough to tell us where the bulk of the customer journey took place. Today, over 81 percent of American consumers research products online before making purchases in-store. That percentage becomes even greater when looking exclusively at Gen Z and younger millennials.
Erasing the Physical-Digital Divide
This new, channel-fluid reality was reinforced by a recent report from McKinsey, which found that more than 22 percent of Americans have made omnichannel models — such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) or click-and-collect — a permanent facet of their regular shopping routine post-pandemic. The report goes on to suggest that among younger American consumers, these trends are far more than just a temporary side effect of lockdowns, but instead represent a fundamental shift in consumer psychology.
“Younger buyers are the most enthusiastic about new ways of shopping,” the report reads. “Most Gen Z consumers don’t even think in terms of traditional channel boundaries, our research shows, and they increasingly evaluate brands and retailers on the seamlessness of their experience.”
With omnichannel proving to be a reflection of a dramatically changing consumer culture, it’s no surprise that retailers are working overtime to bring its guiding principles to life in new and inventive ways.
A New Omnichannel Frontier: Bringing the Immersive In-Store Experience Online
Although the omnichannel imperative has been top of mind for many retailers for the past two years, thus far, most omnichannel efforts have been decidedly one directional — focusing almost entirely on bringing the convenience and efficiency of e-commerce to brick-and-mortar sales.
This has taken shape in a variety of ways, including the aforementioned rise of BOPIS and click-and-collect sales models; providing in-store inventory information on e-commerce listings (e.g., “6 units available in aisle 12 at your home location”); and using QR codes in-store for shoppers to access product details, reviews and other media from their mobile devices. These types of practices have gone from being virtually unheard of just a few years ago to standard operating procedures for most major American retailers today.
The inverse, however — bringing the advantages of in-store shopping to the digital world — has seen relatively little consideration (and even less investment). While content discovery platforms like TikTok and Instagram continue to drive digital engagement through increasingly sophisticated algorithms and immersive, interactive mediums, the average e-commerce website has seen little in the way of innovation over the past decade-and-a-half.
Even some of the most technologically progressive retailers in the industry still maintain e-commerce sites that are little more than virtual vending machines — a wall of static product images, descriptions and prices, with little to no interactivity, immersiveness, brand identity, or opportunity for engagement.
The Open Web, Not Walled Gardens, is Where Americans Shop
One of the greatest contributing factors behind the open web’s decades-long stagnation has been the outsized influence of social media’s walled gardens on the digital landscape. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have dominated the attention economy for so long that brands have left their own web properties to languish at the wayside, devoid of serious investment or development.
However, that now all appears to be changing. A recent survey of American Gen Z consumers found that the generation’s use of social media is in decline across nearly every major social platform — including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And while social media may have once dominated the attention economy, it’s never dominated the retail economy.
Despite concerted efforts from leading social media platforms, American consumers still overwhelmingly choose to transact on e-commerce sites on the open web — with over 96 percent of all U.S. e-commerce sales still happening outside the walled gardens of social media.
Now is the Time to Reinvest in Your Own Digital Turf
With the next generation of American consumers increasingly expecting a seamless omnichannel experience — and losing interest in the walled gardens of social media — it should come intuitively that it’s high time for brands to step up their investments in their virtual storefronts.
Rather than continue to grapple with the leaky funnel of social media platforms, brands should reinvest where consumers are comfortable and ready to transact — and where they maintain ownership over things like brand safety, customer experience and first-party user data.
Now that omnichannel has proven itself to be much more than just a buzzword, brands would be wise to ensure each of their channels reflect their brand identity faithfully — treating their web properties with the same kind of reverence and care that they’ve given to their brick-and-mortar establishments since Day 1.
Vincent Yang is the CEO of Firework, the global leader in humanizing the open web through the language of video.
Vincent Yang is the Co-founder and CEO of Firework, the world’s leading video commerce solution provider. Firework empowers innovative and exciting retailers, consumer brands, and publishers to build engaging, live video experiences on their owned and operated digital properties that bring new levels of authenticity and connection to their customers, and translate into meaningful business impact. The company has raised over $235 million in capital to date. Prior to Firework, Vincent was the Co-founder and CEO of Everstring, No. 1 in predictive analytics. He began his career as an Investment Banker at J.P. Morgan and Investor at Summit Partners.