Omni-channel is giving your customers the ability to communicate with you and make a purchase through multiple channels both online and offline. Some definitions of omnichannel are focused on just communicating or distributing content through multiple channels. For a complete omnichannel retail experience, it is necessary to not only be active and communicate with customers wherever they are; you also need to enable them to make a purchase. This does not mean that you need to be on every online and offline channel possible. It simply means that you need to understand where your customers are and make sure that you are there when they are ready to make a purchase. Small retailers might not have the resources to utilize a variety of channels. That is why they should focus on important channels where they can make the proper time and capital investment.
The easiest way to know where your customers are active is to simply ask them. Each channel has benefits and challenges, as well as varying levels of functionality. Here are the challenges and opportunities presented by some of the key online and offline channels. I am going to stay away from online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, etc., as they require a completely different strategy and are not conducive to community-focused strategies.
- Local Market: Weekend markets or farmers’ markets are a great way to get in front of your local community. Every market is different and will not work for every retailer. It is a way to go where your customers are instead of waiting for your customers to come to you. Offline markets allow you to engage and get to know your customers in a more casual environment and build great relationships. The challenge is the time investment, displaying at a market is usually seasonal or yearly.
- Pop-up Shop: Pop-ups are great for trying out a new location or a new idea. They require a large time and capital investment but will allow you to try new things without making long-term commitments. Leveraging local knowledge, networks and marketing will directly benefit your local pop-up shop and create buzz for potential customers.
- Events / Conferences: Exhibiting at an industry or product-focused event is a way to expose your business to the local community without committing too much time or resources to any given channel. Events can be either free or paid and will require a limited amount of prep time. Try meetup.com or do some simple Google searches for relevant results events.
- Website: It is a given that every store should have a website, but many retailers are not selling their products online. Platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce & Woocommerce allow you to build a plug and play e-commerce website with all of the bells and whistles with minimal effort. The good thing about these platforms is that they have all of the functionality that you want. The downside is that they may not have the design template that meets your vision. It also requires additional capital and time investments for shipping and additional customization of the customer experience.
- Mobile App: Building a mobile app can make sure that you are truly connected with your customers. Apps are great because most e-commerce platforms come with mobile websites but do not create mobile apps. Working with companies that offer rewards, marketplaces or payments via mobile might be the better fit for getting into customers’ mobile devices.
- Facebook: Facebook is usually a must-have for retailers. Not only is it required that you have a Facebook page to effectively advertise using the platform, they offer merchant accounts, checkout, and payments from within Facebook. Facebook is powerful because of the ability to build a community as well as market directly to targeted communities within the platform.
- Instagram: Instagram is traditionally associated with visual communication with online communities. Until recently the business functionality has been limited to advertising and analytics. Instagram recently launched online payments. You can now click on products within the image feed which takes you through the buying process. Instagram is arguably the best way to build a community that is engaged enough to communicate with you. It is now a great channel to sell directly to that community.
- Twitter: Twitter is still mainly a communication channel to engage with interested customers. It is the most direct way to interact with individuals that are not on your email list. You can position advertisements but there is no ability to sell products on Twitter at this time.
- Pinterest: Pinterest started as a visual way to share and store ideas. The platform is similar to Instagram in that everything is posted based on its visual impact. Unlike most other platforms, it has a very powerful search functionality. Pinterest also enables sellers to sell products via the mobile app. This is a great way to position your products using great images which can lead to a sale. The challenge is that creating great images is an art in itself. Simply posting pictures of your product will not lead to conversions.
- YouTube: YouTube is the second most active search engine behind Google Search. Having a YouTube channel with active content is a must for being found by and connecting with customers. Despite the enormous amount of content already on YouTube, there is always an opportunity to present your offering and values from your perspective. YouTube does not have the ability to sell products on the platforms, but you can very easily link videos to products on your website through the business functionality.
- Messenger Apps: Messenger apps like Facebook and Whatsapp facilitate both customer communication and payment. The bad news is that there are many different apps out there. The good news is that most consumers have chosen the app or apps they are using and will likely stick with them for the foreseeable future.
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