Is omnichannel the future of commerce?

Today’s consumers shop across multiple channels and multiple devices. They may find something online and then head into the store to make the purchase.  Or conversely, they may be at a brick-and-mortar location, see a product they like but not in the correct size, and then pull out a phone to check inventory in your other branches and make the purchase.  Any number of scenarios like this exist but the most important aspect is that each of these channels are interconnected to provide a seamless experience and connected purchase journey.

Layering an ecommerce channel on your existing brick-and-mortar operation can seem daunting. While still in its infancy in Africa, ecommerce has gone through a period of exponential growth over the past couple of years. The numbers speak more to this: the average e-commerce spending per online shopper is projected to rise to €64 from €53 in 2017, Africa has the youngest population globally, a burgeoning middle class, increased internet connectivity, a boom in the use of mobile money and smartphone usage. 

Ecommerce will not cannibalize your brick-and-mortar retail operation. It is entirely possible for your retail stores to thrive in tandem with a profitable ecommerce channel. Consumer research has shown that the customer journey begins with the smartphone, as 76 percent of all consumers use their smartphone to look up a local store. Many retailers wrongly assume that ecommerce has been taking away orders from their retail stores, which is not at all the truth. In general, 67 percent of consumers actually research online across all devices -- computer, tablet and smartphone -- to buy offline, whereas 31 percent visit an offline store, later to buy online, according to a Google survey. 

It is essential that retailers create a seamless shopping experience across social media, smartphones, personal computers, etc., and brick-and-mortar stores, also known as an "omnichannel" strategy.

The changing face of commerce: 


An omnichannel strategy has immense benefits to your bottom line: businesses with robust omnichannel strategies achieve an impressive 91 percent greater annual customer retention rate, which means that 91 percent more customers return to shop, compared to companies without an omnichannel strategy, according to V12

Companies with extremely strong omnichannel customer engagement see a 9.5% year-over-year increase in annual revenue, compared to 3.4% for weak omnichannel companies. Similarly, strong omnichannel companies see a 7.5% year-over-year decrease in cost per contact, compared to a 0.2% year-over-year decrease for weak companies. 

Given these factors, it’s not too early to stop considering and referring to yourself as a brick-and-mortar retailer. The face of retail is changing, and with the rise of ecommerce in Africa, the entire company -- from management down through all business levels -- must understand that you are or are becoming an omnichannel company. Sales, marketing, logistics, etc., have to work hand-in-hand. 

Tracking the customer journey 

The days of the linear customer journey are gone. Today, it’s “dynamic, accessible and continuous,” as the customer moves fluidly among touchpoints. Retailers have to consider the entire ecosystem, how all the pieces fit together and how to move customers through that journey without friction.A smooth, convenient customer journey — even a dynamic, omnichannel one — converts.

Retailers today must deliver a more resonant brand, better shopping experience and great service to lead the competition. That means adapting to new consumer needs and behaviors and recalibrating your understanding of your target consumer — rethinking product assortment, sales channels, advertising channels and even messaging. Consistently doing this well gives you a better chance of weathering any unforeseen challenges. 

As with any successful business, being laser-focused on the customer is key. Having an omnichannel operation means that you as the merchant will have to create a seamless customer journey: offline to online and vice versa. Think of the customer experience in your stores: do you have staff on-hand to help answer product-related questions? Is the customer able to easily verify the availability of a product they wish to buy? In the case an item is out of stock, can your staff comfortably suggest an alternative or substitute? Is the customer able to pay for the product using their payment method of choice? Given that 90% of customers expect consistent interactions across channels, the very same questions will need to be asked when starting an ecommerce channel. 

Marketing 

Orders will not come without marketing directed to your online store. A huge differentiator when it comes to rolling out marketing for an omnichannel strategy is personalization based on the customer data you have on hand. That's how the best omnichannel retailers win customers. It's rooted in consumer behaviour; fragmented, hopping from device-to-device, and channel-to-channel. 

Statistics show SMS open rates are as high as 98%, and that’s higher than any other marketing channel. 89% of customers use their mobile phones while shopping. Using the customer data you have, segment your clients for targeted promotions. Send bulk messages for general sales and promotions that anyone anywhere could take advantage of.Targeted emails often perform with amazing customer conversion rates in the range of 10-15% and sometimes even up to 25-30%. 

Website-only customer conversion rates typically are in the range of 3-5%. A personalized marketing strategy also can help bring customers to your local stores, as you can alert them to relevant offers, events, news and much more when they take place in a store close to the customer. The options are many when you combine your online and offline marketing strategy in this way. 

Delivery: 

The methods of delivery most suitable for your omnichannel company are very much based on your business, sales and marketing setup. Some of the most successful omnichannel companies consider shipping a marketing cost. Offering free, fast delivery is one of the most effective ways to convert and retain customers. You can offer free delivery to all customers who make a purchase exceeding a certain amount of money, and free delivery to customers who have joined your membership program, for example.

Buying online, pick up in store (BOPIS) is another popular method that you can offer customers who perhaps are price-sensitive.This is an excellent setup, as research reveals that customers tend to buy more products in retail stores when they pick up their online orders.If your retail stores have enough products in stock, you should always offer same-day and free pick up in stores for orders placed before noon, for example. 

If your business is ready to outsource fulfillment, a third-party logistics (3PL) provider can help. Partnering with a 3PL can increase your AOV by 97%, save your business 120 hours per week, and multiply your order volume 30% YoY, freeing up resources to focus instead on product development, marketing, and business growth. Not every 3PL is going to be the best fit for your business, but the right 3PL should have the technology, infrastructure, support, and expertise to help you grow your business, no matter what stage of growth you’re in and what challenges come your way.


Our takeaways

Retailers will need a comprehensive, up-to-date omnichannel strategy that considers how consumer needs and behaviors have changed and recalibrates their understanding of their target customers. That strategy should guide the business to:

 a) Deliver a positive end-to-end digital experience wherever your customers buy — including your website, marketplaces and social channels.

 b) Think bigger than just sales channels and marketing to encompass back-office operations and fulfillment 

c) Collect data to determine how needs and behaviors change over time. 

Traffic to your online store and subsequent sales will be small to begin with but over time they will grow. When trying to figure out how to assess progress, businesses will naturally draw comparisons and conclusions. You’re probably wondering how we could do that with ecommerce in Africa, where online proof points are currently in the making! When talking about a market getting comfortable shopping online, we find a similar draw in Kenya’s M-Pesa’s adoption curve. Research found that mass adoption happened between 2007-2014, 7 years! Ecommerce should have a faster adoption, but the players who practice patience, adapt quickly, and have the ability to iterate will win.That’s all to say success doesn’t happen overnight but NUMI is by your side and we’re here to help you grow. 




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