Omni-channel is a cross-channel content strategy that organizations use to improve their user experience and drive better relationships with their audience across points of contact. Rather than working in parallel, communication channels and their supporting resources are designed and orchestrated to cooperate. Omni-channel implies integration and orchestration of channels such that the experience of engagement across all the online channels someone chooses to use is as, or even more, efficient or pleasant than using single channels in isolation.
With supportive efforts geared towards greater sustainability, these changes have the potential to be part of a socio-economic rehabilitation that many people have been yearning for.
We are already seeing the popularization of low-key technologies and the mainstreaming of niche retail trends, many of which foster connectivity and mindfully remind us of our interdependence with nature. Some of these were already gaining traction before the outbreak whilst others were slightly less expected.
1. The come-back of local business
We have already seen several innovations to accommodate the changing demand. For example, UK-based Streetify is hoping its website and free app will connect consumers with local stores. Users of the app and website can even choose the street they wish to visit and can scroll left or right to “walk” up and down. They are shown virtual storefronts and can click on any store to enter its Streetify website. Shoppers can also use the app to create their own, personal “high streets,” where they choose their favourite shops. Their streets can be shared on social media, and shoppers can even follow celebrities, who can share their code to followers, allowing them to shop at the Streetify version of their favourite store.
Likewise, in the grocery world, roles could be reserved – with online fetchers supplying the basics and viewed as the community-supported agriculture services that deliver local goods at smaller scales.
Early signs of this initiative can already be found in Berlin. The Stay Home Club offers a delivery service through its online portal for many Berlin companies that sell fair trade or sustainable food products.
2. Stores ‘go dark’
As lockdown instructions and social distancing limit the number of customers inside physical stores, some brands are turning their locations into dark stores to fulfil delivery and pickup orders. Dark stores are large warehouses that can be used to facilitate “click-and-collect” services, with customers collecting items they have pre-ordered online. For example, Whole Foods recently converted stores in Los Angeles and New York to dark stores. Whilst the big supermarket chains have been investing in this for a while, COVID has inspired a similar movement across restaurants known as “ghost-kitchens”. These are food establishments that prepare meals solely for delivery. A popular example is Bowlila, which will be based out of the Colony ghost kitchen in West Los Angeles — together with 25 other kitchens and various brands providing delivery and pick up. Bowlila will also have an electric bicycle cart that will serve up its flavorful chickpea bowls from different locations across LA.
3. Virtual reality experiences for purchase
Whilst already gaining momentum pre-COVID, the pandemic was a catalyst to reinvigorate Virtual Reality (VR). From virtual malls to virtual hot baths and online clubbing, Spring wise has seen the field flooded with innovations during the past months. One New Zealand town has opened a virtual mall featuring local and regional businesses to allow people to shop while maintaining social distancing. It was designed to help local businesses grow their online profiles to help the business through the coronavirus lockdowns. More than that, it is New Zealand’s first virtual mall. Customers can choose to shop online by store or product type, and can purchase from several retailers using only one shopping cart.
4. Consumer convenience ‘picks up’
As many stores remain shut to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, the number of orders placed online and picked up at brick-and-mortar stores increased 208 per cent between April 01 and April 20 compared with a year ago, Curbside pickup trend was already well underway and is likely to accelerate over the next few years. For example, Starbucks announced it will close up to 400 company-operated traditional cafes in North America over the next year and plans to open 30 “convenience-led” stores where there will be no seating for customers inside.
5. Growing demand for supply chain transparency
In a post-COVID world, customers will be more conscious of where products are sourced from and retailers will need to be more transparent about their global supply chains. Likewise, inspired by the millions of manicure enthusiasts forced to hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic, Maggie Fu, a Shanghai-based make-up artist and beauty influencer, has created a stick-on, DIY manicure kit. Customers will require no previous skills to apply them.
7. Social e-commerce and harmonized shopping
Whilst social distancing was expected to feel “distant”, many have felt more connected than ever, as inboxes are flooded with invitations to online events. It started with Skype calls from friends and family and a couple of dozen texts from hyperactive messaging platforms. This slowly evolved into Instagram DMS trading home-made recipes and neighbours sharing tips and supplies over WhatsApp support groups. Now, V.R headsets even allow you to share experiences with a couple of strangers. This platform allows people to group up, and shop at a discount.
COVID 19 has made buying virtually more real than it has ever been and retailers have started looking at innovative ways of improving sales, such as providing virtual trial rooms and video-based sales calls. With this, the integration between offline and online retail is likely to grow further. Businesses are exploring integration strategies to enrich the customer value proposition and/or reduce costs. The focus is now on creating a unified shopping experience for customers across different marketing/sales channels. With COVID-19 changing the consumer sentiment and lifestyle, it has also hastened the adaptation of technology in this industry. Being online and having a robust backend isn’t optional anymore for any retailer. Every retailer is adopting digital ways at a much faster pace and is investing in technology to improve the quality of service. We expect this fast-paced digitalization to open new opportunities and drive change in the sector.
Technology will drive a revolution going forward and retailers must invest in tech infrastructure and work towards improving their facilities. From check-out free to touch-free shopping, merchandising to transactions, technology will accelerate the industry reducing physical interaction. Retailers should look at permanent technological innovation in the form of apps, automated replenishments, electronic rewards programs, crowd control measures, contactless shopping and touchless technology
‘Phygital’ spaces, a merger of physical and digital retail with the help of virtual reality and artificial intelligence is slowly entering the retail space in India and the trend is expected to grow further. Both online & physical stores are likely to embrace immersive technologies and intelligence to understand consumer psychology and requirements. We expect a better collaboration between landlords and tenants on data analytics as well, considering it’s the need of the hour.
The retail stores are here to stay, and apart from being just a point of sale for the brands, they will also serve as a platform to attract, engage and retain consumers. Retailers are looking at creating unique experiences for their customers and are looking for high-quality spaces, which are unfortunately low in supply.
Here are some of the Consumer behaviour/trends that have been studied across different organizations and put forward with detailed surveys and new terms coined/formed during the due course of time:
- Self-Servicing Has Become Commonplace – Convenience to customers has always been the prime agenda of all retailers — social distancing has accelerated the development of self-service models. BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store) and BOSS (buy-online-ship-to-store) gained increasing popularity amidst consumers. According to Adobe Analytics data, BOPIS orders (including curbside) increased 62% year over year from late February to March 21. Grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants aren’t the only ones adopting curbside pickups; other big brands that added this option include Kohl’s, Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
- Virtuality: The New Reality– Beyond BOPIS and BOSS, customers are now relying on AR & VR to try out glasses, clothing and even furniture. For instance, IKEA customers can explore kitchen interiors with VR. In the wake of the pandemic, customers now prefer to move more of the whole purchasing cycle online than we have ever seen before. Virtually every commodity and industry will need to be prepared to fulfil demand digitally. According to a recent Core sight report, consumer spending on reality technologies this year is projected to reach $7 billion and distribution and services spending on the technologies could reach $4.4 billion.
- Online Payments– Another major area where COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated development is helping customers move from offline to online payments (Apple Pay, PayPal, Venmo). Pre-COVID-19, online payments were a choice rather than a necessity. Post-COVID-19, digital and contactless payments have become mainstream. In response to retailers enabling as many forms of online payment as possible, consumers are embracing the convenience, and prefer the online mode of payment across channels, for big and small purchases. As we talk about online payments as a way of life, physical gifts will likely be replaced by digital gift cards and cash.
- Luxury vs. Necessity: Shift in Wallet-Share– The items consumers purchase have also shifted. In addition to the limited availability of goods due to closed stores and disruptions in the supply chain, there is also financial uncertainty and changes in pricing due to shifts in demand. The upshot is consumers have spent (and continue to spend) on necessities while abandoning their usual discretionary spending. At the same time, the pandemic has not been without its indulgences. With the increasing availability of access to luxury goods, EY also predicts that COVID-19 has led to the emergence of the Cautiously Extravagant — that 25% of consumers who will take advantage of access to certain goods they might not otherwise purchase. The challenge for retailers is assuring that the product is targeted at these consumers and is offered at a price that doesn’t go beyond their risk tolerance. Study says that 53% of consumers in their index would make their data available if it helped to monitor and track an infection cluster.
- Increasing Investments in Health– On the more essential end of the market, it’s no surprise that when a pandemic takes over the world, the first thing you would think about is your health and that of your loved ones. Out of the necessities that consumers are spending on, health products are taking up a huge share of wallet. From basic products like sanitisers to immunity boosters, the consumption of health-improvement and sanitary products are becoming a way of life. Germaphobia is not going away anytime soon, and with an improved sense of sanitation and hygiene, the demand for such products is unlikely to go down.
- Increasing Preference for Local Stores– With limited mobility and spend allocated to necessities, consumers have been relying on local stores for their day-to-day needs. Many are even making a conscious decision to shop local to contribute to their community’s well-being during this difficult time. With personalization, high levels of service, convenience and low pricing governing customer loyalty, it’s likely that consumers will stick around to small shops for their day-to-day needs as they develop relationships and experience greater levels of personalization.
- Changing Attitude towards Privacy– In the same EY survey, 53% of consumers in their index would make their data available if it helped to monitor and track an infection cluster. From customers guarding every piece of their data to them willingly sharing sensitive information like the location — COVID-19 has helped customers build trust in sharing data in a very short period. Over time, consumers will be more and more comfortable sharing their data with retailers if they trust it’s used responsibly, which would help retailers get to know their customers on a whole new level and personalize offers and promotions like never before.
- Low Tolerance for Errors– With many more options in the market catering to consumer needs (and local stores taking greater prominence than before), higher service standards have led to higher expectations. Unwilling to settle for anything but the best, customers are surrounded by ample alternatives to their needs as they gain access to more and more products. Errors like delayed deliveries, frequent out-of-stock notices or bad customer service are not on the table anymore. Retailers leveraging the opportunity to optimize pricing, promotions and inventory in real-time across their in-store and digital channels will continue to hold a majority of the market share, while the rest will compete for a small fraction of the market. How organizations will fare will depend on the choices they make.
Some strategies that organizations have implemented through this COVID period can be summarized as below:
1. Keeping in touch with customers online- History has shown that marketing or advertising during a crisis is crucial and companies that did not cut back ended up with greater sales. Stay on top of your customers and keep them interested. For instance, Nike made the premium version of its Nike Training Club app available for free. Because it is connected with Nike’s E-commerce store, online sales rose by 30% in China during the lockdown as more people do home workouts.
2. Considering innovative self-service solutions- Shoppers are limiting interactions with other human beings. Self-service solutions powered by AI, facial recognition, and infrared technology can make online and in-store experiences better for customers. To reduce support and service calls, introduce self-service tools on your website like chat-box. In physical stores, consider investing in contactless payments, smart tablets, digital kiosks, even robots. Even after the crisis, your customers will want more control over their shopping journey, whether online or offline. Technologies that promote self-service behaviour such as better product search tools can make shopping more intuitive, helping customers find and buy the items they want—faster and easier.
3. Exploring new ways to fulfil orders- COVID-19 retail trends have made BOPIS (buy-online pick-up in-store) and curbside pickup increasingly popular. According to Adobe Analytics, compared last year, orders placed online and picked up at stores grew by 208% from April 1st to 20th. As your customers stick to social distancing even after COVID-19, provide them with the convenient options of BOPIS and curbside pickup. One way to make up for unplanned and spontaneous purchases from in-store foot traffic is intelligent recommendations. For instance, you can improve the out-of-stock experience on your website or app, by suggesting visually similar products to unavailable items your customers are interested to buy.
4. Offering 100% visibility into inventory- An EIQ survey found another shift in consumer behaviour. People are becoming more thoughtful and deliberate as online pre-shopping activities have increased. Meal planning, price comparison, and reading product reviews. All of this impacts loyalty as shoppers consider product availability when deciding which store to buy from. Giving your customers full visibility into your products—availability and location—has never been more significant. This is especially true for customers who don’t want to linger in stores.
5. Preparing for Omni-channel retail- The ultimate goal. Meeting, engaging, and delighting customers wherever they are. While it has been on the radar for years, COVID-19 did encourage the acceleration of Omni-channel retail. It’s now a must. For 2020 and beyond, Bed, Bath & Beyond is investing around $250 million in Omni-channel operations. Another retailer scaling up digital investments is Levi’s. Not only to engage customers but also to streamline operations. They introduced 3D technology for sampling and design, eliminating the need for physical samples to sell to merchants. Begin small. Find out how your customers shop. Figure out ways to always be relevant for them. Then introduce tools that unify the whole shopping experience.
To conclude, online retailing is an effective idea since it’s an upcoming trend that has found its way into society. It helps control the extensive spread of such a deadly virus that has been claiming millions of lives across the world. Even post-COVID-19, the world will move towards technological advancements and will continue the Non-face-to-face buying of commodities and easy payment methods. Having explored this topic, it can be said that retailing has indeed created an impact on consumers to a great degree and will surely be a successful business concept in the forthcoming years.