Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation, and shifting customer expectations, figuring out what shoppers want has never been harder. With the holiday season approaching, retailers will need to be extra meticulous with their selling strategies to truly meet their customers where they are.
Surveys indicating increased online shopping are at odds with reports of an expected uptick in physical store visits this season. New research from Wunderkind suggests that over two-thirds of US customers plan to shop online for their holiday gifts; however, Bluedot’s survey found that consumers ranked in-store shopping as the top retail method for 2022.
Either way, customers are looking for discounts and deals, hoping to save money during a time when high price tags on everything from grocery shopping to gifts are looming.
While we may not have a true idea of which channel has the upper hand this holiday season, the real question is, what can brands do to satisfy all of their customers?
The answer can be found in omnichannel retail. Instead of focusing on whether customers prefer online shopping vs in-store shopping, online merchants can help provide the best of both worlds.
Though there are advantages to both online and offline retail, an omnichannel approach allows brands the opportunity to reach (and delight) more customers. This blog is going to explore the pros and cons of online vs. offline during the holidays – and why omnichannel retailers have a definite edge.
There’s nothing quite like an in-store shopping experience. It can feel as though the store is designed just for you, with a nice path for your shopping journey; whereas online shopping can feel a bit overwhelming with all the products and pages to flip through.
While interaction with products is always a plus, there’s still the commute and overall time and energy to take into account when going to a shop. For those on a tight schedule, or with little desire to see other humans, online shopping could be more promising.
Apart from less gas spent on traveling and the ability to shop in our pajamas, there are plenty of benefits for consumers who choose to do their shopping online. Whether they’re looking to save time, money, or both, online shopping offers instant gratification and almost unlimited time to browse.
The biggest disadvantage of shopping online comes from being physically removed from the product and the store. The results? Online retailers will need to work harder to build customer relationships and deliver a seamless experience.
An omnichannel fulfillment strategy is when retailers have the flexibility to sell their inventory through multiple channels. No matter what channel the customer has purchased from, an omnichannel fulfillment strategy streamlines the journey by processing all inventory in one system across all channels.
The results? A faster, more satisfying customer experience. Don’t believe us? A study by Bazaarvoice found that almost three-quarters of customers prefer hybrid retail over shopping wholly online or in-store – particularly a favorite among younger generations.
So, what’s the big deal about omnichannel fulfillment? Why do customers love it? Simply put, omnichannel fulfillment gives consumers multiple options to choose from – meaning they have more control over the experience they want.
For example, if a customer needs a product on the same day as they order it, an apparel brand with an omnichannel fulfillment strategy could offer that customer the ability to pick up their new purchase in-store, rather than waiting for shipping.
‘Buy online, pick up in store’ is an online to offline shopping strategy where customers can cut the inevitable waiting period between purchase and delivery almost completely out of their buying journey. Instead of choosing a shipping option with an estimated delivery date, customers opting for BOPIS can drive to their chosen store within a few hours to pick up their purchase.
Online to offline shopping doesn’t just include the shopping journey – it also comes into play within the post-purchase experience as well. If a brand has physical stores as well as an online presence, they may be able to offer in-store returns for online purchases.
This means a consumer can purchase a product online, and if they find it doesn’t fit well or isn’t what they were looking for, they can bring it directly to the store to return. No return labels, no mailers – just a simple drop off at the store.
In this highly digital age, reviews are everything. A customer might be researching and reviewing a brand’s products for days (or weeks!) before they actually decide to make a purchase. If they’re headed to do some in-person shopping, they’ve likely already spent a decent amount of time on the brand’s website, social media pages, or review pages.
Retailers can take advantage of this consumer behavior by ensuring a consistent brand experience from their online to in-person environment, or even incorporating discounts and flash sales that customers might receive online (pop-ups on their site or newsletters) to use in store.
Did you know that worldwide consumers use social media on average about 147 minutes per day? Social commerce is the epitome of meeting consumers where they are – scrolling through social channels with their mobile devices.
Social commerce, also known as social shopping, is an omnichannel selling strategy where customers can purchase products directly through their favorite brands’ social media channels. Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have all implemented digital storefront options which give brands the opportunity to showcase their products for sale in-app.
In recent times of supply chain woes, brick-and-mortar shoppers seem to be playing a game of luck when they visit a store. Will their favorite type of shampoo be available today? Will the shelves be stocked… or barren?
Brands who have both in store shopping and online shopping could potentially qualm some of those worries with the simple trick of inventory visibility. Showing inventory levels of physical locations gives consumers the opportunity to jump in their car and grab an item before it’s completely out of stock.
It wouldn’t be wise for a digitally-native brand to completely ditch their site and push their customers to shop in-store. Ultimately, your selling channels should meet your audiences where they already are. If you have a lot of sales coming from mobile devices, it may be time to look into social commerce, or at least optimize your website for mobile selling. Let the data drive your decisions for which channels to focus on… and choose wisely!
Your e-commerce technology plays a huge role in a killer omnichannel fulfillment strategy. If your WMS isn’t able to seamlessly integrate with your online site, your brand may be missing out on some valuable real-time order data and inventory visibility that drives a great omnichannel experience. Make sure your WMS and supporting platforms utilize the API economy to ensure automatic, to-the-minute updates.
Customer success should be the same for every channel. Whether your audience shops online or prefers brick-and-mortar stores, your support team should be well equipped to meet the needs of your customers both in-person and online. For retailers, this means having consistent customer support like chatbots or live messaging online is just as important as ensuring store associates are ready to lend a helping hand.
An omnichannel fulfillment strategy has an incredible number of moving parts. To ensure the best customer experience every time, brands may find it beneficial to partner with an experienced omnichannel 3PL who has not only industry knowledge, but also scalable fulfillment technology. Partnering with a logistics provider can ease some of the complexity of omnichannel fulfillment, leading to an overall smoother operation for brands and consumers alike.
The question is no longer in-store vs online shopping. Instead, it’s ‘where are my customers?’
It may seem like a simple question, but it’s actually quite difficult to predict exactly where your customers will be this holiday season... which means it would be highly irresponsible to put all of your eggs into one basket.
Opting to go the omnichannel route is the safest bet for retailers, no matter the vertical, as it gives customers the best of both worlds: online and offline.