What is also clear is that it is not the coronavirus itself that is the agent of change, but it rather has served as an accelerator of trends that were already underway, and which became ever more relevant during the prolonged period of lockdown.
Earlier this year, the Boston Consulting Group released a report that seems prophetic now in hindsight. Focusing on the retail sector it noted in the introduction that it is an industry that is undergoing a transformation before our very eyes, adding that that is a preview of what’s to come.
“More than a billion Internet users have gone mobile, changing profoundly how people buy and companies sell,” the BCG report continued. “As per-store sales decline, all legacy retailers will need to rethink the role of these brick and mortar assets, reassess their locations, and right-size them to meet changing consumer needs. The reevaluation may transform how many companies operate – and lead to massive changes in market share, the retailer landscape and commercial real estate.”
As consumers become more comfortable with buying online and on the go, they are, in the words of the BCG report, becoming “channel agnostic.”
“Shoppers don’t pick a channel with which to conduct their business,” the report stated. “Instead, they tend to use a mix of online and offline channels as thy move through the purchasing process, and may not even be aware.”
The catchphrase in the new retail environment – indeed the prerequisite to be able to serve the needs of the 21st century consumer – is omni-channel marketing.
INDIVIDUALIZING THE MARKETING MESSAGE
Omnichannel marketing is a discipline by which the message adjusts in a personalized way as your customer passes from online sales channel to online sales channel, and then into a physical store. This provides an individualized customer experience.
It is not simply a matter of marketing using a mix of offline and online channels, like a website and social media platforms, as many companies already do. That is commonly referred to a multichannel marketing, provides largely static messages across several channels, but without updating and personalizing with the customers’ needs.
While multichannel puts the brand at the center of the strategy, sending the same message out to customers on all channels, omnichannel marketing puts the customer at the center of the strategy. In the case of the latter the message changes and adapts to how the customer has interacted with other channels.
As the customer moves through their customer journey, the omnichannel automatically updates, so the next one offers a message that’s relevant to the customer at that specific point in time.
Omnichannel provides an individualized customer experience, adjusts the marketing message in a personalized way as your customer passes from online sales channel to online sales channel, and then into a physical store.
Imagine the following process. A prospective customer is a targeted by a paid-for Facebook or Instagram post, because the social media’s algorithm has decided she is inclined to favor a certain style of jewelry. The post directs her to a website where she is shown specific items of jewelry, and then asked to fill in a contact form. After that she receives an SMS or Whatsapp message from a nearby store, where she is invited to pay a visit by a flesh and blood salesperson. This is customer-focused omni-channel marketing at its most effective.
‘Now more than ever, merchants must merge their selling avenues to ensure they connect with consumers no matter where they land — whether it’s on social media, via their websites or in their stores,’ noted Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, of Retail Minded.
A PROLIFERATION OF SALES CHANNELS
“Consumers and retailers alike are rethinking what shopping looks like to them,” wrote Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, of Retail Minded, in an article published on the U.S. National Retail Federation’s website. “From interacting with store staff to engaging with inventory to strolling through stores to return policies, there is a lot to consider. Now more than ever, merchants must merge their selling avenues to ensure they connect with consumers no matter where they land — whether it’s on social media, via their websites or in their stores.”
“Keeping this in mind, I believe that stores looking to survive and even thrive amidst and post-COVID-19 should have seamless technology integrating all of their consumer touchpoints and selling avenues. This technology will help reveal where customers are originating from, when customers are leaving their sites, what customers are buying and, of course, what they are not’” she stated.
“This proliferation of sales channels is also leading to growing complexity,” BCG noted in its Retail 2020 report. “Besides traditional media outlets such as TV, print, billboards and catalogs, companies have in-store, online and mobile options to contend with. Mobile advertising alone offers a dizzying range of opportunities: messaging-based ads, web display ads, search ads, location-specific ads, and ads in games and applications. All these alternatives are offering opportunities to connect with consumers.”
“The challenge is figuring out how to use each channel most effectively, and how to reach shoppers at each stage of the marketing ‘funnel’ – attractions, conversion and retention,” the BCG report said.