What customers want and what retailers are currently offering still isn’t matched up, even though as a business owner you do your best to meet their needs whenever and wherever you can.
As part of our new partnership with payment experts Square, we’ve surveyed thousands of shoppers and retailers to shed light on how we can connect the dots and make ecommerce a more seamless experience.
Modern consumer behavior has altered so drastically over the last few years that even in a healthy economy, retailers aren’t feeling the revenue benefits.
The data suggests that isn’t the case. Instead, deep discounts have obliterated margins, as has free shipping for even the Amazons of the world (no, it’s not even profitable for them).
What’s the solution? Getting smarter about sales channel strategies. See, our evolving understanding of consumers’ behavior now suggests that shoppers browse and buy on various channels, making the whole buying process a long and complicated one. For retailers, being there at all of those touch-points is known as omni-channel selling.
Few people are loyal to only one channel. Sure, price impacts conversion rates and abandoned carts, but so too do many other factors including the lack of a brick-and-mortar location, delivery lag and privacy concerns — 38% of rural shoppers said they were hesitant to shop online because of privacy concerns (from a survey conducted by BigCommerce and Square).
Of course, even with those issues at hand, more and more people are buying online in general — and doing it from wherever is the most convenient. Some are shopping from bed, in the bathroom, at work — no place is safe from our desire to hit the buy button.
The next question is, with more and more data about how consumer behavior is becoming more omnichannel — and where retail is trending — how will retailers alter their merchandising and channel strategies to better attract customers and provide that seamless omni-channel experience that is still much more consumer fantasy than reality?
Square’s survey of over 1,100 surveyed business owners revealed that only 40% sell on social media and 16% on Amazon — so clearly much more can be done to get in front of the omni-browsing customer.
We dove into consumer behavior research by surveying shoppers on what impacts the consumer buying process. Why do shoppers make purchases online? Why not?
For those who do choose to shop online, how integrated into their daily lives has ecommerce become (spoiler alert: very!).
There are many different models for online retailing: social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, and web-only stores such as Son of A Sailor. The one thing they all have in common? People. Customers. Folks who have a need and want to satisfy it.
The next wave of retail will be conquered by those who connect the dots from these various customer touch-points and provide a cohesive experience that delights shoppers — no matter where they interact with a brand.
With that, check out the following infographic on modern consumer behavior and a summary of the data below:
Consumer behavior is the massive push behind omnichannel strategy needs for brands. But this is still a relatively new concept — and not everyone is good at it at their first go around.
To help make sure that your brand is prepped and ready to dominate an omnichannel strategy to increase sales and your bottom line, we caught up with 31 experts who have done this before — either for their clients or their own brands.
Here’s their #1 piece of advice on going omnichannel.
Start with ONE channel and become the best at it, completely saturate it. Then and only then, move to a second one, maybe a third at the same time now that revenue is secured.
Pick the channels you know best, that you feel the most comfortable with. Wait until you’re established before venturing into selling methods that you need to adapt to.
Master your current channel before expanding to other channels. Add others one at a time, mastering them before moving on to more. It’s a slow process, but it leaves you in a much better position than someone who jumps into a bunch of channels all at once.
Today’s consumers engage with brands across so many different communication and sales channels that managers and marketers can find it tough to keep sight of the big picture. Especially when you’re aggressively diversifying in the name of growth, it’s super important to make sure you aren’t spending all of your time putting out fires and to pay attention to what’s happening holistically as well.
Take things one step at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed and start dropping balls.
Research the promise of each channel unto itself and adopt new ones incrementally. And build yourself a good dashboard that can give you an at-a-glance sense of which channels are performing the best at any given moment, so you can reallocate resources accordingly.
The key is to have a full understanding of which channel represents the most financial benefit to the business in absolute terms when a sale is made. You need to consider any cost that your business needs to spend to get your products into the hands of a happy consumer.
For example, it could be that fulfillment costs mean online sales have a lower final margin than in-store; but on the other hand, running the store represents significant overhead costs.
Consider also that different products (or sets of products) in your overall range might produce different financial results through the same channels; for example, bulky/heavy items are often best sold through a store/outlet, while you may be able to charge a price premium for a high-value, easily deliverable item through your website in exchange for the convenience of this channel.
Finally, remember the other aspects of the “value” that each channel can bring to your business.
These come in the form of marketing/brand value, and opportunities for generating and developing sales leads, as well as insight into customer behavior and likes/dislikes.
For example, you’ll notice that some omnichannel retailers maintain their online presence primarily to push buyers to their stores; in this context, the online channel “finds” and warms the sales leads up with a powerful marketing message, and ensures they come to a physical store to complete and close the pitch in a “fully immersive” retail environment.
For brands looking to grow using an omnichannel strategy I think it’s really important to think about everything from the perspective of a customer. I like to try to think of every touchpoint in the omnichannel approach as part of a longer story.
When thinking about omnichannel strategy, try to think of it as scripting the customer’s purchase story. Customers may have come to the site and then they saw retargeting ads, then they may have even seen your product referenced in an article online, and finally came back to the site again and purchased.
These are all things that happen, but I think it’s important to remember that each detail or touchpoint is part of a narrative that defines the customer’s view and trust of the brand.
I find it really useful to make an ideal customer journey sheet that outlines exactly how I imagine each type of customer interacting with the store (all the touchpoints) before making a purchase.
The most important thing is to match the message across all the channels and present a unique and consistent image to your customers.
You should start by creating an accurate measurement framework that makes it possible to track all the channels and estimate their contribution.
By tracking each channel accurately, it is possible to both concentrate on the best performing ones and to personalize customer experience accordingly.
You first have to look at the data you have to learn about your audience’s preferences.
Do they visit your website mostly from mobile devices?
Which channels are growing the fastest for you right now?
By prioritizing an omni-channel strategy this way, each new step is customer-centric and data-backed (rather than just making guesses and hoping it works).
When brands think about omnichannel marketing, they should always start with their target customer and audience in mind. Don’t just think about how to reach your audience through Facebook ads and Google ads, either.
Spend time thinking about the communities they’re a part of online. The Facebook groups they rely on for their news. The influencers they follow on Instagram. The podcasts they listen to while on their commute to work.
And be relentless at ensuring that you understand their motivations and the channels they use on a daily basis.
You should start by figuring out what’s working for you currently. Are you crushing it on Google Shopping? Maybe you should consider Amazon as your next channel since the two are very similar (product discovery via keywords, price, etc). Don’t go into any channel with the exact same strategy you had on the other channel – but DO use it as a guideline so you aren’t starting from scratch.
Every business must leverage principles, strategies and tactics to be successful. Before employing specific strategies and tactics, get clear on your principles.
In other words, your brand’s “Why?” and the hopes, dreams, fears and desires of your prospect.
This simple shift in focus will help establish your promise, position and big idea that are so critical to competing in today’s marketplace.
Each channel has different capabilities — some are good for strong sales, some for testing, some for unloading obsolete products.
Rarely will you find each channel is just another sales channel for equivalent purposes. It’s important to understand the relative role of each channel as part of your overall omnichannel strategy.
It’s easy to get distracted by the many channels that are available to you, but start simple by selling through eBay, Amazon and your own website. You can move on to further channels as soon as you understand more about your products and what sells.
It’s also important not to forget about traditional sales methods, like with a brick-and-mortar store, with BigCommerce’s Square integration, running an EPOS system within a shop or at a show and event is easy.
Just remember that not everything has to be listed everywhere.
Start where your ideal customers hang out most. Get into the minds of your customers, learn what their interests and social tendencies are, then show up there first.
Once you’ve established your brand in that channel, use that relationship and authority to bring people over to other channels.
Omnichannel is as much a mindset as a toolset.
A company can achieve dramatic, company-wide success with omnichannel retail. However, a successful omnichannel strategy starts with an innovative culture – one that focuses on how customers shop today, how they buy, and then makes that entire commerce experience seamless for them across all channels.
Know your customers and relentlessly pursue them based on your knowledge.
I think the trick is to find the channel that gives you the biggest results first and then stack on other channels once you’ve gained traction in your initial channels.
Alternatively, you could test multiple channels at once and find that first big lever.
In the case of most ecommerce, I find that first BIG channel to be Facebook. In terms of stacking, there are other no-brainer campaigns such as Google Shopping ads, branded search keywords, product based search keywords and display retargeting.
Being omni-channel is a goal that many retailers and ecommerce stores are pursuing, but only a few of them can achieve.
Where to start it?
Find out where customers interact with your brand and why. Are they researching products on tablet or mobile or desktop? Where are they buying them?
If you know why a certain customer is doing something through a certain channel (social, mobile, online, offline), you can send them more targeted and personalized offers and messages.
Be relevant and consistent, and try to focus on being mobile-ready, because sadly, only just a few players in the industry can accomplish this.
The omnichannel strategy varies a bit between brands that started out as brick-and-mortar looking to expand digitally and brands that started out as digital storefronts looking to expand to brick-and-mortar.
However, it’s important to think about how to make customers’ shopping experiences seamless in both cases because it could be a huge differentiator when it comes to sales, marketing and converting shoppers.
For example, brick-and-mortar stores can generate a significant competitive advantage by leveraging their retail touchpoints digitally through things like interactive catalogs, online ordering / in-store pick up, price checkers and much more.
Ultimately, the omnichannel strategy hinges on the concept that a seamless transition from online to offline, or vice versa, will generate more valuable customers as they’re able to experience a brand wherever they are.
Having more than one sales channel is critical to success in today’s ecommerce environment. We sell through several online marketplaces as well as our own site, and doing so helps us mitigate big changes to a specific channel that could negatively affect sales.
My advice would be to identify online marketplaces that have similar customer demographics to your own customers, and then find a feed manager software solution that can can easily pull from your site’s product database.
You’ve already done 85% of the work for your own site, including product descriptions, shipping weight data, etc. so leverage that work in order to get in front of other people’s customers as well.
Leverage your strengths. If you are a brick-and-mortar store, use your foot traffic to build an online audience.
Use hyper-local targeting to bring foot traffic to your store. You can then use what is working and expand your footprint gradually.
If you are online, you can develop local events to connect face-to-face with your customers. The experience changes greatly when you see your customers face-to-face.
Companies who want to maximize their revenue growth should start with their website and optimizing their site to generate leads organically. Then they should consider having their marketing tracking systems in place. This includes the marketing automation system and CRM.
These systems should be well connected so sales and marketing align well with one another.
We used social channels as tools to reach out to our customers after they have purchased our products. We also used social media channels to build awareness around the product. The strategy comprised of building separate accounts to address different parts of the funnel.
Don’t try to do it all at once. Start with one marketplace, learn it, optimize it and move on to the next one.
Each marketplace uses different nomenclature and has nuances in the selling process, so you’ll be overwhelmed if you try to expand to every channel at once.
As on online retailer, we obviously want to grow our primary brand which accounts for 90% of our revenue. One cornerstone to our success has been putting the customer first. We offer industry leading support but realize it doesn’t stop there.
Start by “listening” to the customers and work to enhance their experience. While we think it through from our perspective, we need to put on the customer’s shoes and view the shopping experience from their perspective.
Selling internationally, I can tell you firsthand that different cultures view experiences differently, so having international “symbols” (for lack of a better word) to help guide a customer through language barriers or ecommerce systems they might not be familiar with is something to be cognitive of.
We monitor demographics and traffic flow through the website and work to shorten the path from entry to product selection to checkout. And we do follow-ups on product reviews and shopping experience. Over the last 10 years we have tried Volusion, Pinnacle Cart, Magento, Shopify Plus and now this is our 3rd time with BigCommerce. We are able to build a better customer buying experience which translates into higher conversions.
Ask yourself if you have the man-power to maintain both a physical and online site. It is so important to have a dedicated “shop” person as well as someone handling and maintaining your online and social media presence.
You cannot do it alone.
Choose a software that will integrate inventory with your online store as well as your physical location. This is the most important aspect of having a dual presence.
The worst case scenario is selling the “last one” in shop only to find out that someone placed an online order for the exact item.
It happens more often than not. It costs you extra money, makes the online customer upset and causes stress and anxiety you don’t need. Go through the financial pros and cons of opening a physical location; building, rent, utilities, security, inventory, equipment, salary, marketing, taxes and time.
Set up a dashboard that pulls together the data from each of the channels you’re targeting. It’s somewhere between very difficult to impossible to effectively gauge the effectiveness of managing multiple channels simultaneously without a dashboard that can marry the data from your different channels.
Start with internal structure first. If you go for the gusto and don’t iron out your omnichannel system inventory syncs, supply chain management and make sure all systems talk downstream and upstream, you are not ready.
If you try to go ominchannel and you are not prepared internally, you will not give a seamless customer experience. You will fail. We did on our first launch and it hurt our brand. However, it was a great learning experience.
If you’ve already decided that omnichannel is right for your brand, then next step is strategy. Find the right advisors who can guide you through these ever-changing waters. The rest is hustle and faith.
Start with the free options. Create a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. account and start posting. If you have a visual product, create a Pinterest account.
Customers expect brands to be present and active on these channels, and some customers won’t trust a company who isn’t. Customers now are more educated than ever, and look at business reviews just as much as product reviews.
Some products are more social than others, while others are very search-specific (clothing vs. power tools, for example.) There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. You have to find how your customers find your products online, and make sure your website is there when they are looking to buy.
Omnichannel means selling through as many avenues as possible, and one of the first steps of that strategy is setting up shop on a marketplace like Amazon, Walmart, or eBay to reach a broad amount of consumers. That said, each marketplace will have its ups and downs that should be considered before hopping aboard.
Take your product, for instance. If it’s a unique, handmade item, Etsy, a marketplace for crafted goods, is a solid option. Or if you’re focused on dropshipping, you may want to try Amazon so you don’t have to worry as much about branding.
But other marketplaces — like Walmart, which requires merchants to have a high-order volume — might be unavailable until you grow.
If you’re ready to open up another channel for sales, it’s really important to remember this is a NEW channel so it needs its own unique marketing strategy!
Here’s a quick outline to kickstart your new channel strategy:
Define your ideal customer: Who is your target demographic for your new channel? For example, if you’re noticing a purchase pattern with a millennial age group, perhaps Instagram could be a good channel for you. If so, define who you will target on Instagram. You can gain insight into who a popular target demo would be by revisiting your buyer personas and coupling that with analysis of your purchase funnel — who is buying what? This is a good starting point.
Define your goals: Don’t go into a new channel with zero goals! Nailing down a goal prior to your new channel launch is crucial so you can measure your ROI. If the goal is email signups — define it. If the goal is increased sales of a particular product — define it. Outlining this at the beginning will save you a lot of headaches later down the road.
Define your acquisition funnel: Pencil out your acquisition funnel: attract, acquire, nurture, convert, and retain. Know what you’re going to do for each step.
Know your metrics & track (almost) everything from day one: You should begin tracking everything immediately so that you can start gathering data around your customer behavior. Making early changes in any step of your funnel that is low-performing can be a good pivot and re-route you to a successful omnichannel experience.
When you do omnichannel marketing, your customer journey is key because you need to know how all your channels can work together. Start by mapping your entire customer journey.
What happens after a potential customer has visited your website?
What are all the possible journeys they can take to become a paying customer?
Once you’ve mapped the entire customer journey, you can focus on creating a strategy where your channels support each other in converting people into customers.
For example, if your product is expensive, your potential customers will likely not make a purchase the first time they are introduced to it. This means you’ll have to target them continuously across channels with information that could answer any questions and eliminate the reservations they might have before purchasing.
On the other hand, if your product is cheaper, you can push sales more aggressively and more often.
It’s important to start by getting your first channel right. Once you’re on solid ground there you can start to adapt to a broader set by mapping out how your customers use each channel, what stage of the buyer’s journey they are in, and the role each channel plays in your sales process.
Then craft consistent, but varied messaging for each channel so that it feels like your brand without being redundant.
Tracey is the Director of Marketing at MarketerHire, the marketplace for fast-growth B2B and DTC brands looking for high-quality, pre-vetted freelance marketing talent. She is also the founder of Doris Sleep and was previously the Head of Marketing at Eterneva, both fast-growth DTC brands marketplaces like MarketerHire aim to help. Before that, she was the Global Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, where she launched the company’s first online conference (pre-pandemic, nonetheless!), wrote books on How to Sell on Amazon, and worked closely with both ecommerce entrepreneurs and executives at Fortune 1,000 companies to help them scale strategically and profitably. She is a fifth generation Texan, the granddaughter of a depression-era baby turned WWII fighter jet pilot turned self-made millionaire, and wifed up to the truest of heroes, a pediatric trauma nurse, who keeps any of Tracey’s own complaints about business, marketing, or just a seemingly lousy day in perspective.