E-commerce can benefit from omnichannel solutions.

Omnichannel commerce is about meeting your customers on the channels and platforms of their choice, with fast and smooth transactional experiences. It’s the expectation from consumers for how commerce will happen.

The challenge for retailers is that omnichannel commerce isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s different for every retailer, depending very much on their customer base as well as business model. So, how do you figure out what your approach should be? What do you need to take into consideration? Here are four pieces of advice.

LET DATA GUIDE YOU

Investing in qualitative data is imperative. This could include customer surveys. Spend time connecting with your online and in-store customers because they will have different mind-sets. Even walking around stores and talking to customers directly to see what brought them in. And of course, quantitative data analysis is also key in understanding customer needs and can help guide strategies.

Anita Andrews

Anita Andrews  Courtesy image.

For example, should you offer “buy online, return in store” to customers? A decision that would be best made when you know if your stores even have that many returns, or enough customers clamoring for them. This brings me to my next point.

THINK ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS CASE

A lot of times companies create customer experience strategies by ticking off boxes they’ve read other companies have in their strategy plans, jumping on board the bandwagon for every shiny new channel and platform that arises. Omnichannel success comes when it’s tied to how your business runs. For example, how much foot and online traffic you typically get and what you are selling could help guide the experience you offer your customers. For example, while “buy online, pick up in store” might work well for some merchants, but not for others or even for all categories of products.

MAKE FULFILLMENT SEAMLESS

No matter how connected and seamless your digital and in-store experience is, if you mess up fulfillment, you will fail the customer. And unfortunately, fulfillment is a problem area for many retailers, large and small. Here’s why: If you are going to offer buy-online, pick-up-in-store options, for example, you need to think about where your inventory sits, and how quickly can you get it to the store.

And, of course, you’ve got to be thinking about this from an effective margin perspective. Then there’s optimizing fulfillment for shipping costs — and many customers today expect they don’t have to pay shipping at all anymore. My advice is to conquer fulfillment, because once you’ve got that down, everything else just falls into place.

MASTER INVENTORY MANAGEMENT

Another thing to take into account when thinking through your omnichannel experience is what inventory to have available online versus in-store versus both. For example, if you are a retailer, you may choose to sell functional candles online, and high-end ones in-store, because the high-end ones can be elaborate, more expensive, and something that customers would prefer to look at and smell prior to buying.

On the other hand, having both in-store may not be an option due to space restrictions. There’s definitely an interplay you want to be cognizant of and plan around, between the online experience and the in-store experience, as well as business costs and operations. A best practice is to really understand what your customers are buying online versus what they are buying in-store — and why.

THE GIST

Today’s customers have high expectations as well as more options for where to make purchases. This means one little hiccup in your customer experience could determine whether or not the customer becomes a loyal shopper or not. Of course, companies have made it their priority to meet consumers where they are. But remember to understand your customers and their specific preferences.

Additionally, think about how your commerce strategy is set up, what the customer pain points are, then determine the processes and/or technology that can help improve the experience. Even if buy online, pick up in store is all the buzz in e-commerce, is it the right strategy for you? Remember that customer experience isn’t just about marketing, it spans all aspects of the buying process, whether online, in-store or both. In order to be truly omnichannel, all customer touch points must be operating smoothly, and make it simple for your customer to be your customer.

Anita Andrews is the director of Magento CX Strategy at Adobe.

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