A tool to pull customers close to you and keep them there
“Offering a compelling omnichannel experience used to be the bleeding edge of retail,” says a recent report from the research consultancy McKinsey. “Now it’s a requirement for survival.”
• Omnichannel shopping for fast-moving consumer goods rose by 50% in 2020 alone. (Source: Consumer research firm NielsenIQ.)
• The purchase rate for omnichannel marketing campaigns is 287% higher than single-channel campaigns. (Marketing automation company Omnisend.)
• More than 80% of consumers expect seamless omnichannel experiences when moving from one communication method to another, such as from phone to text to chat. (Cloud contact-center company NICE InContact.)
But what is omnichannel marketing?
It’s creating a seamless, consistent customer experience across all marketing channels. That sounds simple until you realize how many channels exist: websites, apps, emails, advertisements, social media, phone calls, in-person sales, text messages, and more.
Still, some companies have mastered the art. Here are three of the best, followed by some tips for turning your company omnichannel.
“Starbucks’s omnichannel e-commerce customer experience is legendary,” says digital marketing specialist Oleksii Kovalenko. “The brand’s rewards app is the reason behind it.”
In the Starbucks Rewards program, members receive a point, called a Star, for every dollar they spend. Accumulating 25 Stars or more earns rewards such as free salads, extra shots of coffee, or specially designed cups. The program includes a mobile app and a payment card for redeeming Stars.
Loyalty programs and reward points are nothing new, but “the difference is that the card is perfectly linked up to the mobile app, website and in-store experience,” says Patsy Nearkhou, marketing manager at the contact-center company Talkative. “When a customer makes a change to the card via one channel, it automatically and instantly updates across the other channels.” Users can see how many points they have and load the account “by means of smartphone, in-store, website, or through the app,” says Business2Community writer Yash Chawlani.
Not only does the program work through all Starbucks channels, it also offers all Starbucks services. On the app, “coffee enthusiasts can also make mobile orders, gift digital Starbucks cards, find stores near their location, and tip their baristas,” notes customer service expert Benedict Clark.
Or as the website Food News says, “Starbucks is known for its coffee and its relaxing ambience, but its omnichannel experience is just as idyllic, convenient (like a coffee to go), and free of frustration.”
“When it comes to omnichannel marketing, Disney has set the bar quite high,” says marketing consultant Shane Barker. “The experience of using their platform is consistent across all channels.” The experience is probably most consistent and smoothest at Walt Disney World (WDW).
The resort’s TV commercials and other promotions lead potential guests to a company website that Disney has optimized to fit mobile as well as stationary devices. The site leads guests to a vacation planning microsite, where they can reserve travel and hotel rooms.
Once they book a trip, the site gives guests access to My Disney Experience (MDE), a website and mobile app. MDE lets them make reservations at WDW restaurants, secure a Fast Pass to minimize waiting in line for rides, and set up other arrangements.
When the guests arrive at WDW, the MDE app can show them maps of the park (which include ride wait times) and places to meet Disney characters. The app also stores their hotel and travel reservations.
In addition, WDW offers the Magic Band, a device linked to the app. “Through this wristband,” says marketing automation writer John Desyllas, “visitors can unlock their hotel rooms, enter the various parks, order food, check in at FastPass entrances for rides, and connect to their Disney PhotoPass account.” (PhotoPass is a service in which Disney photographers take pictures of guests and upload them to the MDE app.)
In other words, Disney holds on to its customers no matter where they go or what they do.
In 2017, cosmetics retailer Sephora had a problem. “We should be fine with wherever the customer wants to shop, and our existing organization didn’t reflect that mindset,” said Mary Beth Laughton, who held the title of executive vice president of U.S. omni retail. Starting in October, “we brought in-store and digital under one roof, along with customer service.”
Uniting these functions helped to turn Sephora into an omnichannel powerhouse. In February 2021, Sephora announced that its omnichannel business saw record online sales. “Sephora makes many of the lists of best omnichannel marketing retailers because they blend the online and in-store experiences so well,” says Ankita Kaushik, marketing content manager of the customer-experience company MoEngage.
“At the core of that omnichannel retail experience was Sephora’s mobile app,” says digital marketing specialist Sam Molony. The app lets customers see new products, catch up with fashion news and trends, build a product wish list, watch video tutorials, explore product reviews and recommendations, and book in-person beauty consultations.
The app feature that attracts the most attention is Virtual Artist. It shows a customer how makeup or other products would look on her.
Sephora also offers Beauty Insider, a loyalty program that “links offers across email, web, and mobile to drive online and in-store purchases,” according to McKinsey. Beauty Insider includes My Beauty Bag, which tracks the customer’s purchases and the items on her wish list.
Once a customer picks a product in the app, she can order it through the app and pick it up in a store if she wants. Whether she goes there for pickup or just to browse, “the app uses location-based marketing to recognize when a consumer enters a Sephora store,” Molony says. “When that happens, the app gives the customer relevant information about the store, such as existing deals.” If a product in the store catches a customer’s eye, she can scan it with the app, which will give her facts and customer opinions about it.
In case a guest doesn’t have access to the app, the stores offer tablet computers that she can use to see her My Beauty Bag account. Meanwhile, Sephora salespeople can use in-store technology to look up her profile and suggest purchases.
Whether the customer uses the app, the stores, or other channels, Sephora connects it all, providing a consistent flow of information about Sephora to customers and information about customers to Sephora.
How to Omnichannel
The principles of omnichannel are the same whether you’re a tiny operation or a giant like Starbucks, Disney, or Sephora.
1. Gather data on your buyers.
Understanding buyers is the best way to attract them and keep them with you throughout the buying process. “Begin by actually walking through your brand channels yourself,” says Amazon.com, another master of omnichannel. “Scroll through your website, purchase a product, reach out to a chatbot, and try to put yourself in the shoppers’ shoes. Is the experience seamless? Were there any pain points? Did anything require too many steps?”
In addition, listen to your customers. Find the marketing channels that attract their attention and the types of information that they use to make buying decisions. You can get this data by sending customers a survey and engaging with them on social media. You can also ask your salespeople about the best way to appeal to them and use analytics tools to trace their journey through your website.
2. Turn buyer data into strategic plans.
As you gather facts and insights, start dividing buyers into personas. Some customers start the buying process by studying facts and figures on a seller’s website, others by exploring a product or service in person, and still others by asking peers about it on social media. Find every step that each buyer takes from then on, all the way to making a purchase.
Then determine how to reach each buyer at each step. “Mapping out this journey will help you determine what technology and personnel support your company needs to integrate your digital and live channels,” says Matt Lurie, a marketing specialist at the business-services company Ruby.
3. Create content.
“Once you know your customer, you want to connect your customer and your brand. And that’s through your content,” says entrepreneur and consultant Lucy Milanova. “You want to make their shopping life easy and enjoyable with you. You want to share information with them that is crucial and beneficial for them.”
The key to this content is consistency. Milanova explains, “The information across your channels should be unified. It should not happen that when a customer moves from one channel to another, such as from your website or an email to your social media, they’d find conflicting or inaccurate information.”
4. Set up your channels.
“It's essential to select the right channels, the ones your customers are using, via which you can afford to drive them to buy,” e-commerce expert Chloe Thomas tells Digital Mailroom.
Concentrate first on the most popular channels, like online self-service. “More than six in 10 U.S. consumers say that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-serve tool such as a website [or] mobile app,” says a summary of American Express’s Customer Service Barometer (CSB) report. A Frequently Asked Questions page on your website and app can be especially helpful.
Self-service is best for simple inquiries, “but as the complexity of the issue increases, such as with payment disputes or complaints, customers are more likely to seek out a face-to-face interaction … or a real person on the phone,” says the CSB summary. The customer-relationship firm SuperOffice adds that live chat can generate sales: “As customer support agents walk clients through a particular issue, they may be able to identify products or services that would be useful to them.”
Meanwhile, old-fashioned email remains wildly effective. As recently as November 2021, help-desk software company LiveAgent reported, “Sending emails still works, and it works very well. In fact, email wins as the most effective digital marketing strategy for customer retention.”
Text messaging, chatbots, mobile apps, in-store experiences, social media, and that old standby, the company website, are other important components of a multichannel strategy.
5. Test, measure, adapt, and improve.
Once your omnichannel effort is running, keep trying to make it better. As marketing consultant Shane Barker says, “Testing can help you figure out what is working for you and which tactics need to change. … The more you test, the better your chances of giving your audience exactly what they want.”
Three final notes
1. “Start slow and don't over-complicate it,” says ecommerce expert Branden Moskwa. “If you try to do too much at once, you run the very real risk of frustrating your loyal and prospective customers.”
2. When customers and others send letters or packages via postal mail, FedEx, UPS, or other carriers, have the contents digitized instantly so you can use it easily and instantly across all channels. If digitizing mail isn’t your specialty, Digital Mailroom can do the job for you.
3. “Just like any other piece of marketing, your omnichannel strategy should be constantly evolving,” Amazon says. “This will help optimize your creative, messaging, and budget to build long-term customer relationships and maximize your ROI.”