Whilst the retail store could be viewed as only touching the surface when it comes to the customer experience, it does completely envelope and immerse the consumer in the brand experience and values as soon as they walk through the door.

But never before have customers been endowed with so many choices – not only who should they buy from but also by what channel.
But it’s much more than that – the worldwide web is now the window facilitating a for-ever more engaging and exciting interactive experience where the brand experience is relived and delivered via a screen. It’s bringing the brand into the customer’s home, into their own bricks and mortar, and into their lives. This is keeping retailers are on their toes to win business, opting for an omni-channel approach which appears to be the key to customer retention and consequently growth.

Brick and mortar stores will still be an important part of the customer experience, but the way customers are behaving on the path to purchase is radically changing. It’s all about all channels colliding to connect the entire shopping ecosystem and experience.

So what exactly do we mean by omni-channel? Omni-channel is a result of technology and an advanced consumer demanding to be the centre of the retail experience. It is very similar to, and an evolution of, multi-channel retailing, but concentrates more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels. It makes the customer the centre of the process, with the ability to act across all touch points. Retailers are meeting this challenge by installing specialised supply chain strategy software. It means connecting the entire organisation’s operations from logistics and the supply chain to IT systems and social networks to ensure each platform knows what the other is doing, monitors stock and communicates seamlessly. Heavy investment in all resources is required when preparing for an omni-channel presence. This combined with clear and strong lines of communication between the IT, marketing and sales teams to reduce the risk of confusion about goals and strategies is crucial to ensure a smooth transition.

Another important link in chain is data collection. Collecting data on the consumer’s behaviours and profiles provides valuable insights and a powerful tool to grow businesses today. Understanding the purchasing patterns, trends, preferences and getting underneath the consumer’s skin in what makes them tick is becoming critical to success. Consumers now expect a personalised interactive shopping experience – they want to be recognised and have their lives made easier by having someone remember their buying preferences.

Social is definitely part of an omni-retail shopping experience maximising on the peer-to-peer communication – the electronic equivalent of the good old word of mouth – which is one of the most effective ways to sell something. Retailers also use the social networks to test new products, increase their branding influence, sell online, rate products etc. and this in turn is driving a much higher brand loyalty rate – not forgetting the use of reviews where shoppers tend to trust the experiences of their peers more than brand advertisements. Customers can access this information while they shop and use it to help make purchasing decisions. Being able to read reviews and see detailed product information while shopping creates a comprehensive buying experience that can help drive sales.

And finally, as the keen weekend shoppers will be pleased to hear, stores are not about to disappear as they play an even more important role in the omni-channel retailing approach. They are a key differentiator, especially when all the retailers have gone mobile and they are a privileged point of personal contact. I share the sentiment of being a weekend shopper walking down the High Street with crisp carrier bag, proudly branded, in my hand. A place that we can escape to and immerse ourselves in – a world of brands we want to experience, touch, taste, smell, enjoy …… and be part of by whatever channel.