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GUEST COMMENT How retailers and brands are embracing omnichannel post-pandemic

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Retailers and brands are pulling down the barriers between their channels to reach and wow the post-pandemic customer, says Samuel Cane, MD UK at Astound Commerce.

Despite a transformation in the way many consumers now shop, the boost that benefited many brands during the pandemic has not always been sustained as the world slowly returns to normal. For some brands, shifted demand and delivery preferences have held up very well, while for others, demand has fallen back dramatically, a fall that has been reflected in some very sharp drops in their share prices.

However, change clearly remains in the air. In a report called unPredictions by Emarsys in the US, 33% of consumers said they want to be thoughtful and take more time to consider the purchases they make. 21% put an emphasis on sustainability, and want to shop more ethically. The same percentage wanted to buy less, while 19% were planning to invest in higher-quality items that last longer.

Clearly, a better understanding of what is happening and a more realistic view of what is coming will be important for any brand that is trying to make the best decisions on a whole raft of things, notably channel mix, delivery options and tech investment.

How brands communicate with their customers online will be more important than ever as consumer demand for agile, personalised, integrated and immersive experiences, which was a trend well before the pandemic, has now risen to a fever pitchin some cases. For instance, where the cutting edge in fast delivery was once 30 minutes, now we are down to 10 minutes following the rapid rise of a new generation of Q-commerce companies.

This demand is driving hybrid retail models, where several channels may be involved to fulfil a single order and will even overlap, but where the digital elements are becoming a much greater part of the whole. A classic example of this is showrooming, where goods are available to see and touch in store but the order is fulfilled online; or where customers log in to the store on a livestream to watch a sales associate demonstrate a product through their device and then move seamlessly to ordering and payment. Similarly, Just Walk Out retail such as Amazon Go offers a physical retail experience that relies on effective online transaction processing, communications and payments.

IBM supports this view in its study Consumers Want It All. Of 19,000 consumers, 72% said they use the store as all or part of their primary purchase method, but 27% said hybrid shopping was their method of choice. Where two years ago these scenarios seemed like a view of the future, they are now, if not quite business as usual, increasingly on brands’ roadmaps. These scenarios also neatly resolve the debate over the offline/online balance, as we can see that bricks and clicks are complementary. Brands such as Ralph Lauren are embracing this outlook. At NRF this year, Patrice Louvet, president and CEO of Ralph Lauren, said, “We live in an omnichannel world. We need to be wherever the customer expects us to be, and we need to be there in a way that supports the brand.” He went as far as to say that the company was looking at the possibilities of the metaverse, noting, “We are in the dream business. There’s a great consistency between our philosophy and what the metaverse brings.”

Brands and retailers are clearly moving on the opportunities that new consumer behaviours are creating. The Edge Retail Survey found that more than 8 in 10 retail and D2C brands it spoke to in the US are already undertaking major digital transformations to improve operations, customer service, and shopping experiences. 47% are investing in online and in-store technology as part of integrated, omnichannel solutions.

One example of where they are investing is livestreaming, used by brands to showcase limited-edition releases and for personal shopping appointments. Already big in China and now growing in popularity in the West, one in six consumers has already used livestream shopping, according to Coresight Research, and 41% of US livestream viewers are watching more than once a month.

Removing the walls that currently separate channels is the first step and will be a recurring theme for 2022, but there is more value to be gained there. Interactions across these channels is throwing up volumes of data that can be used to start delivering on an old promise – personalising the experience from initial search through purchase to fulfilment and to returns. At this level, brands are in the perfect position, in terms of insight and customer relationship, to offer on-demand production, or products designed and built just for one customer.


Samuel Cane, MD UK at Astound Commerce

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