As if it couldn’t get any worse for bricks-and-mortar retailers, 2021 opened with yet another challenge: wintery weather. In the first four weeks of January, adverse conditions reduced consumer footfall by 78 percent year-on-year, according to research from the BRC-ShopperTrak. Whilst this shows that the UK government guidelines have worked, and people are staying at home, it’s been an additional blow for the physical retail sector.
Set against the backdrop of the struggle facing bricks-and-mortar stores, a more positive story has emerged. A number of brands and retailers have been enjoying the lucrative benefits of servicing an audience who have been driven to online shopping. Homeware brand Dunelm has seen an online sales boom of 111 percent; online UK grocery sales hit a record £1.4bn in January, doubling its share of total grocery sales; and coffee house chain Caffè Nero is continuing to diversify its routes-to-market, launching its products on Amazon. In addition to this, we’ve seen e-commerce players like UK-based fast-fashion firm boohoo step in to mop up the remaining Arcadia brands, which have struggled to compete online; and ASOS, which has bought high street brands Topshop, Topman, and Miss Selfridge, and transformed them into online-only labels.
The new retail ‘normal’
What the current retail landscape and legacy of the 2020 pandemic’s ‘stay at home’ slogan has given us, is resilient brands that have adapted to deliver a strategic, multichannel approach, allowing them to emerge in a stronger position for the future. We call this approach, omnichannel: providing shoppers with a unified experience across all customer touchpoints. When omnichannel marketing is done effectively, consumers can move from channel-to-channel, device-to-device, or person-to-chatbot, seamlessly. And they can do so because the marketing team behind the brand provides them with one connected, shared ecosystem. This helps build the brand-customer relationship, improves the overall buying experience, and encourages brand loyalty.
Whilst the concept has been about for some time, omnichannel is the retail buzzword for 2021. No matter what happens on the high street, we will continue to see the growth and evolution of digital retail. And for marketers to achieve an omnichannel strategy that supports consistency, accuracy, agility, and relevance, they must consider these five points:
- Strategy. Marketers need to create a detailed plan that can be shared across the whole brand. This should include measurable targets and deliverables for every department involved, helping teams and individuals better understand the purpose of the program, and where to focus efforts and resources.
- Control. A key ingredient to providing customers with a unified brand experience is having a consistent look, feel, and voice across your digital channels. By taking control and developing brand guidelines, teams know exactly how they can and cannot leverage brand visuals and content.
- Crawl, walk, run. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same goes for an ambitious omnichannel marketing strategy. Start small: identify a specific customer need, such as a more seamless checkout experience, and develop a project around it. Then move on to the next need.
- Data. With one in every four people now expected to shop online, the amount of data that retailers are able to gather and use from these engagements is huge. There is therefore little excuse for irrelevant advertising if data is leveraged accurately, or for low stock levels to not be communicated. Marketers can use data to understand which message and materials to deliver at what time and personalise product recommendations by understanding the products that customers care about. And by sharing this data across the brand, every team can be equipped, whether that is to have relevant, more informed customer engagements, or insight into stock levels.
- Workflows. For smoother operations, keep in mind all the people, processes, and technologies that are currently involved in helping deliver a more unified customer experience. A brand will get more out of its omnichannel marketing by evaluating which creative and marketing workflows are working, and those which are not. It can do this by putting a game plan in place, to help streamline inefficiencies and foster collaboration.
Omnichannel marketing at scale
Regardless of a retailer’s size, when it comes to omnichannel marketing, it is important to consider how marketing technology (known as martech) choices can provide a “central source of truth.” This is what ties strategy, control, data, etc. together. A brand or retailer needs to ensure that everyone in their organisation has access to the information, data, and assets needed to deliver a consistent, relevant, unified brand experience across every single customer touchpoint. It is what then fuels workflow efficiencies and team agility — and an omnichannel experience.
A central source of truth also enables flexibility and scalability. For example, Caffè Nero’s move to selling its products on Amazon, and boohoo, with a rapidly expanding product portfolio that includes thousands of new digital assets, all require central-source-of-truth technologies to manage content. But what are these marketing technologies?
Digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) software
DAM software is a library for a brand’s digital assets, like product images, videos, and logos. It is a command centre for teams to access the latest versions of design files, on-demand. Leveraging automation options in a DAM solution allows teams to replace outdated assets across a brand’s digital channels, based on a new version of the master file housed in the site. It also collects data which enables teams to identify the best performing assets. This allows them to make informed content strategy decisions including what to create more or less of, based on asset interactions.
PIM is particularly important for e-commerce brands, providing a hub to collect, manage, and enrich all the information that’s critical to communicating a brand’s products, such as descriptions, colours, pricing, feature lists, and more. Once the product information is in the PIM platform, teams can automatically update it across integrated websites, and syndicate it to other channels to ensure shoppers have the most up-to-date, accurate information.
Ready for liftoff
Whether a brand realises it or not, because of the current retail landscape and consumer demands, they may already be creating omnichannel experiences for their customers. But taking this to the next level and connecting all customer experiences in a seamless, consistent, and effortless way is no easy undertaking, and is often where marketers struggle.
Luckily, martech companies have been preparing for the digital transformation of retail, and advancements in technology have made this easier. Customers may expect more from their brand experiences whilst shopping from the comfort of their sofas, but brands now also have the tools and know-how to meet these expectations. The future of retail may be unknown, but omnichannel is here to stay.
Widen is exploring how brands like New Balance and Fanatics mastered their omnichannel customer experiences in an upcoming webinar with InternetRetailing. Join the webinar at 2pm on April 21 to explore their tips and lessons learned. Find out more and register here.
Nate Holmes, product marketing manager at Widen