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Omni-Channel: More than just a buzzword

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In the pre-internet era, flow of information was to a great extent unidirectional, that is, from corporations/media houses to consumers. But with the rapid diffusion of the internet, not only did the world witness a paradigm shift, but even in India, we observed a fundamental change not only in consumer behavior but also the way companies’ function and chalk out tactics to reach out to their consumers.
Earlier, businesses would connect with customers in a largely one-way direction that allowed the former to control the experience. Today, with the onset of a digital world, this dynamic has changed drastically. It has led companies to move from solely being a business-to-business driven company to a customer-focused entity.
Research reveals that consumer journeys have become shorter but complicated. Knowing that customers can browse and shop anywhere and anytime, it has become imperative for companies to stay connected with their audience round-the-clock. The way information is accessed and propagated has resulted in a consumer who is much more conscious and has heightened expectations.Omni-channel marketing puts the consumer at the centre and gives the suitability to decide when, where and how to shop. This insight has led to a number of companies adopting an omni-channel approach, which allows brands to remain engaged with their customers across all stages.
So what really is omni-channel? To put it simply, this platform provides consumers with a single, holistic view of the business through multiple channels that operate concurrently. The key is that all platforms need to be aware of the other, and lead to a seamless experience. The customer is the focus, and they need to be able to switch between channels quickly and efficiently, getting the same information and experience wherever they go. Unlike multi-channel marketing approaches, each channel in an omni-channel approach intuitively knows how a customer interacted with another channel, which is used to help guide and continue the customer experience.But keeping this definition in mind, brands and businesses need to ask certain pertinent questions before they delve into this line of thought – How relevant would this be to their working? Will it really help reach out to their target audience?
Before we begin to dissect these questions, we need to prepare ourselves with certain fundamental realities. Today, how you go about reaching your audience determines your success. The road to build an audience and gain loyalty has become quite a challenge because the average consumer today is hard-pressed for time and is distracted with a galore of options to choose from, making it important for the company to be exposed to various channels—traditional and digital in order to sustain the lead. Most customers will respond to just one channel, so it’s crucial to have a diversified, multichannel approach to engage the customer at the place of their interest.Brands should think about how one channel or message will affect another, and make sure to keep the experience the same across platforms.
However, it is observed that pure e-commerce businesses are still sticking with the model that led to their success at the first place. Similarly, brick-and-mortar companies are exploiting the advantages that they derived from having a physical interface. Study shows that there is still a large fraction of the population who prefer to touch and feel a product before purchasing despite the way the e-commerce industry is flourishing. This is the reason why e-commerce companies should look at establishing their physical stores while brick-and-mortar retailers to growing their e-commerce channels. Brands that have recently joined the bandwagon are Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon.As new technologies emerge and more consumers demand it, it is becoming increasingly important for retailers to extend the brick-and-mortar experience to their online channels. Infact, it is true that an omni-channel presence can practically become a requirement for some shoppers to even consider purchasing your product or using  your service.
Things one must remember before taking the leap into an omni-channel strategy:-
Understanding of technology
Physical retailers have experience of the supply chain capabilities but they lack understanding of the technology. Technology diffusion and improvement in telecommunication infrastructure are opening up immense avenues in this domain
Working on a no-profit model
The norm for online retailers is offering discounts and promotions to gain traction. This heavy discounting strategy developed by e-commerce players for differentiation may not yield long-term benefits. However, a number of e-tailers which earlier concentrated solely on boosting the number of sales has replaced their model by placing a greater emphasis on profitability
Define your target audience
An omni-channel strategy can be very costly and vastly more complex than traditional e-commerce or bricks-and-mortar business models. In their strategy, retailers should identify and analyse who their target audiences are, how to reach out to them and what messages will garner the most responses
Understand their needs
Smart omni-channel marketing is about understanding your consumer’s taste, preferences and matching products according to their requirements and convenience. For example, L’Oreal Makeup Genius is a mobile app which allows consumers to upload their picture and virtually try make-up looks, receive suggestions and purchase products for these looks. This has helped L’Oreal to bring their offline experience online
Offer a personalised and convenient experience
Brands that follow an integrated approach and offer customised solutions based on real-time information, interests and consumer data are bound to command greater loyalty. Consider Myntra, for example — through its app, it educates people about new trends and even makes recommendations based on past purchases
Keep innovating
Brands need to study consumer behaviour and leverage new and emerging technology to engage with them in this fast moving environment. Audi India announced the launch of the Audi A6 Matrix priced at Rs 49.50 lakhs (Ex Showroom Delhi), the car was launched via a WhatsApp video which Audi sent out to the press
The younger generation today has no trouble buying things online and returning them. So while businesses may not be in trouble today, looking at how people are moving to become digital natives, it is imperative to move towards a holistic approach. Omni-channel is no longer just a buzzword. Companies must prepare for omni-channel commerce not as something which is special, but as simply the way businesses are heading towards. Regardless of industry, businesses that successfully exploit new communication channels and will emerge as the true winners.
In today’s multi-device world, successful brands are those that blur the boundaries between offline and online channels. Hence it is rightly said- The future is connected.

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