What is omnichannel marketing?

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When you interact with your customers over whatever channels they prefer— at a brick-and-mortar store, over the internet, via text, or through social media—that’s omnichannel marketing.

Picture this: you’re browsing online for some new work clothes, and you add something to your virtual cart but ultimately decide not to buy it. Then later, you see an ad on social media for the abandoned garment. Some scratch their heads at this, but it’s actually an example of omnichannel marketing.

The prefix “omni” means “all,” and “channel” is a reference to the many ways customers might interact with a company—in physical stores, by surfing the web, on social media, and in emails, apps, SMS, and other digital spaces. And this omnichannel approach can be a powerful way to meet your customers where they are, providing them good service in line with their preferences and needs. (Note that, in this article, we use the terms “customers,” “consumers,” and “shoppers” interchangeably in referring to omnichannel marketing in both B2B and B2C contexts.)

More and more, customers move across all channels—in person, online, and beyond—to get what they want. But not every customer is looking for the same thing, and omnichannel marketing acknowledges that. Some people want more services for certain transactions; others prefer low-touch, 24/7 interactions. Effective omnichannel marketing, then, happens when companies provide a set of seamlessly integrated channels, catering to customer preferences, and steer them to the most efficient solutions.

So why is omnichannel marketing important? Research on the omnichannel experience shows more than half of B2C customers engage with three to five channels each time they make a purchase or resolve a request. And the average customer looking to make a single reservation for accommodations (like a hotel room) online switched nearly six times between websites and mobile channels. If these customers encounter inconsistent information or can’t get what they need, they may lose interest in a brand’s products or services.

And this can translate into business outcomes. Omnichannel customers shop 1.7 times more than shoppers who use a single channel. They also spend more.

Sometimes the term omnichannel is used in the context of customer service or customer experience. And it’s also used as a descriptor of other elements that go into supporting an organization’s omnichannel efforts—for instance, omnichannel supply chains, which is shorthand for an approach in which companies ensure that their supply chains are optimally set up to support omnichannel marketing efforts.

What are examples of omnichannel?

Omnichannel approaches are commonly used in retail (both B2B and B2C), but you’ll also find it in healthcare and other spaces. Medtech companies, for instance, use a variety of channels including digital marketing, inside sales, portal and e-commerce, and hybrid sales-rep interactions to engage with healthcare professionals.

Several omnichannel examples can illustrate various approaches:

  • Best Buy typically focuses on commerce (both in store and online), but boosted its in-store experience by creating offerings for customers to explore smart home-technology solutions, pairing them with free in-home advisory services. And its mobile app lets customers “scan to shop” from catalogs and curbside, or buy online and pick up merchandise in the store itself, smoothing the end-to-end journey for customers with the 24/7 tech support from its Geek Squad. Best Buy’s Totaltech support offer was compelling to customers—it launched with 200,000 memberships in 2018, which climbed to two million within a year.
  • Beauty retailer Sephora emphasizes omnichannel personalization, relying on rich in-app messaging, personalized push notifications, and easy ways for customers to book in-person consultations. Its in-store technology is a powerful complement that allows employees to access customer favorites and suggest products they might try next. Its loyalty program also plays an important role. The efforts are already driving value for Sephora: data showed that customers visiting the retail website within 24 hours of visiting a store were three times more likely to make a purchase, and orders were 13 percent higher than for other customers.
  • Nike takes an ecosystems view of omnichannel, extending the brand experience and offering customers an ever-growing platform of content, offers, and community interactions. Its SNKRS and Run Club apps, for example, facilitate in-person meetups, running groups, and events. It also has an app for delivering individual workouts and fitness programs, creating experiences that go far beyond shoe and apparel lines to meet customers in their day-to-day routines.

How has omnichannel been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Omnichannel rose during the COVID-19 pandemic as more consumers turned to e-commerce. Due to the increased demand for contactless shopping during the height of the pandemic, US grocery stores saw 20 to 30 percent of their business shift to online. Before the pandemic, e-commerce accounted for just 3 to 4 percent of total sales for grocers.

The shifts made during the pandemic are likely to persist. In the pandemic, people gravitated to curbside pickup, “buy online, pay in store” models, and self-checkout at higher rates than in the past. And recent research indicates these behaviors are “sticky”—indeed, about 70 percent of people who first tried self-checkout in the pandemic say they’ll use it again.

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