Shoppers want a smooth, frictionless experience with your brand. They want to interact with your retail stores, Magento eCommerce websites and other sales channels seamlessly, getting access to a great selection of products and great service throughout their buying journey. In other words, consumers are demanding an omnichannel shopping experience. On the other hand, merchants have persisted in being slow to adopt omnichannel best-practices due to technological challenges.
For starters, many have a hard time defining their omnichannel goals. Here are a few major optimizations that multichannel businesses should be striving to meet in order to compete in a customer-centric market, while keeping their own costs (and product prices) in check:
Store Inventory: Shoppers don’t want to call or visit a store to find out if an item is in stock. Time is precious, and they simply want to know if they can swing by and make a purchase. This requires you to connect your multi-location inventory with your Magento eCommerce site.
Example of inventory by store location at Homedepot.com
Store Pickup: A logical next-step of publishing your brick and mortar location inventory on your Magento eCommerce website is to allow shoppers to pay for the items, and pick them up. This helps to ensure that you as the merchant generate a sale, and that the shopper doesn’t have to worry about finding the item in your store, or that a lucky shopper will swoop in and get the last unit that you had in inventory of their desired product. This is also great for merchants, as getting a customer in-store may lead to selling additional merchandise. Store Pickup requires accommodations updating your eCommerce website to include a store-pickup user interface that will leverage your multi-location inventory data, and order management capabilities to help get the order to the right store for proper fulfillment.
Same-Day Delivery: Most merchants don’t have their own local delivery fleets. However, you may be faced with demand for same-day delivery that won’t be met by traditional shippers. There are growing groups of local couriers that you can partner with to meet this demand. You might think of this as a mix of store pickup and order management. Orders need to be prepared by local staff at one of your locations, while data also needs to be transmitted to the courier to arrange the pickup. Data should flow back from the courier with tracking updates to confirm that a delivery has been made, so two-way communication between your software, and your courier vendors software is important.
Ship from multiple Store & Warehouses: Even if an order is to be fulfilled through traditional shipping methods like USPS, UPS, and FedEx, multichannel merchants that only ship web orders from a centralized warehouse are facing shipping costs and delivery timelines that may be much higher than they should be. If you have dispersed inventory, it’s likely that you should be using logic to ship from the closest location to the shopper. This can drop shipping costs AND improve delivery times, improving your conversion rates, but requires order management capabilities between your Magento eCommerce storefront and your fulfillment locations, including the ability to split shipments and payments.
Cross-channel Returns: Just because an item was purchased online, doesn’t mean that a shopper wants to ship it back. In many cases, they’ll prefer to bring returns to your physical stores. This can be a blessing since this leads to more opportunities to sell the shopper more goods while they’re on-site. You do however need to be able to interface your software to keep order data, accounting, and inventory in sync.
Endless Aisle: Many retailers can offer a much wider variety of products than you’ll find in one of their retail locations. By integrating tablets, kiosks, or other in-store technology, your sales staff can offer a wider variety of merchandise and have the appearance of an “endless aisle” of products. Taking this a step further, you may even find yourself checking out merchants with orders that will need to be split. This may include items that the shopper will carry out of the store, items that you’ll ship to the shopper, and items that will be drop-shipped by your vendors.
Distributed Selling through Marketplaces: Many shoppers prefer to buy through marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. That’s not to say that you won’t sell directly or that there aren’t a range of Pros and Cons to selling via these mediums, but if you don’t offer your products through these markets, you’ll be missing out on a large number of consumers that are loyal to these platforms. Modern merchants save the hassle by automating the flow of data between the software systems that manage their product, order, and fulfillment data with these marketplaces in order to optimize their business operations.
Cross-Channel Inventory: Inventory management can trouble even the largest of retailers… however, you want to sell what you have, and most likely don’t want to sell items that are out of stock. In order to keep shoppers happy as well as sales channels (marketplaces like Amazon have strict enforcement when it comes to orders that you can’t fulfill), while not letting inventory sit idly in a retail store unbeknownst to your online shoppers, connecting your inventory data is crucial.
Fast Fulfillment: Multichannel merchants can receive orders from lots of places. If those orders aren’t submitted to your shipping staff or drop shippers in a timely fashion, you’re risking slow deliveries and less happy customers. It’s advisable to use a real-time link to connect internet orders, such as to insert them into your Point of Sale or ERP software.
Cross-channel CRM & Marketing: If you’re collecting a variety of data about your shoppers in a variety of systems, it’s best to pull that data together and harness it for smarter marketing campaigns. By doing so, you’re taking advantage of factoring in a shopper’s more complete buying history and habits. Leading digital marketing software platforms can now help you to leverage that data for targeted, segmented, automated campaigns through mediums such as E-mail, Text, Push Notification, Social Media Ads, Remarketing Ads, and more.
Sales & Discounts: Shoppers don’t want to pay more to buy through some of your direct sales channels like your Magento eCommerce site and your stores. While that doesn’t preclude you from offering a special in-store-only coupon, or online-only deal for Cyber Monday, it is important to offer a seamless experience across platforms. Just like other data types, it is often possible to connect sale and discount data between software systems in order to automate this process and avoid irregularities.
Loyalty & Gift Cards: It’s of course ideal to let shopper get and use reward points and gift cards through your stores and website. Shoppers are often confused and sometimes frustrated when these don’t work across channels. This may require some adjustments to these programs, but in the long-run, a seamless experience is best.
HelpDesk: When providing customer support, it’s important that your representatives can quickly and easily access all relevant data, such as customer and order data, from one unified system. This can cut down on the length of time to resolve an issue, and simplify your RMA process, leaving you with lower support costs and happier customers.
Product Information Management: Product information and content should be consistent across your sales channels. Whether you use a system like an ERP as your data master, or you use a more specific PIM, having such software and connecting it to your various sales channels is a key to consistency.
Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) providers have been helping merchants deliver omnichannel experiences for years by connecting and translating product, order, customer, inventory, shipping and fulfillment data between a wide variety of software platforms and sales channels. You’ll find that a good iPaaS will be built with real-time data in mind, 24/7 support, a strong SLA with guaranteed uptime, and rigorous security auditing and maintenance to keep up with changes to the software endpoints that they support. A great platform will be able to handle the data flow needs of large enterprises while offering the customization and flexibility typically associated with completely custom software experiences.