What Is Omnichannel Sales? Why Retailers Must Embrace Change

As technology advances and customer expectations evolve, omnichannel sales are here to stay. What was considered fantasy in 2001 is a minimum requirement in 2021. Here’s why.

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Mark Allen
12 min read

A move towards omnichannel sales started gathering pace last year.

The press conference on 23 March 2020 by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lockdown the UK in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a ripple effect for UK retailers.

Those unable to continue publicly trading as ‘essential businesses’ were forced to close.

And throughout the last fourteen months, they had to pivot and reassess their business model.

As a result, the move towards a digital economy has moved at pace.

Many retailers are making a move towards ecommerce to safeguard their company’s future.

But while the global pandemic might hasten the shift towards online, the reality is that we’ve been hurtling towards a digitally-focused economy for the last two decades.

That is, with every technological advancement - think of the Nokia 3310’s functionality in contrast to today’s iPhone 12 - we’re becoming more comfortable online.

As a consequence, we expect companies to make our experiences consistent, immersive, engaging and most of all, simple to navigate.

Consumers now expect a seamless experience whether we’re browsing for products or services on our smartphones, desktops, tablets or in-store.

So, how can retailers in the UK and Ireland proactively meet consumer demand?

Say hello to omnichannel sales.

omnichannel sales
Omnichannel sales

What are omnichannel sales, and what is an omnichannel retail strategy?

The term ‘Omni-channel’ is relatively recent; it was coined in 2010 to ‘describe a shopping experience that extends beyond multichannel retailing’.

Ultimately, an omnichannel experience is a consistent experience for customers no matter how they engage with your brand and company.

That could be on your website, an app, a desktop, in-store, telephone, or tablet device.

Omnichannel retail means that customers should expect - and experience - the same quality and consistency throughout the buying process.

HubSpot defines the omnichannel experience as:

“A multichannel approach to marketing, selling, and serving customers in a way that creates an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer reaches out.”

And to be considered an omnichannel retailer, it’s much more than simply having a website and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It’s about building relationships with current and prospective customers on their favoured method of communication.

BigCommerce explains, “It should also include an emphasis on optimising your business through channel diversification and comprehensive integration of your data and systems.”

Why should I create an omnichannel sales and retail strategy?

Well, the short answer is; it’s what your customers want and expect.

And recent research suggests that omnichannel isn’t only today’s customer’s expectation, but part of future expectations too.

Harvard Business Review asked 46,000 shoppers what impact - if any - omnichannel retailing had on their experience, and a massive 73% said they used multiple channels, while 7% said they shopped exclusively online.

And for retailers looking not only to attract new customers but retain current ones, Shopify states, “Companies with omnichannel retail strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers from channel to channel.”

According to research carried out by Aspect Software, businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieve 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates compared to companies that don’t.

It’s worth remembering that acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer.

Also, increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits from 25-95%.

How we shop has changed dramatically in twenty years.

Think about your own shopping habits, for example.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, you’d likely have bought your meat in the butchers, fresh produce from the local fruit and veg shop, and household items from a confectionary shop.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to buy the bulk of your shopping from one huge store like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA or Lidl, sometimes online and sometimes in-store.

And again, let’s take your 2021 shopping habits as an example.

You might buy seven products on your smartphone in the evening from Amazon while watching Netflix.

A day later, you might do a full click and collect on a week’s worth of shopping from a major retailer.

With the good weather arriving, you might search on Facebook Marketplace, Etsy or Gumtree for well-made garden furniture.

And with dreams of sizzling sausages and mouth-watering charred steaks as the country starts easing Covid-19 restrictions, you’ll want to invite friends and family around to your back garden for a BBQ.

For a disposable BBQ, you might visit your local hardware store and pick up the rest of the essentials while you’re there.

As you can see from these examples, customer habits change, and expectations evolve as technology advances.

Or think of it another way.

Would you promote your company today on Bebo and MySpace, or choose their modern equivalents Facebook and Instagram?

Essentially, it’s a case of going where your customer is.

And the move towards omnichannel retailing has already begun.

Indeed, 46% of retailers last year said they ‘planned to increase their investment in omnichannel retailing moving forward’.

First, customers demanded better prices and selection, both of which have been achieved through ecommerce and multichannel retail.

Now, customers demand convenience.

Andrew Lipsman echoes these sentiments in eMarketer, “With the internet having already driven major progress on the first two customer needs, attention is now turning to convenience.”

An obvious benefit of having an omnichannel retail strategy is that it helps drive more sales.

Again, this is because customers want an experience that is convenient, seamless and simple.

As a result, they’re more likely to come back to that retailer and spend more money.

Omnichannel retail isn’t a one-off consequence of the global pandemic.

Yes, the pandemic has increased the pace, but it’s here to stay, and retailers need to prioritise creating an omnichannel retail strategy.

difference between sales channels
Difference between single-channel, multichannel, and omnichannel sales

What’s the difference between omnichannel, multichannel and single-channel retail strategies?

While sometimes used interchangeably, the terms ‘omnichannel’, ‘multichannel’ and ‘single channel’ are quite different.

For example, multichannel retailers might have a mobile optimised ecommerce website and an active Facebook and Twitter account.

However, they might lack the seamless synchronisation of an omnichannel strategy.

That’s because multichannel retail may not necessarily have a connection; the experience you get from their website might be vastly different from that on their Facebook page.

Contrast that to omnichannel, where the transition from viewing a retailer’s website on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone is seamless.

Their messaging and functionality is consistent on every device, app and physical premises.

Shopify defines the difference between multichannel and omnichannel as:

“Omnichannel involves all channels and revolves around your customer, while multichannel involves many channels and revolves around your product.”

Single-channel retail means there’s only one distribution option for the retailer, whether that’s solely online, offline or somewhere in between.

An example of a single-channel retailer is fast-fashion brand Primark, who sell their products solely in-store and their online presence does not offer ecommerce options to customers.

How can I create an omnichannel sales and retail strategy? 8 Key Steps.

Every business is unique and has its challenges and opportunities.

But eight key ingredients to consider actively apply to most companies that are about to create an omnichannel retail strategy.

1. Choose the channels and platforms that best suit your goals.

Understanding the pros and cons of each platform and channel - and how to maximise them for sales - is vital.

For example, a retail store selling home goods might want to use Instagram and Facebook - and maybe even Pinterest - to reach customers.

In contrast, a warehouse retailer selling B2B might find more success by utilising LinkedIn and Amazon.

Identify your channels and platforms and build your omnichannel sales strategy around those.

2. After you’ve figured out which platforms and channels best align with your company’s objectives, it’s vital to segment your customers.

In an ever-personalised shopping experience, you’ll want to know your customers and tailor your offers to them.

Analyse how they shop and where they shop.

For example, if you find that none of your customers shop through Facebook Marketplace, then it’s not worth investing in.

3. Invest in the digital infrastructure to make the customer’s omnichannel sales experience as seamless as possible.

Investing in an omnichannel retail strategy doesn’t have to cost the earth, nor does it have to be overly technical.

Firstly, an AirPOS Pro subscription costs just £480.00 per year and can help you make the move to omnichannel sales.

Secondly, your omnichannel strategy could be as simple as offering your products for sale on Facebook, Amazon and your ecommerce web store.

The key is making sure when someone buys from you on any platform, they should expect the same high standards and simultaneously updated stock levels.

Once you get that right, there’s a seamless transition for the customer regardless of how or when they access the brand.

Ultimately, creating this symbiotic connection between all your channels improves your customer’s user experience.

4. Bridge the gap between your offline and online presence; your customers expect an omnichannel sales experience in 2021.

Your online and offline presence doesn’t need to be separate any more.

Customers now expect consistency between both.

For you, that might mean offering click and collect or delivery options online that bridge the gap between online and offline.

Again, think of an example that you might come across in everyday life.

As we near Summer, you want to enjoy meals out in your garden but you don’t have great lights.

You visit the Argos website on your phone, order some outdoor fairy lights and pay for them.

Half an hour later, you arrive down at your local Argos store and collect your lights.

That’s an example of a consistent online and offline presence that seamlessly allows a customer to interact with a retailer online and offline.

5. Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly.

In 2021, a slow-loading website or one that isn’t mobile-friendly risks losing customers and ultimately sales.

With lightning-fast Wi-Fi and 5G, customers no longer have the patience to wait more than a few seconds for a page to load.

As a result, mobile-friendly websites are favoured by popular search engines like Google and Bing as they offer customers the best user experience.

And what happens to those websites that are slow to load or those that are not mobile-optimised?

They risk losing out on potential revenue.

Besides, Campaign Monitor reports that nearly eight out of ten people have used their smartphones to purchase in the last six months.

And that statistic looks set to continue as a pandemic-inspired transformation means we move at speed towards omnichannel sales.

But you could bypass a lot of those speed and performance issues by using a platform like Spotify for your ecommerce store and website.

That’s because by using Spotify’s platform, your website will already be optimised for mobile, tablet and desktop.

6. Match your content with the channel.

We discussed earlier how a solicitor might not find much use from Instagram or TikTok, while a cafe or restaurant might find both to be a great sales platform.

Just as important, however, is that you match your content with the channel or platform.

Take this blog post you’re reading, for example.

This article is perfect for our website blog, and we might use snippets of it in our regular newsletter.

Would it also work on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Snapchat?

Probably not.

That’s because they may limit the character and word count and the obvious issues of how to transform a 2,000-word blog post into a Snapchat story.

Resist the urge to publish the same content on each channel.

Instead, use your chosen channels in the way users of each platform expect.

7. Offer customer support on all channels to improve omnichannel sales.

The way we interact with companies is changing.

Scroll through Twitter, and you’ll notice dedicated customer service accounts for the biggest brands.

And log on to Facebook, and you’ll see the company offers customer support through Facebook Messenger too.

Visit their website, and you’ll be greeted by a Live Chat popup asking you if customer support can help you today.

It’s worth considering an omnichannel approach to customer services too for your company.

It would be best if you still offered email customer support and phone calls, but simply offering the more modern options gives you a significant advantage over your competitors.

8. Protect your customer’s data.

Even before GDPR legislation came into force in 2018, customers became increasingly aware of companies' use of their data.

Their worries were amplified by the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal as well as a variety of embarrassing data breaches at big companies.

As a result, we’re all now very wary of how much information we give to companies.

And we aren’t afraid to ask the question, “Why do you need this information?”

Increasingly, we want to know how each company protects our data before we agree to provide our data.

For you to create a successful omnichannel retail strategy, you’ll need customer’s data.

But before that, you’ll need to make sure you have the infrastructure, security and encryption to protect it.

Whether that’s through encryption or a cybersecurity package, it’s worth investing in secure data management.

How can AirPOS help with omnichannel sales?

With ecommerce growing exponentially, retailers must embrace change.

To successfully transition to omnichannel sales, you will need a reliable, secure solution with integrated payments.

A solution that’s affordable, easy to use, takes minimal effort and saves you time.

That’s where AirPOS can help, the UK and Ireland’s leading point of sale for small and medium-sized businesses.

AirPOS: Created with retailers in mind.

AirPOS is more than a point of sale; it’s a complete retail management platform.

Our hardware bundle gives retailers like you the right tools to build your business.

That’s because our software was created with retailers in mind.

And we’ve already helped thousands of retailers throughout the UK and Ireland transform their online presence, increase sales and attract and retain new customers.

Serve your customers in ways they’ll love.

Retailers love our cloud-based EPOS system because it allows them to serve their customers like never before.

You’ll enjoy complete visibility across your business and inventory, plug knowledge gaps and enjoy a 360-degree view of your company’s health.

Inventory management

Stock control and inventory management is a breeze for AirPOS users.

Our intuitive software seamlessly helps you serve customers while ensuring adequate product stock levels.

It’s easily transportable, too; you can use AirPOS in-store, online, expos, on the move, and at events.

Ultimately, AirPOS lets you sell anywhere with an authentic omnichannel experience that your customers will love.

Easy to use software makes omnichannel sales simple

You and your staff will quickly master our easy-to-use software and enjoy a super-charged sales process, allowing you to focus on running your business.

Got a question? Speak with an experienced member of our team any day of the week and resolve issues in minutes.

Free assisted setup

Once you’ve joined the AirPOS revolution, you’ll want to get started right away.

That’s why we offer you free assisted POS setups so that you can begin hassle-free selling immediately.

High-quality network, guaranteed.

You need a solution that’s reliable and accurate.

Unlike many POS providers, we’re proud that our server networks never go down.

We’re so confident that we’re happy to guarantee you 99.99% uptime.

Accounting made simple.

AirPOS can be integrated with Xero to simplify the accounting process, saving you time and effort and allowing you to concentrate on your business.

Free support

You’ll love our dedicated free support, available seven days a week, so we’re always here to answer your questions.

Advanced reports

Automatic synchronisation allows you to receive real-time reports from your POS and web store.

Download the AirPOS reports app so you can stay on top of your business anytime, anywhere.

Customer Accounts & Loyalty

Keep your customers coming back for more with customer loyalty packages and customer accounts offering flexible payment terms.

Omnichannel sales are here to stay

We couldn’t have imagined two decades ago while playing Snake 2 on our Nokia or pulling up the aerial on our Motorola phone that omnichannel retail would be a viable option.

But with each passing year, technology advances and customer’s expectations evolve.

What was considered fantasy in 2001 is a minimum customer expectation in 2021.

Retailers now face a stark choice: work towards omnichannel retail solutions or face customers potentially defecting to their competitors.

With AirPOS, we make the move from single and multichannel retail to omnichannel sales seamless, affordable and straightforward.