With the spread of the COVID pandemic, companies have recognized the importance of digitalization. And though many have ventured into the EC route, simply implementing a new initiative does not mean that customer expectations will be met. Omnichannel has recently been hailed as a solution to help elevate the customer experience through utilizing multiple channels such as physical stores, websites, and applications. In this article, we define further what Omnichannel is, the new trends around it, and how it can be applied to your business.
Omnichannel is an upgraded version of what we call multichannel, where various channels are utilized to connect and sell to customers. Let’s take a deeper dive into why this structure has become a necessity today.
In addition to physical stores, EC has been utilized as an online sales channel. Though the desktop computer has served as the standard interface of EC sites in the past, the proliferation of devices has urged companies to adapt to a multitude of other channel services such as mobile apps, mail magazines, and LINE.
While the proliferation of devices and channels have presented businesses and consumers alike with many opportunities, there have also been new issues that have resulted from this. For example, in regards to loyalty programs, users may have points saved online that can’t be used in stores, or vice versa. Another problem is the lack of fluidity between the browser and the mobile app, where users cannot pick up where they left off when switching from one device or channel to another. There can also be inventory issues where stores are unable to access the stock that is only available online.
If all channels are able to provide a unified and fluid customer experience, users will be able to smoothly navigate and identify the products that they desire. Giving customers the freedom to purchase and receive products when, where and how they prefer, leads to greater customer satisfaction.
This is the way omnichannel works. Where multi-channel is defined as simply providing users with multiple contact points through multiple channels, omnichannel is defined as the sales strategy or method that uses these channels to provide a consistent customer experience.
The advantages are plenty, including improving LTV and maximizing sales opportunities by continuously interacting with customers. Browsing time also increases per channel for companies that have implemented omnichannel.
One of the important trends of omnichannel can be said to be the fusion between physical stores and online platforms. Especially during the pandemic, as access to physical stores have been limited, there has been a large shift towards EC, apps, and online sales channels.
In the past, physical stores and EC commonly existed in different entities within an organization, each with its own inventory and sales targets. However, from a customer’s perspective, separate departments do not exist (or simply put, do not matter): they merely see one company and one brand. To provide the best customer experience, companies must reach the level of service customers are expecting whether it be online or offline.
The unification or fusion of online and offline is often called Online Merges Offline (OMO). Until recently, the relationship between EC and physical stores have been more on the confrontational side, in which one side was pitted against another (cannibalization). However, the idea that EC and physical stores can peacefully coexist by focusing on the customer, strengthening OMO, and omnichannel, is becoming a popular widespread initiative.
In 2017, The Plant built a system for a global apparel brand to make their online inventory more accessible to stores. Store staff can use an ipad to sell products that have sold out or are not available in store. For a fast food chain, The Plant developed a mobile order app where store pick-up time could be significantly reduced. Companies are increasingly trying to improve customer engagement while also providing services that minimize face-to-face contact and maximize automation.
To achieve and build an omnichannel system, it is crucial to manage and unify user data in one place. Customer convenience can be improved by integrating inventory management.
The Plant has been in the business for over 15 years, and have been taking on projects that range from EC to web application development. They have accumulated the technology and expertise for omnichannel over the years, and have successfully met the individual and unique needs of their customers.
This has been achieved mainly through their unique technology and platform ‘QOR+’, where they have developed modules for EC systems, CMS, and personalization, that can be combined like blocks and specifically built, personalized, and arranged together based on their customer’s needs.
QOR+Commerce (their EC system) for example, includes features such as a functional library, reports, and order management, that builds the foundation of a web store. It can then be seamlessly integrated with services such as Sagawa Express, LINE chat, and convenience store pickup.
This offering contrasts against SaaS companies, which often require businesses to adapt to the platform’s standard features. The Plant’s development allows much more flexibility and speed either by building a customized platform, or integrating quickly with an existing platform. The Plant has therefore boasted high reviews from companies that desire to implement omnichannel, but have been challenged in finding a solution that offers the seamless integrations required to operate.
In an era where customer experience has become crucial, it has become a necessity to provide great UI / UX both in stores and online. It is important to build the website intuitively through displaying personalized content based on customer attributes and behaviors.
Online performance is another important attribute. Traffic tends to see ‘peaks’ during events such as Black Friday (slowly taking root in Japan), New Years sales, or during lunch time in a restaurant. It can be detrimental to a brand image if usability is impaired during those times (such as the inability to handle peaks and the site is slow).
Though not easy to prepare for unpredictable peaks, The Plant expands their server and database performance based on expected sales peaks. For the yearly Lucky Bag sale, a ritual in Japan, The Plant was able to handle triple the transactions year on year, and 1,500 lucky bags were sold within 10 minutes without a hiccup. Another example is where they were able to handle 18,000 transactions per minute for a fast food chain company. With a robust system able to process high loads of transactions in a short period of time, The Plant is able to provide a reliable system that satisfies the customer’s every needs.
The pandemic has been a catalyst in accelerating digital transformation. As a result, companies have been tirelessly working on integrating omnichannel in both organizational and technical areas. Their investment is bound to pay off and the gap between those onboard the omnichannel initiative and those who are not will only grow and become more obvious as time goes on.
We believe that the era of omnichannel is coming. The key is to be able to communicate in the most relevant way with customers, by accommodating their needs and behavior.
Beyond omnichannel, The Plant will continue to support their customer’s businesses through EC, as they navigate through the new normal of today.