Unified retail: a great challenge, but an even greater opportunity

2020 was the year bricks-and-mortar retailers turned on — or doubled down on — their online capabilities. Where physical shop fronts were closing, digital stores were filling the void. But what happens next?

Many businesses have been using online as just a stopgap. However, retailers should unify their online and offline worlds, creating a stronger business without having to double their effort.

This year, the biggest challenge for the retail industry is also their biggest opportunity: unifying online and offline strategies to create a seamless omnichannel approach that caters to every shopper.

Complementary, not contrasting

Long before the pandemic, eCommerce was forecast to threaten traditional brick-and-mortar business. Selling online is undoubtedly a convenient service for increasingly digital-first consumers, but one that is complementing, rather than replacing, brick-and-mortar retail.

Traditional retailers are the heart and soul of local communities; adding colour and vibrancy to high streets nationwide. Savvy retailers are those that unify both channels; combining a targeted, sophisticated online strategy with meaningful, human-centric in-store experiences to grow their customer base, drive sales, incentivise loyalty, and provide shoppers with the seamless experience they want, where they want it.

Online store

An omnichannel retail strategy may sound like a daunting process, but if approached strategically and sustainably, it needn’t be. The easiest first step is a simple online store that highlights your products with a straightforward checkout, and link it to your physical store.

Before you’re ready to fulfil orders through your online store, you’ll need behind-the-scenes systems to look after your inventory, manage packaging and deliveries, and collect and analyse customer data. Inventory management, for example, is particularly important as you unify your approaches – after all, you don’t want to advertise a product online that sold out in-store that day. Or perhaps you’ll see that a certain product is selling better in-store than online, and so you should reserve more product for physical sales.

Deeper capabilities

With those foundations set, you can consider the additional channels you want to leverage. Email marketing, for example, is a cost- and time-effective method for reaching a large number of customers and steering them towards your online store or telling them about exciting new in-store products.

Instagram, meanwhile, is growing in popularity; with 90 per cent of users following a brand, 83 per cent finding new products on the platform and 80 per cent purchasing products through it. Across every channel – email, social media or others – personalisation is important. Leveraging customer data, you can suggest products your customers might like, offer them a discount if they haven’t shopped for a while, or alert them to sales at your local store.

In-store experience

An effective eCommerce approach doesn’t just incentivise online sales but encourages customers to visit your shop floor. Click and collect, a perfect example of unified retail, is not only a convenient way for customers to receive their purchase but provides an opportunity for you to up-sell at the point of sale.

Whether they’ve arrived in your store through online discovery or are spending an afternoon on their local high street, it’s important to provide a memorable and convenient experience. It pays to incentivise loyalty, so consider loyalty schemes that account for in-store and online purchases or discounts for shoppers who sign up for your mailing list.

While restrictions are easing and vaccination programs are underway nationwide, health and safety is still crucial, so accept contactless payments, make sanitiser available and, where mandatory, ensure customers scan a QR code upon entry.

As consumers prioritise connection, convenience, and bespoke products, the need for – and potential of – omnichannel retail increases. No longer accessible to only big-box retailers, local retailers are redefining successful omnichannel experiences and turning challenge into opportunity.

Colin Birney, Head of Business Development, Square Australia

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