As online and mobile or app-based stores gain currency over traditional brick and mortar stores in this era of the pandemic, more and more retailers are trying to adapt their strategies to reach customers beyond their geographical boundaries.

The pandemic has ensured that people closeted at home have taken to more convenient and efficient ways of buying. And so, online and mobile or app-based stores are fast replacing traditional brick and mortar stores. Retailers are trying to adopt to this new phenomenon by changing their retail strategies to reach out to maximum number of customers beyond their geographical boundaries. One of the strategies is omni-channel retailing. Known as a customer-centric approach (Lemon & Verhoef, 2016), omni-channel retail is a business model where all existing channels are integrated to offer customers a seamless shopping experience. Thus, customers can simultaneously use different channels in their shopping process, starting their search at one channel and finishing their purchase in another.

Customers once registered with a company either through a physical store or an online platform enjoy hassle-free service across all mediums. The omni-channel strategy helps in centralised data management of products, services, customer details, customer basket size, product preferences, returns, product selection process, or abandonment of cart items. These are essential information that help analyse the possibilities of providing customised offerings to the customer to assist in purchase decisions.

A customer's journey starts from need recognition, consideration and search of products or services influenced by brand value, product feedback, product type, mode and ease of availability. In the case of fashion goods, customers' choices depend upon the look, feel, drape, quality, brand and price of the product. The customer looks forward to trying the products to conform to its fit and feel, texture and comfortability (Larke, Kilgour, & O'Connor, 2018). Therefore, many retailers like Lenskart, Amazon, Flipkart and the likes have virtual or physical trial rooms. Amazon provides free physical trials to its Prime membership subscribed customers.

The omni-channel platform offers various customer touchpoints that increase one-way or two-way interaction between customers and firms and customer-to-customer interactions. In this way, we could consider search, display, e-mail, affiliates, and referral websites as separate channels within the online medium because they can facilitate one-or two-way communication or interaction. Therefore, consumer switching across channels and devices constantly, interchangeably, and simultaneously such as a desktop, laptop and mobile devices, are all part of the shoppers' omni-channel experience and firms need to consider facilitating a seamless customer retail experience.

With a sharp increase in mobile phone users, the percentage of online purchases has also seen tremendous growth over the years. The year 2020 saw an upsurge in online orders vis-a-vis offline due to the outbreak of the pandemic. This opened wide avenues for retailers to explore multiple options and channels to sell their products and services. The new retail strategies should aim at long-term business development goals. It may include pricing, enhancing the customer shopping experience and building customer relationships through several attractive offers. The main features of such strategies may include:

  • Creating baskets with exclusive products with unique features

  • Creating product bundles and service bundles

  • Using data analytics software for product designing, making product line choices, channel decisions and new product introductions.

  • Integrating channels

  • Integrating customer information over channels

  • Real-time data about customer purchase patterns

  • Complete Customer View to act in real-time and provide attention to their preferences to become more brand loyal.

Benefits of omni-channel retailing to retailers:

  • Online-offline channel integration leads to channel synergies rather than channel cannibalisation.

  • Most retailers employ asymmetrical integration of inventories where the online channel carries additional assortment items, termed "the long tail"

  • Increase in customer footfalls across channels and customer loyalty

  • Assess correct stock quantities available in various warehouses across multiple channels.

  • Real-time inventory data helps retailers to meet customer demands, scheduled deliveries, order fulfillment and optimised stock utilisation forcost-effectiveness.

  • Supply chain synchronisation effectively manages every information regarding the product, manufacturers or vendors, lead-time, data management, shipping schedules, order tracking, reporting and warehouse management inreal-time (Boost My Sale Entreprise, 2019).

  • Superior customer engagement focuses on customer interaction and their preferences and needs so that they feel well treated.

  • Deeper customer relationships are developed by providing personalised, contextual interactions across seamless customer interfaces, including social media websites.

  • The real-time data enables targeted promotions, optimised assortments, pricing and markdown activities, maximising profitability, and customer loyalty.

Benefits of omni-channel retailing to customers:

?     Ease of access and 24x7 service availability

?     Helps in increasing product awareness and sale

?     Greater product information availability and purchasing options.

?     Access to stores or brands as, when and where the customers want.

?     Buying across various channels simultaneously.

?     Optimised search results, ease of product and price comparison across channels, brands, and sellers

?     Greater value and variety

?     Curated auto-generated suggestions for ease in decision-making

?     Quick order fulfilment and fast deliveries

?     Easy returns and safe online money transactions

?     Order-online and in-store pick option

Several brands in India have successfully ventured into the omni-channel retailing segment.  Van Heusen has introduced several digital touchpoints for an augmented in-store experience like virtual trial mirror (for multiple trials without any physical contact), Fit Scanner (for measurements study), digital display (provides styling tips and new trends) and Style Bar (personality assessment through a specific questionnaire). Zivame introduced a fitting lounge in retail stores where the stylists provide styling, fit and measurement tips to choose the right size and right options. It gives the perfect touch-and-feel experience that complements the online store. Adidas forayed into the omni-channel retail segment with the introduction of endless-aisle technology, where customers can browse through endless designs available online that may not be available in the store.

Amazon has crafted a niche for itself as an omni-channel giant. Amazon focuses on the customer experience. It uses data to create a personalised, responsive interaction across every channel. Data unification is done via customer accounts, which are further incentivised by prime memberships. Product bundling by Amazon restricts customers from direct price comparisons with its competitors. It promises membership discounts through Prime, free and fast deliveries, easy return and replacement policies. Amazon echo extends omni-channel strategy into voice ordering, recognition and response system. The physical stores of Amazon house products with four stars and features like 'Most-Wished-For' and 'Frequently Bought Together' (Serrano, 2019).

The omni-channel strategy is a long-term strategy that optimises inventory holding costs, operating costs and real estate costs. It aims at increasing product and brand awareness across different customer segments present in separate geographical locations. Through it, brands and retailers can design uniform branding, marketing and advertising strategies across all channels. Online players are now seen investing in brick & mortar stores to offer in-store customer experience while the retail stores and brands are adopting to internet-based, app-based and social media-based ways of branding and advertising for reaching out to more customers.

According to data released by the Ministry of Commerce, the Indian retail industry (primarily dominated by unorganised retail trade) is expected to grow by 10 per cent by 2021. Within this, the share of organised retail is forecast to increase to 18 per cent by 2021 and 30 per cent by 2025 from ~8-9 per cent in 2019 (Singhal, 2019). Therefore, retailers have ample scope of capturing market share in this ever-growing omni-channel segment and adopt it as a sustainable business model.

References

Boost My Sale Entreprise. (2019). Retrieved 02 16, 2021, from https://www.boostmysale.com/omni-channel-sales/

Larke, R., Kilgour, M., & O'Connor, H. (2018). Build touchpoints and they will come: transitioning to omnichannel retailing. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management.

Lemon, K., & Verhoef, P. (2016). Understanding Customer Experience Throughout the Customer Journey. Journal of Marketing, 80(6), 69-96.

Serrano, S. (2019, 04 10). Barilliance. Retrieved 02 16, 2021, from https://www.barilliance.com/amazon-omnichannel-strategy/#tab-con-8

Singhal, A. (2019, 05 23). From Omni channel retailing in India to Omnipresent Retail. Retrieved 02 16, 2021, from https://www.brand-experts.com/brand-expansion/omni-channel-retailing-in-india/