Whenever people are planning to buy something today, it usually involves that they first gather information on the desired product. In the case of medium-sized and large investments, buyers will perform extensive research on the Internet before the purchase takes place. Customers us the Internet to look up product details, alternative products, reviews by other buyers and, of course, prices.
Retailers are well aware of this kind of behavior. They react by concurrently offering their goods in local stores and in webshops. But in most cases, the customer only takes a purchasing decision after several information channels for the product have been tapped. The typical purchasing process is as follows:
- Customer sees a product in actual use.
- Customer reads about the product in a magazine.
- Customer then goes to a shop to experience the touch and feel of the real product.
- At the end of the day, customer buys the product at home from a webshop.
As you can see from this fictitious process the customer perceives it as a normal thing to have the ability to handle their purchase on any channel or to obtain information from all available media. The special challenge for the provider is to enable the customer to use all sales channels in an equal way and to ensure that changing between channels goes virtually unnoticed.
What is omni-channel sales?
Through the digitization of everyday life, the trade in goods is subject to a continuous development that is also changing the requirements for sales processes. After a long time with multi-channel marketing being the key to success, it is now safe to assume that the system of 100% integrated sales channels – i.e. "OMNI-CHANNEL" sales (= sales over all channels) – is the state of the art in retail trade.
Omni-channel sales is the superlative of multi-channel marketing, because it completely aligns all channels to each other and monitors the purchasing behavior of customers in a holistic manner. The result for the customer is a unified perception of the product.
Important aspects to achieve this include:
- Uniform advertising around the product.
- Uniform and consistent product descriptions and prices.
- Uniform representation – both digital and in the store.
- Coordinated customer service and support.
- Uniform Representation and aligned processes across national borders.
In all these places, the customer finds a uniform image of the product; each and every detail is matched. This is complemented by the knowledge about the customer (CRM = Customer Relation Management) across media and borders. Customer data is available in all local shops – on a national and international level – and on the Internet, and can be used to provide an optimized customer service.
Success in an omni-channel environment: the right technology is key
Successful omni channel sales mainly depend on the possibilities of master data management that a company actually uses. If existing product and customer data is not readily available or redundant, the uniform buying experience is at risk.
Different prices, product names or descriptions at different points of sale (POS) quickly result in frustrated customers. If the presentation of the product varies on different media or at local stores and – to make matters worse – there are different master data records of one and the same customer, providing quality service becomes difficult and frustration is inevitable.
To prevent this exact situation from happening, companies are using specially developed Product Information Management systems. These systems ensure that product and customer data are redundancy-free, media-neutral and available anywhere in real time. Master data is kept in a central PIM System where it is prepared to match the requirements of the respective output channel and made available for users – while the format, language, currency or storage location hardly play a role. All for the best possible shopping experience of your customers.
Conclusion: integrated channels create customer loyalty
Retailers are often exposed to extreme competition today. In most cases, regional business no longer exists – customers are buying “internationally”. To achieve customer loyalty the retailer must, on the one hand, be able to give the customer's buying experience a uniform shape and control it.
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