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For the past 5 years — and probably more — digital agencies pushed every retailer to embrace omnicommerce. It was probably a good idea at the time since Amazon was eating everyone’s lunch. It made sense to try to beat Amazon at the digital game.
Definition of Omnicommerce: Uniting marketing efforts and the shopping experience across brick-and-mortar, digital and mobile platforms to provide customers with consistent, streamlined shopping.
5 years later Amazon is still eating all our lunches. So is omnichannel the best strategy for every retailer? We don’t think so. Our philosophy is that merchandise is key, and the digital experience needs to get out of the buyer’s way and make it as easy as possible to shop whether that’s in-store or online.
We encourage our clients to build digital experiences that support their brick and mortar strategy while providing a seamless online buying experience.
A 2016 Harvard Business Review study showed that almost 92% of all purchases are still happening in stores vs. 8% online. That’s still a lot of in-store purchases.
So, what happens when a digital agency pushes omnichannel and the retailer ends up with both declining online and offline sales? Kevin Hillstrom of Mine That Data regularly talks about what happens when retailers ignore the importance of merchandise and focus on the wrong metrics or technology.
Barnes & Noble is suffering from this strategy now:
“Although consumer spending was generally strong this holiday season, not all retailers reaped the rewards. At Barnes & Noble, 2017 holiday sales fell more than 6 percent to $953 million, compared with the year prior. Same-store sales fell 6.4 percent for the holiday period, while online sales dropped 4.5 percent….The stock has fallen more than 55 percent from a year ago.” – CNBC
In this example, facing the competition of Walmart.com and Amazon.com, B&N embraced the omnichannel approach that pundits have been pushing, and failed to deliver a compelling in-store experience. Their customers weren’t happy.
But take heart. The future can be optimistic despite all the talk of retail Armageddon. (Remember, 92% of sales still take place offline). At least it’s a bright future for retailers willing to adapt to the changing market.
Now that more and more is ordered online, or experienced online, the only trips we take are special trips. If your offering, your service or your place isn’t worth a special trip, it’s likely we won’t be coming by any time soon.
– From Seth Godin: Worth a special trip
Here’s how you build a digital experience that supports your offline strategy.
- Localized landing pages – A localized landing page that’s optimized for a local search can be very powerful in helping new customers enjoy their first experience with a brand.
The website may be the very first impression customers have of the brand, so it’s important to meet a visitor’s needs with the essentials: location information, pricing, what it’s like to shop with the brand, what customers should expect when they come in, etc. All this should be presented in the brand’s personality.
- Targeted social – It’s important to find the right social channel to match your brand’s personality and content style. If yours is a highly visual brand and product, Instagram is likely a good fit, though keep in mind other demographics like gender and age when selecting the proper channel. It’s tempting to try to promote on all the different social channels here, but the key is to dial in on the channel that resonates most with the audience. Then focus on content that can be created consistently and sustainably (and that your audience responds to).
- Localized SEO – Making sure your site visitors can find your brick-and-mortar stores in a local search is key to driving foot traffic. With up to 72% of younger shoppers researching online before purchasing in-store, it’s critical to rank for the local search terms.
- Targeted email – Building segmented and localized email lists and campaigns will help retailers target the right customer and send content that the customer actually cares about. This enhances the customer experience. Not every person wants to hear about everything the brand does or has to share. But if used properly, email is still a very effective tool.
- Retargeting – The bounce rate for online retailers is between 20-40% on average (or in many cases a lot more). It’s critical to have a mechanism in place that brings visitors back to your site, like a retargeting email or even an ad. And while we’re talking retargeting, cart abandonment happens 78% of the time on average, so it’s even more important to have a solid cart abandonment strategy.
- Offline data for online targeting – Facebook’s new offline retargeting allows you to collect a customer’s phone number or email address in-store (I.e., brick & mortar). You can use that data to retarget Facebook ads to those customers. Pretty useful for retailers.
- In-store options – Most of these strategies use your website to align with your brick-and-mortar store, but Sprucebot works the other way around. Sprucebot is an in-store Wifi connection that customizes customers’ in-store experience. Sprucebot collects a phone number to allow a customer access Wifi, and then tailors the user experience based on preferences gradually collected from the customer. This enhances both the in-store experience for the customer, and gives the retailer valuable data for online marketing.
When retailers build a memorable experience (whether that’s online or off), it builds a relationship with the customer. Unifying that offline experience with targeted digital gives people a good reason to come back to shop in person or on your website. Otherwise, it’s just easier to jump over to Amazon to order.
Sources and citations
- 72% of young shoppers research online before purchasing in a store. 
- Two thirds of in-store shoppers will check prices on their phone before making a purchase. 
 Retail’s Main Event: Brick & Mortar vs. Online, RetailNext