The world of eCommerce is changing faster than ever, and so are the expectations of customers. Gone are the days of lockdown-imposed strictly online shopping. Now, customers want to shop anytime and anywhere through both various channels and devices but also in person. At the same time, they refuse to compromise on quality, convenience, or value.
To win their loyalty and trust, more and more eCommerce businesses are embracing an omnichannel strategy that connects all sales channels and provides a smooth and personalized customer journey across multiple touchpoints.
In this article, we’ll explore what omnichannel eCommerce is, why it matters, and how you can leverage the latest trends to stay ahead of the competition in 2024.
What is omnichannel eCommerce?
Omnichannel commerce is an integrated approach to eCommerce that focuses on providing a seamless and unified customer experience across multiple channels. These channels can include online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, a standalone website, social media platforms, mobile apps, brick-and-mortar stores, and more.
At its core, it tackles the problem of how businesses can take advantage of all the different sales channels at their disposal. It recognizes that customers often switch between channels during their shopping journey and focuses on making sure that such changes are almost unnoticeable.
Benefits of an omnichannel strategy
In practical terms, an omnichannel strategy relies on a centralized back-end system that connects all channels. This means that no matter how many different channels you run, there’s just a single inventory, pricing module, customer info database, and so on.
From a vendor’s perspective, this translates into consistency and ease of management above all else. Every channel is fed the very same product information and has access to the same payment and shipping system and other modules. If you need to make changes to any of those, you only make them once.
From a customer’s perspective, omnichannel commerce means a buying experience that, if needed, can seamlessly span multiple channels. Imagine a customer who browses and adds items to a cart in a dedicated mobile app, then completes the transaction on a desktop, and finally picks up the purchased items at a nearby brick-and-mortar store. In the case of traditional architecture, making such a workflow would likely need a series of complicated custom integrations between all the different systems. Omnichannel, on the other hand, supports it straight out of the box.
Differentiating omnichannel from multichannel
The concept of an omnichannel approach isn’t new in the world of eCommerce, but it’s still often confused with its older brother: multichannel commerce. In the older approach, each channel operates independently. They likely all have their own inventories, pricing, customer support, and more.
As a result, the customer's experience may vary depending on the channel they use. They may encounter differences in product availability, payment options, ways to get in touch with the vendor, and so on. If a customer decides to switch channels, it’s almost as if they completely reset their journey and start from scratch.
Multichannel eCommerce is, in many ways, the less sophisticated approach of the two. It allows businesses to reach a wider audience and diversify their sales channels but at a high cost. It requires much more work to set up and manage all the different channels independently and can easily lead to troublesome inconsistencies in branding and customer experience. On the other hand, it might be easier to establish initially because you can build the channels one by one and don’t need to worry about connecting them all together.
Omnichannel eCommerce trends for 2024
As our eCommerce Trend Radar shows, modern businesses are embracing the omnichannel approach in a big way. It’s easy to see why. This is the next logical step in the evolution of eCommerce after multichannel and one that directly responds to the changing market and customers. Because of this, it’s reasonable to assume that omnichannel trends will play a big role in shaping the eCommerce landscape for 2024 and beyond. Let’s take a closer look at the biggest ones.
1. Return to brick and mortar
Back in October, the report that Netflix is planning to open physical locations popped up. This is huge news. Over the past decade or so, Netflix has become one of the main symbols of the digital world moving into the cloud. The success of their streaming model almost single-handedly killed physical DVD rental stores, and now the company is going full circle and embracing brick and mortar as a sort of experiential theme park.
Image source: Envato Elements
This is not an isolated case but a sign of a broader trend. Many businesses that used to operate strictly online either already have made strides into the world of brick and mortar or are planning such moves. There are a few reasons for this phenomenon:
- The costs of doing business online, ads in particular, keep rising to such a degree that paying rent is becoming the cheaper way to reach customers.
- Return rates for retail purchases increased drastically over the past two years, and the average return rate for eCommerce is almost double that of brick and mortar. In other words, setting up physical stores means minimizing losses caused by returns.
- The ability to see and touch products with our own hands fits in very neatly with the concept of experiential retail that’s starting to take off in a big way.
- Finally, you can’t ignore the impact of the pandemic. The era of lockdowns is thankfully behind us, and embracing physical stores once again can be seen as a statement that things have returned to normalcy for good.
Because of all these factors, you should definitely put some thought into including brick-and-mortar stores in your 2024 omnichannel strategy. Embracing physical locations might seem like a step backward for digitally native eCommerce businesses. In a way, it really is. However, it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to reach and connect with your customers in a way that resonates with them.
You can consider showrooming a practice that’s complementary to the return to brick and mortar described above. In essence, it means that customers visit physical stores to try on, inspect in detail, or otherwise interact with products. Then, after they’ve made up their minds, they leave empty-handed and buy the products cheaper online. In other words, you invest in rent, staff wages, and other miscellaneous costs just to serve as free marketing for someone else. It’s a disaster for you as a vendor.
Or is it? Retailers can try to fight the practice and inevitably lose, but they can also try to think outside the box and leverage it to their advantage. Of course, you can’t always offer the lowest price, especially if you’re competing with online-only retailers whose costs are lower. However, creative implementation of omnichannel strategies can be an ace up your sleeve.
Image source: Pexels
How to make showrooming your friend
If we’re considering the customer who’s simply looking for the lowest price, you’ll probably need to accept that, in the end, they’ll complete their purchase elsewhere. Still, you can get something out of their visit. If you offer the unique experience mentioned above, you can encourage visitors to create content at the store. That’s free advertising for you. Another approach is finding ways to transform their visit, even if it’s just for showrooming, into data that’s valuable to you. This might be as simple as collecting their contact info for your mailing list but also for more in-depth insight into customer behavior that’ll help you refine the experience you offer.
3. Virtual shopping
Virtual shopping is another trend that’s quickly gaining traction and is likely to play a major role in the 2024 eCommerce landscape. In short, it comes down to leveraging modern technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), progressive web apps (PWAs), and various communication tools, to elevate the online shopping experience as we currently know it.
By taking advantage of these tools, businesses can create an immersive online shopping experience almost as if customers were visiting a brick-and-mortar store in person. They open up new avenues to display and present products, and create seamless channels of communication with the staff if the need arises.
Creating a synergy between brick and mortar and virtual shopping
At first glance, virtual shopping might seem contradictory to the return to brick and mortar discussed earlier. It looks like a binary choice: you either visit a store in person or browse online. However, the more you think about it, the more complementary they become.
Image source: Envato Elements
First, it doesn’t need to come down to a choice at all. Some customers prefer the one approach, while some the other. The beauty of omnichannel architecture means that businesses don’t need to settle for just one of them. They can successfully implement both approaches at once and make them synergize with one another. For instance, imagine a customer shopping for expensive furniture. They might prefer to visit a physical store to see and touch the products in person but then go through the nitty-gritty of various financing options with a sales representative virtually from the comfort of their home.
Second, it’s also a matter of accessibility. Depending on where a given business operates, there might be a large number of customers who’d like to visit a physical location, but they realistically can’t because of distance, disability, or any other reason. Embracing both trends at once means giving all those customers the very best experience you can so that no one is left behind.
4. Livestream shopping
As live streaming is finding its way into more and more areas of modern life, streamers are becoming the Gen Z spin on the traditional concept of celebrities. The appeal is easy to pinpoint: streamers tend to have more in common with the average Joe and Jane than musicians or movie stars. They’re personable and accessible on top of that. Because of this, they make extremely attractive brand ambassadors, and businesses are starting to realize this in a big way.
If live streamers can be seen as modern celebrities, then their content might be a modern twist on the concept of infomercial channels. It’s a seamless fit that lets brands market their products in a less jarring way than a traditional advertisement. Gaming streams are the perfect example. It’s often the case that they take a free-flowing shape that resembles a talk show or podcast more than, say, a movie. The audience comes for the host, and the games they play are just an excuse. Yet, they’re still on the viewers’ screens for hours at a time. The very same concept can also be applied to other kinds of products that appear in a stream, such as electronics, household appliances, clothing, and so on.
Making live streaming an eCommerce channel
If you’re an eCommerce owner or manager, there are two ways you can leverage the popularity and massive potential of live streaming to your advantage. The first one is obvious: it’s simply an effective marketing channel. Live streams can direct traffic to your eCommerce platform of choice just like any other marketing channel.
However, thanks to modern technology, the possibilities don’t end there. If you have omnichannel architecture in place, you can embed a shopping module in a live stream and set it up as another direct sales channel. Imagine this scenario: a product appears on a live stream and a convenient widget that’s connected to your eCommerce back end appears. Viewers can make the purchase without leaving the stream so that they don’t miss a second of their favorite creator.
Image source: Meta
At the heart of omnichannel strategies lies the seamless transition between different channels that enables users to choose and switch effortlessly. This fluidity is a perfect match for the broader trend of personalized experiences that we’re observing more and more of. Personalization in eCommerce isn’t just a novelty as it once was; it’s becoming a necessity, and it’s expected by customers. In other words, it’s no longer about adding value for customers when you offer personalization options but rather about taking it away when you don’t.
Luckily, the omnichannel approach is the perfect facilitator for creating personalized experiences. The multitude of different options that it opens up allows businesses to cater to a large variety of customer preferences, whether it's through online marketplaces, standalone websites, social media, or brick-and-mortar stores.
6. Transparent supply and delivery chain
The omnichannel approach, by definition, involves a diverse range of delivery options. After all, if a store fluidly adapts to the needs of customers, it’s a no-brainer that delivery should be just as flexible and convenient.
This, in turn, necessitates robust logistics and tracking systems for orders. The standards of modern customers, who are used to how Amazon and the like operate, are ever-increasing. If a business can’t realistically offer same-day delivery or other “luxury” features, then, at the very least, they need to make sure the tracking system is as precise as it can be.
Obviously, this need applies to all of eCommerce and not just omnichannel businesses. However, it becomes doubly important in the omnichannel context. For one, the multitude of sales and communication channels can make it tricky to keep customers up to date. As an example, how can you make order tracking intuitive if a customer makes their purchase in person but the rest of order processing happens online? On the other hand, omnichannel ecosystems open up many possibilities to explore, such as push notifications via PWAs or even social media messages.
How to get the most out of omnichannel opportunities
The shift toward omnichannel eCommerce is not only a reflection of technological advancements but also a direct response to shifting customer expectations. This approach transcends the limitations of traditional multichannel models and offers an improved, unified, and consistent customer journey.
Adaptability and responsiveness to market dynamics are likely to become the key themes for omnichannel practices in 2024. For example, the return to brick-and-mortar stores, once considered a relic of the past, signals a pragmatic response to the rising costs of online operations and a desire to minimize losses from increased return rates. Striking a balance between physical and virtual realms, businesses are leveraging technologies like virtual reality and live streaming to enhance the online shopping experience. It also ensures that businesses will cater to diverse customer preferences and create an environment where no customer is left behind.
Businesses that embrace these trends stand to not only meet but exceed the evolving expectations of their customers and position themselves at the forefront of the dynamic eCommerce landscape. As we move forward, the successful integration of these trends will be instrumental in defining the future of omnichannel commerce.
There’s a lot to digest, and consulting with industry experts might be the next logical step. If you’re not sure about tackling this challenge on your own, make sure to get in touch with us.
Published November 23, 2023