How to design a holiday ready omnichannel customer experience

The holidays are coming! The closer we edge towards the biggest sales season of the year, retailers look at ways to make it their biggest yet. In the last couple of years, growth between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retail has fluctuated pretty dramatically. In 2020, ecommerce grew 50%, far and beyond expectations. However, now in 2022, it looks like brick-and-mortar is back and forcing ecommerce to take a backseat. 

What this highlights is the increase of omnichannel commerce, and the need to create an experience that’s flexible and seamless. Let’s take a look at omnichannel customer experience, and 3 steps you can take to ensure you’re meeting your customers’ needs. 

What is an omnichannel customer experience?

To know what’s important for omnichannel experiences, we need to first understand what that actually means. Let’s say a customer shops on your website, that’s one channel they’re using as part of their experience. Perhaps they instead shop in-store, that’s also a channel. Or they see something on social media, and you have a storefront on your social media profile. If they’re able to use any or all of these options, that’s what we call a multi-channel experience. 

Omnichannel takes this a step further - every channel both sales and marketing becomes part of the experience, flowing between them easily. A customer can discover your brand on TikTok, then easily purchase through your website, get a collection code via email, pick-up instore, and possibly even return online. According to McKinsey, more than half of consumers engage with 3 to 5 channels during their purchasing journeys. Flexibility and fluidity is key - you need to make it easy for customers to move between channels without friction. 

Providing this is key, regardless of if you have an online store, brick-and-mortar store, or both. You’re essentially making it as simple and easy as possible for a customer to make a purchase and then to manage that purchase. This isn’t just an ecommerce trend that retailers and experts are talking about, in fact 9 in 10 customers want that seamless experience from brands. 

#1 - Allow customers to move between mobile and desktop, and offer flexible online-to-offline options

If flexibility is key to omnichannel, then that extends to the device the customer is shopping on. Mobile commerce is growing, but that doesn’t always mean that a customer will go from discovery to purchase entirely on mobile. They may discover your product while on their smartphone, but want to do more research on a desktop computer. Consider ways you can make this easy, so they don’t have to go and find the products they were interested in all over again. One way to do this is allowing customers to create and save items as part of a wishlist, or saving a cart attached to their account. 

Just as it’s easy to move between mobile and desktop, if you have a brick-and-mortar store you need to make it just as easy to move from that to your online store. According to Google, 56% of customers will use their smartphones to research a product online while in-store. That might be offering offline-to-online, and online-to-offline options during the research and purchase process. Those options include buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), buy online return in store, local delivery options, order in store for home delivery etc. These make it easy to avoid any customer frustrations as they move between channels. For example, say a customer is on your online store and a product is sold out; in most cases, they’d just look elsewhere. However if you also display in-store availability and offer next-day collection in-store, they may make that purchase. Or if a customer is browsing in-store and can’t find a product, but checks online to see it’s available online - you should make it easy for them to order for home delivery or in-store delivery. 

If you don’t have a physical storefront, but you do have a warehouse location, consider how you can make the most of this instead. That may mean offering a local delivery or collection service from your warehouse, or setting up a local collection point that can facilitate that desire to move between online and physical retail. It may require additional resources in the short-term, however you’ll be setting your store up for long-term success.

Especially as we approach the holiday season, having this flexibility between mobile and desktop, and online and in-store, is going to become even more important. They’re doing a lot more researching and purchasing for gifts, so they don’t want to have to go through that entire process all over again just because they switch devices. They also may not want to wait on shipping times, especially if there are supply chain issues or they’re nearing shipping deadlines. Therefore if they discover your brand online, you can make it easy for them to get what they need locally faster. 

#2 - Make it easy for customers to shop your holiday collections via social media

Social media has always been a great marketing tool, and in recent times it has also become a valuable sales channel. Your customers spend a lot of their time online on social media - US adults spend an average 45 minutes per day browsing TikTok alone. However in a more traditional multi-channel approach, users will see a product, then perhaps go to the brand’s profile, find a link in their bio to a website, then find the product they originally discovered. This lengthy path to purchase leaves a lot of room for distraction and frustration, so if you want to see true sales success you need to optimize your approach to social commerce.

During the holiday season especially, customers will be more attentive to brands and products as they’re on the lookout for gift ideas. If they see a great gift for someone while browsing TikTok or Instagram, they want to order it quickly. There are three ways you can make this easier. The first is by having an up-to-date social storefront on the channels which allow social shopping. This gives customers quick and easy access to the products you’re promoting for the holiday season. 

The second method is to ensure any promoted content links directly to a product or landing page on your website that has the exact products being promoted. This makes it very clear for a customer coming from a social platform to find and purchase products.

And finally, when you post about a product, link it back to either that product in your social storefront, or to your website. There are “link in bio” tools online that can make this easier, so all you have to do is add the link to the post and the customer can just tap the image shared on social media to browse the product. The less time a customer spends trying to find the right path to get to your products, the better their experience will be and the more likely they are to actually make a purchase.

#3 - Create a super smooth post-purchase experience

Many merchants will focus on the journey to the checkout when they look at omnichannel commerce. However, what happens after is just as important to craft a smooth, seamless experience. After all, there are many different touch points throughout the post-purchase process that rely on a variety of different channels. Especially as we approach the holiday season, fulfillment is one of the most important issues for customers.

Let’s say for example, a customer orders online for collection in-store. They need to be alerted to their order status, so this could be done via email and SMS. They need to be able to verify their collection when they arrive at the store, so they could be given a barcode or QR code for your in-store team to scan. Another example is perhaps the item they wanted to buy in-store wasn’t available, so your team made it possible for them to have it delivered to their home from your warehouse. They’ll need to be able to know when to expect it to arrive, so you should in this case offer real-time tracking.

Once the order is in the customer’s hands, the experience doesn’t end there. They may need to return an item for whatever reason, and in this instance omnichannel can again prove useful. Giving customers a variety of flexible options for returns and exchanges can make the customer experience that much better. For example, it could be possible for a customer to process a return online, drop it off in-store, and select an item to exchange from the store’s inventory. Other flexible options might include at-home return collections, and courier drop-off points.

In cases where they don’t want to process a return, but they do have an issue, merchants should also offer different customer support channels. Your own site might already have a contact form or email address, however to really enhance the experience it should be possible for customers to contact support via live chat, social media, and in-store. 

Omnichannel is a growing and important part of ecommerce as more customers go back to in-store shopping. As much as brick-and-mortar may be returning, those customers won’t easily forget the ease of ecommerce, and they will want the two experiences to feel like one and the same. As we approach the holiday season, merchants truly can make the most of omnichannel to improve customer experience, grow sales, and boost retention all at once.