While omnichannel approaches are being implemented across a number of industries, one of the most prevalent is retail.

Traditional concepts of brick-and-mortar stores versus online stores are beginning to blend into a third option known as “connected stores.” Thanks to the growth of big data, cloud services, easier integration through application programming interfaces (APIs) and increasingly sophisticated real-time analytics, big retailers are moving away from traditional definitions of stores to combine the best elements of both, customizing customer purchases in personalized ways that best fit their needs.

It’s paying off: a study last year found U.S. companies using strong omnichannel strategies retain an average 89 percent of their customers compared to only 33 percent for companies with weaker strategies.

Service trends in omnichannel

The same study found when it comes to omnichannel conveniences, consumers most highly value the ability to check a product’s availability before visiting a store (82 percent); the ability to reserve a product online before pick-up (57 percent); the ability to access their stored profile information across all channels (50 percent); consistently personalized experiences (47 percent) and use of social media to access retailers (24 percent).

In response to some of those needs, retailers are tracking customers and sending messages to their smartphones as they shop in person; implementing one-touch, pay-and-go systems on mobile instead of requiring in-store customers to wait in check-out lines and encouraging customers to pull clothing items online before stopping in a store to try them on.

Investment in omnichannel

Such changes can require complex updates to infrastructure, analytics capabilities and company culture as retailers strive to secure insightful customer data and design information flow. What retail tools are seeing the biggest upgrades? Retailwire.com recently surveyed U.S. retailers to identify these top four, in order of frequency:

  1. Distributed order management (DOM) systems: To better control inventory, these central solutions for managing customer orders are being adapted to drive ship-from-store and other “cross-channel, save-the-sale activities.”
  2. Enterprise-wide inventory visibility: Retailers are honing in closer on the inventory data that provides them maximum value, determining how frequently they need it in real time.
  3. Enterprise content management: Software that creates and manages digital content is increasingly incorporating both product and marketing needs. Next up? Social media content.
  4. Enterprise cross-channel analytics: Retailers are integrating multiple sets of data from different channels and sources to create better customer and marketing intelligence delineating the customer journey.

The future of omnichannel

The convergence of online and brick-and-mortar capabilities means businesses across many industries must optimize trade across several channels to remain competitive.

Fortunately, today’s SaaS ecommerce solutions can help them handle the complexity of securing and digesting, customer data, tracking inventory, managing shipping and processing returns across multiple channels. And omnichannel merchants that sell products from a branded website can easily integrate channels such as Amazon, Facebook and Google Shopping to attract new customers or quickly move inventory.

“An e-commerce platform should make it easy to roll out a new channel through built-in functionality or integrations so merchants have the opportunity to test which channels work best for them, then double down on optimizing those that show value,” advises Casey Armstrong on Multichannelmerchant.com. “Technology has opened the omnichannel door for even the most hesitant store owners.”