An Introduction to Omnichannel Retail

Introduction to omnichannel retail

Let’s set the scene

From brick and mortar stores to mobile phones to online shops to text message marketing and more, retailing isn’t what it used to be.

Customers nowadays have the opportunity to make purchase decisions at nearly every twist, turn and click they make. As a result, merchants have to keep up and be prepared to make purchasing from them as easy and as enjoyable as possible. The question is no longer if they need to make omnichannel part of their selling and marketing strategies, but rather how to do so effectively. To help support this, Brightpearl shares with you – tips, tricks, techniques and more to help you navigate the always evolving and ever-so important world of omnichannel retail uniquely for independent retailers.


Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder and Publisher, Retail Minded




Meet Nicole Leinbach Reyhle

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder and Publisher of Retail Minded, a publication committed to supporting independent retailers through news, education and support, as well as the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference.

Recognized for her expertise in independent retail, Reyhle has published thousands of articles about small business and is the Author of the book “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business” from McGraw-Hill. Additionally, Reyhle has contributed to Forbes, Fiverr, IBM and more, and has been the Spokesperson for Small Business Saturday from American Express since 2014.

What’s in the guide?

This guide aims to give a full introduction to omnichannel retail. From the basics of understanding ‘what is omnichannel?’ to how you can put omnichannel best practices into action. The guide covers:

  1. Understanding omnichannel retail
  2. What omnichannel means for independent retailers
  3. Finding the right omnichannel blend for your store
  4. The reality of why omnichannel matters
  5. Action steps to help merchants become more omnichannel focused

What is omnichannel?

Very simply, omnichannel is the ability for a consumer to interact with businesses in the easiest, most convenient ways possible. That includes in person, at home, with handheld devices and any other way in which brands and consumers connect. This is particularly important for sales, although marketing is just as influential when it comes to connecting with customers through omnichannel strategies.

For independent merchants, the general idea of omnichannel can often be compared to cross- merchandising – which is when one item is merchandised in multiple displays throughout one store environment to help make consumers aware of its presence and value despite any journey they may make along the way. Likewise, omnichannel retail aims to make brands front and center among consumers despite any journey a customer may make along the way, as well.

Retail expert Cathy Donovan Wager, Founder of RETAILMavens, sums omnichannel up as:

“Using as many avenues as possible to capture customer attention.”

Keeping this in mind, what have you done to capture your customers’ attention lately?

Omnichannel customer journeys

To help understand the different omnichannel experiences, consider the following customer journeys:

Customer Journey #1: Customer visits traditional brick and mortar store. Customer leaves store empty handed. Customer recalls an item they wanted but did not buy around midnight that night. Customer uses Smartphone to visit this said retailer’s Facebook page, anxious to see what else they may discover from this store. Customer then clicks to the retailer’s website directly from Facebook and using their mobile phone, purchases this item via their website for a pick-up in store the following day.

Customer Journey #2: Customer realizes they need new luggage for an unexpected trip planned for just a few days away. Customer has no time to shop at a traditional brick and mortar store, but sits down on their couch and uses their iPad to shop among a few local merchants they know carry luggage. Customer orders a piece of luggage from the merchant with shipping options that deliver within 2 to 3 business days, willing to spend the extra price for shipping thanks to the time it saves them from having to go to the store and pick it up.

Customer Journey #3: Customer researches tents online extensively over the course of a few months. Customer visits three local retailers that also carry tents and discusses the benefits of each tent brand with multiple sales associates. Customer continues to research brands, prices and other deciding factors that will influence his final purchase decision including store return policies. Customer returns to one of the three merchants he originally visited to make a tent purchase, confident in his decision based on his extensive brand and retailer research.

Customer Journey #4:Customer enjoys a day out with friends shopping along their local Main Street. With no clear need for anything, customer leisurely enjoys weaving in and out of stores as she engages with her friends about store inventory and life in general. Customer discovers a necklace that is merchandised on a nearby mannequin she walks by. Customer picks up the necklace, tries it on and looks in the mirror to see how she likes it. Her friends see her engaging with the necklace and tell her how great it looks, encouraging her to buy the necklace for an upcoming night out they have planned. Customer agrees it would look great for that particular event they are discussing and purchases the necklace on the spot while in the store with friends.

Customer Journey #5: Customer has had a busy work week and is overwhelmed with a lot going on in life right now. Work, family, health, friends and a recent break-up has this customer feeling down… but this customer (like many) knows that some shopping therapy could help lift her spirits, even if just temporarily. Customer uses social media to escape her thoughts and daydreams about what some new jeans, a new handbag and a haircut could do to lift her mood. Customer schedules a haircut appointment located near a great shopping area, planning to enjoy some shopping alone after her much anticipated hair appointment. Customer tries on jeans at three different boutiques, placing a pair on hold at each store before returning to the first store she visited to purchase the jeans. Price was a factor – but how she felt in them ultimately led her to her final decision. Rather than buy a handbag, as well, she was willing to spend more on the jeans she preferred and decided she’d look for a handbag another day.

As you can see, customers navigate purchase decisions differently than one another and even differently than their own habits on occasion. Because of this, merchants must be prepared to connect and capture customer attention and dollars along various journeys, as well.

Infographic: Understanding the omnichannel retail journey

Competing with competitors by connecting with customers

Unlike big-box competitors that smaller, locally-owned merchants compete with every day, independent retailers must identify what the best ways possible are for them to maximize omnichannel strategies. There are no publicity, marketing, financial, operational and other key departments to help independent merchants identify the right strategies to take – but instead, independent retailers must make these key decisions on their own. The worst thing they could do, however, is to overlook this incredibly important reality and instead operate within their comfort zone – neglecting avenues in which they could be connecting with customers.

Among the ways in which connecting with customers exists for independent retailers include the following:

  1. Ecommerce: What began in the 1990’s as a way to primarily sell books and CD’s has exploded into a core consumer destination for products of all kinds. The growth of ecommerce continues as each year passes, and yet brick and mortar stores continue to stay relevant in our global marketplace. In fact, ecommerce reinforces physical storefronts – complementing the value of brick and mortar stores despite their non-physical existence. This is particularly true for smaller merchants since ecommerce is often introduced as a way to add value to their overall branding strategies versus over power their physical storefronts. Fortunately, companies such as BigCommerce and Shopify make it nearly turn-key for busy merchants to introduce ecommerce without becoming overwhelmed with the complexity of managing an online store. Having a web presence is no longer optional but rather a must, and this also the case for ecommerce if you’re selling products that can be shipped locally or anywhere in the world. Anything thing to consider? Even local consumers appreciate having ecommerce sites from their favorite local merchants since it helps in their shopping research and buying habits. Finally, having an ecommerce presence better positions your business to be included in organic SEO searches – something that can add value and sales to your business, which in turn makes it something you don’t want to ignore.
  2. Brick and Mortar: Physical storefronts offer more than face to face experiences for consumers to engage with brands, businesses and employees alike. They help bring economic vitality to communities, shape the character of local towns and introduce personality to otherwise big-box towns. Another thing brick and mortars do for retailers? They offer a destination for consumers to experience shopping – offering a social, interactive opportunity for memories to be made and purchases to take place. They can be the destination for in-store events, community gatherings, casual shopping, VIP events and more. Essentially, they can be whatever you want them to be within a physical space, you have the chance to create and capture customer attention unlike any other destination they would engage with your business.
  3. Social media: In today’s busy world, consumers are often multi-tasking between shopping, checking in on world news, catching up with their favorite pop-culture updates, connecting with friends, planning what’s for dinner and more. There’s no better place for this to happen at once than via social media – where Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter lead social conversations and social sales via hashtags, trending topics, likes, shares and more. The catch? You have to be engaged and active via social media to benefit from customer opportunities. Consistency is key, as well, when using social media since you can’t expect to get a return from social media if you aren’t proactively using it. Not only should your business have their own social media accounts on all social media channels, but you should also actively be using them by posting regularly on them. Of course, posting alone won’t do the trick. The key is being social… so get engaged, as well. Comment on other posts, respond to those who comment on your posts and click away when it comes to “liking” things that compliment your business. Combined, these efforts will help lead you to social media success – a key attribute to omnichannel success, as well.
  4. Online Marketing: In a world where digital is everywhere, online marketing is certainly something you want to ensure is part of your omnichannel strategy. Social media, email marketing and having a web presence is critical – but looking beyond these online strategies, consider what else you can do for your unique business. If you’re a strong writer, for example, consider how incorporating a blog into your business may make sense. Possibly you could even guest blog on other sites that offer links to your website as a way to strengthen your online visibility, as well. Incorporating Facebook advertising is another example of online marketing – extending your social media efforts while also capturing new and old customer’s attention. Hosting webinars is another avenue to consider, although this only makes sense for some retailers and not all. The main takeaway is this – omnichannel isn’t black and white. Don’t be afraid to look outside the traditional strategies to consider what the right combination is for your unique business.
  5. Email Marketing: Six time author Chris Edmonds, whose most recent book The Culture Engine is an Amazon best seller, believes that the best way to engage customers is through personalized email subscription. “When customers opt in to your email list, you can segment their interests and send them offers that are aligned with their buying habits. Segmentation requires tending, though… it won’t work well without you examining buyer habits. Mailchimp, the email marketing service I use, provides a variety of ways to segment your subscriber list – which offers great value to busy entrepreneurs trying to maximize their marketing efforts,” explains Edmonds. Expanding on this, email marketing is a powerful marketing tool that directly connects to opt-in consumers – already positioning you for a stronger response since this audience has been narrowed down by customers themselves. To further support the value of email marketing, it’s reported that the ROI of email marketing is 4300%, which is double that of any other digital channel. Additionally, 94% of people say they get online to check email and it’s reported by Marketo to be the #1 activity on the internet – more so than social media. Direct Marketing Association reports that 66% of online consumers have made a purchase as a result of an email, which means your odds to welcome sales via email marketing are pretty good. Whether you’re the betting kind or not, you can’t ignore the odds are in your favor when it comes to email marketing… so be sure to incorporate this into your omnichannel strategy at least twice a month to help keep your business on your customer’s radars.
  6. Special Events: It used to be that special events were meant for physical stores only but nowadays you can introduce special events to your online efforts, as well. Combined with in-store experiences, there is no shortage of events to consider for your business. From VIP experiences to online promotions to B2B hosted events in both your store and someone else’s, the ideas are endless. The catch is to make sure you are incorporating events frequently enough that they keep your customers engaged yet not so often that they don’t stay exciting. Retail experts Kizer & Bender suggest having at least two but as many as four small events a month in addition to one bigger event per month. The reason for so many? To generate repeat customers and strengthen sales.
  7. Mobile: Folks nowadays are on the go, which makes mobile a key strategy to connect with consumers. Keeping this in mind, remember that being on the go also means being easily distracted. Because of this, your goal when incorporating mobile into your omnichannel strategy should be to make connecting with your brand via mobile easy and efficient. Hassle-free is an absolute must when building your mobile strategy because as a consumer yourself, it’s near certain you’d agree that it’s too easy to click away from one site and go to another if something becomes a burden while using your mobile device.  A few key areas to narrow in on that should be mobile friendly include your web pages – make sure they load quickly and your content shared on these pages are quick, easy to read and to the point – as well as make additional information such as your store address or social media links easy to find. Enhancing the browsing experience via mobile is among the best ways you can capture and keep customers attention, so call to actions are another key attribute to consider adding to your website. For example, “Click for Directions” and “Click to Call Now” buttons are great additions that can keep customers engaged and connected to your brand. Making sure the page is optimized for local map searches is a must via mobile, as well.
  8. Location Based Marketing: The 2016 State of Retailing Online report from Forrester Research reported that less than 10% of retailers are focusing on location based marketing, which provides an opportunity for those introducing it to their omnichannel efforts to get ahead of the competition. Keeping this in mind, how can you benefit from location based marketing for your independent retail store? To start, let your customer be in control. Choose options that allow customers to opt-in to push notifications and GPS-enabled content. You want to be sure that you only push out messages to your consumers when it’s both timely and relevant. Possibly it’s to announce a flash sale you are having or maybe it’s to share news of some exciting inventory that has just arrived. But remember whatever it is, make sure it matters based on their location. And finally, location based marketing is all about convenience, so stay on track with using this only as it makes sense for your unique business.
  9. Loyalty Programs: In a recent Brightpearl article, it was reported that the cost of a new customer is much more expensive than the cost of returning one. “In fact, it’s five times more expensive to attract a new consumer than it is to keep an existing customer loyal,” shared Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder of Retail Minded and a contributor to Brightpearl. Keeping this in mind, introducing a customer loyalty program to your business is a fantastic way to gain more frequent communication with customers as well as strengthen overall sales. Of course, how you do so is what matters. Loyalty programs can exist the old fashioned way with stamps and paper tracking customer visits, but technology nowadays makes it much more beneficial to manage loyalty programs. You can offer birthday perks for customers via loyalty programs, extend incentives based on frequent purchases and provide promotions only for your loyalty program customers. The ideas are endless… the sales are not.
  10. Text Message Marketing: With mobile devices in the palms of consumers hands nearly 24/7, text message marketing increasingly proves to be beneficial in communicating with customers. Consider how quick, concise messaging via texts may make sense for your business – then incorporate this strategy into your omnichannel plans. In fact, reports that text messages are read 10 times faster than email – giving your business the chance to undoubtedly be heard.

With the above ten ideas ready to help you jumpstart your omnichannel strategies, you’re sure to find the perfect balance for your one-of-a-kind business. Just remember that there is no one way to do omnichannel right. The perfect blend is your own blend – just like you’re your own one-of-a-kind store.

Infographic: 10 omnichannel strategies to connect with customers

Define your primary target audience

To help identify what makes sense for your unique store, you have to consider who your audience is. Among the ways to do this? Put yourself in their shoes, then ask yourself…

  1. How old – on average – are your customers?
  2. What does an average day look like for your customers?
  3. Do your customers shop primarily for purpose… or leisure?
  4. What habits do your customers have outside of shopping with you?
  5. How does the buying journey typically happen for your customers?
  6. Where in your customers buying journey do they discover you?
  7. Are your customers primarily first time customers or repeat customers?
  8. Are some of your customers more profitable than others? If so, why?
  9. Do your customers connect with you online? Offline? In multiple places?
  10. What is the #1 reason your customer comes to your business and makes a purchase?

Challenging yourself to put yourself in your customer’s shoes also challenges you to evaluate your retail business with a critical eye. Without doing this, there’s a chance you are losing customers… and this is, of course, exactly what do you do not want to happen. A critical eye translates to a critical analysis of your existing customers and target market alike – helping to keep your business relevant and thriving in a competitive market. Additionally, it will help you identify the right omnichannel blend for your store. If you’re prepared to take a cold, hard look at your retail business, read on…

Checklist for defining your target audience.

Why does omnichannel matter?

Today’s consumers are equipped with digital experiences and higher expectations both online and offline unlike any customers from our past. The power that consumers hold shape not only a retailer’s success or failure, but also shapes how retailers need to adjust to consumers in order to be relevant. In other words, the decisions consumers make impact the decisions you need to make.

Customers nowadays – possibly even yourself – are equipped to share the good, the bad and as the saying goes, the ugly, with just a few simple clicks to potentially hundreds or even thousands of people. The question is, however, are you equipped to handle this type of customer attention… good or bad?

With customers able to share news of a store experience as quickly as they can also buy something nowadays, it’s critical to be able to respond to and support these customers. Doing so is only possible if you are equipped with all the avenues of communication and connection that customers demand nowadays. From email marketing to text message communication to in-store events to social media and more, the avenues to and from consumers are evolving and always expanding. It’s up to you if you want to continue the journey and stay connected to today’s consumers.

Retail strategists and internationally recognized speaking duo Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender explained that they are…

“Continually amazed by the number of places we visit where we are never acknowledged the entire time we are there.”

As a result, they keep a tally of the number of times they’re ignored in stores – then share it via social media. They also share the good experiences they have, as well, stating that they “broadcast it all over social media” anytime something great happens.

Now ask yourself… have you ever done this?

Action Steps to Help Merchants Become More Omnichannel Focused

You wouldn’t pack for a trip without thinking about what you need, would you? Planning your journey towards omnichannel success is similar to packing for a trip you’ve looked forward to for a long time. Looking ahead to what your retail goals are, consider what you need to help make them happen. To help, consider the following.

STEP ONE: Understand Your Customer.

Creating an omnichannel strategy first begins with understanding your customer. From who they are to how they shop to why they spend and more, customers are the core of any business big or small – and independent retailers in particular need to keep this top of mind to help stay on track with reaching their target consumers. Aim to understand who your most profitable customers are, who your most loyal customers are and where you can connect with all consumers who may be interested in your store, products or services.  When able to do just this, your business will be able to build relationships that are both strong and profitable. Remember, as well, that understanding who your customer is also means understanding how they like to connect, communicate and make buying decisions. Aim to deliver outstanding customer service in all your communication avenues – including in-store, online, via email marketing, mobile experiences and more – to ensure you retain customers and likewise, your store stays top of mind to them when it’s time for them to make another buying decision.

“Your customer expects you to know him or her. That’s complicated when you’re running in 100 directions at once, using multiple avenues to engage customers. But that’s no excuse. Don’t leave your customer relationships to chance. Be aware, be intentional, and be proactive. Technology can help deepen relationships across a variety of channels. Dive in,”


– Encourages S. Chris Edmonds, a speaker, author, and executive consultant who is the founder of The Purposeful Culture Group.He’s one of Inc. Magazine’s 100 Great Leadership Speakers and was a featured presenter at SXSW 2015.

STEP TWO: Understand Your Data

Retailers big and small are able to access data more so than ever before – helping them leverage valuable insight to apply to future marketing, sales, inventory and operational decisions.  This is incredibly valuable to smaller merchants in particular who are able to more precisely plan budgets, inventory, customer management, marketing strategies and all other influential details in their business thanks to data generated from POS, CMS systems, social media accounts and more. Your goal is to not only collect this data, but to analyze it and understand it so that you can better support your target market of consumers. The result will lead to more enhanced, stronger retail experiences for your ideal buyer – ultimately translating to more sales, as well.

“Without a clear view of how customers engage with your store – both online and off – as well as how they shop, what they buy, when they make their most frequent purchases and more, your business does not have a chance to reach its full potential. Using data, you can identify best-selling items, slow-moving inventory, opportunities for more success and so much more,”

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, who is the author of Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Business, as well as the Founder of Retail Minded and Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference, recently shared on the Brightpearl blog.

STEP THREE: Establish Your Objectives

Once you have an understanding of your customer and your data, you are better positioned to identify your objectives. Are you aiming to sell to customers in-store only while staying in touch via digital strategies without offering online sales opportunities? Or do you want to offer multiple buying avenues for your customers to easily and seamlessly experience buying from your store at various touchpoints? Establish what makes sense for your one-of-a-kind store, but first make sure you consider what makes sense for your target customer and the data you have generated to support past sales, marketing and overall customer communication efforts. These combined details will help you establish the best omnichannel strategy for your unique business.

“You must have a plan on how to utilize as many channels as possible to get your customers attention. This plan needs to involve your brand message and consistency, as well as have a clear path to welcoming sales,”

Cathy Donovan Wagner, Founder of RETAILMavens.

STEP FOUR: Create Your Omnichannel Strategy

Once your goals are clearly identified, introduce action steps to make them happen. Possibly it’s to add one new omnichannel strategy into your business over the next six months, giving you a realistic timeframe to shape a robust omnichannel plan for your unique store. Maybe it’s to consider outside vendors to help you implement stronger technology into your omnichannel efforts, or possibly your strategy begins with analyzing your existing efforts and seeing what you can do to improve upon them. Make sure whatever your strategy is that you stay on track to ensure your efforts don’t get lost in your day-to-day responsibilities. If necessary, schedule time each day to focus on your omnichannel efforts.

“Starting something new isn’t always easy, but it’s often necessary for retailers to keep up in today’s busy marketplace. Don’t be afraid to take new action steps towards goals you have. It may just be those steps that lead you to where you want to be.”

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Retail Minded

STEP FIVE: Identify Your Unique Omnichannel Roadmap

Combining all the avenues of omnichannel into your store isn’t easy. There’s no one roadmap for retailer success, unfortunately, but there are directions to help you stay on track and discover your unique retail store’s ideal destination. Never lose sight of who your customer is and what it is they want and need from your store. Keep your store’s core values in mind and aim to exceed customer expectations. Combined with stellar inventory managed by data-driven technologies, you’re on your way to omnichannel success. As for your unique roadmap? Let it be yours, let it be unique… but don’t be afraid to lean on others and various avenues to help bring your store to life.

“My store wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the technologies I’ve introduced into my store planning, inventory and operations. Combined with my nonstop efforts to have in-store efforts, work with non-competitive businesses in my community to cross promote each other and keep my customers top priority on my to-do-list, I’m grateful to have a successful independent store ten years and running now.”

Angela Gianfrancesco, store owner of jewelry boutique Stella Blue Designs in Chicago, Illinois.

Omnichannel: In Conclusion

Gone are the days of singular marketing strategies and old-fashioned sales techniques. The best of customer care and marketing can of course continue to influence current consumer trends, but it takes a much more complex, dynamic strategy to capture and keep customer attention nowadays. To help? Omnichannel. It’s the only avenue to retail success.