Unified retail: a great challenge, but a much greater opportunity

 Unified retail: a great challenge, but a much greater opportunity

2021 was the year bricks-and-mortar retailers switched on – or doubled recorded on – their online capabilities. Where physical shop fronts were closing, digital stores were filling the void. But what happens next?

Many businesses have been using online as just a stopgap. However, retailers should unify their online and offline worlds, creating a stronger business without needing to double their effort.

This year, the biggest challenge for the retail industry is also their biggest opportunity: unifying online and offline strategies to create a seamless omnichannel approach that caters to every shopper.

Complementary, not contrasting

Long prior to the pandemic, eCommerce was forecast to threaten traditional brick-and-mortar business. Selling on the internet is undoubtedly a convenient service for increasingly digital-first consumers, only one that is complementing, rather than replacing, brick-and-mortar retail.

Traditional retailers would be the heart and soul of local communities; adding colour and vibrancy to high streets nationwide. Savvy retailers are the ones that unify both channels; combining a targeted, sophisticated online technique with meaningful, human-centric in-store experiences to grow their customer base, drive sales, incentivise loyalty, and supply shoppers with the seamless experience they need, where they want it.

Online store

An omnichannel retail strategy may seem like a daunting process, but when approached strategically and sustainably, it doesn't have to be. The easiest first step is a simple online shop that highlights your products with a straightforward checkout, and link it to your physical store.

Before you're ready to fulfil orders using your online store, you'll need behind-the-scenes systems to maintain your inventory, manage packaging and deliveries, and collect and analyse customer data. Inventory management, for instance, is particularly important as you unify your approaches – in the end, you don't want to advertise a product online that sold out in-store that day. Or perhaps you'll see that a certain product is selling better in-store than online, which means you should reserve more product for physical sales.

Deeper capabilities

With those foundations set, you can consider the additional channels you want to leverage. Email marketing, for example, is a cost- and time-effective method for reaching a large number of customers and steering them towards your online store or telling them about exciting new in-store products.

Instagram, meanwhile, is growing in popularity; with 90 percent of users following a brand, 83 percent finding new products on the platform and 80 per cent purchasing products through it. Across every channel – email, social media or others – personalisation is important. Leveraging customer data, you can suggest products your customers might like, offer them a discount if they haven't shopped for a while, or alert them to sales at the local store.

In-store experience

An effective eCommerce approach doesn't just incentivise online sales but encourages customers to visit your shop floor. Click and collect, a perfect example of unified retail, isn't just a convenient way for customers to receive their purchase but provides an opportunity for you to up-sell at the pos.

Whether they've arrived in your store through online discovery or are spending a few hours on their local high street, it's important to provide a memorable and convenient experience. Its smart to incentivise loyalty, so consider loyalty schemes that account for in-store and online purchases or reduced prices for shoppers who sign up for your subscriber list.

While restrictions are easing and vaccination programs are underway nationwide, safety and health is still crucial, so accept contactless payments, make sanitiser available and, where mandatory, ensure customers scan a QR code upon entry.

As consumers prioritise connection, convenience, and bespoke products, the need for – and potential of – omnichannel retail increases. No more accessible to only big-box retailers, local retailers are redefining successful omnichannel experiences and turning challenge into opportunity.

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