Create a seamless online to offline experience for customers
6 min read
Mar 24, 2021
Retail

Small Businesses Must Create a Seamless Online to Offline Experience for Customers

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to provide contactless services for customers.

A.K.
Amanda KennedySenior Content Writer

Many retailers were initially caught off guard by the disruption of closed physical stores at the beginning of the pandemic—but many have since adapted to sell on multiple channels.  Companies that were able to shift selling activities to other channels were able to recover sales more quickly. But are these actions enough for companies to thrive in the new contactless commerce reality?

GetApp surveyed 968 consumers in September 2020 to understand how customers have adapted to contactless services in the wake of COVID-19. We found that 75% of consumers we surveyed are likely to switch retailers or service providers to ones with better contactless services. Our survey respondents also say that larger chains are more likely to offer a better contactless experience than small businesses.

To keep customers coming back, small retailers can win at contactless experiences by implementing a unified commerce ecosystem, which helps create a seamless online/offline experience for the consumer. Read on to discover what a unified commerce ecosystem looks like, and how you can implement one for your small business.

What does a unified commerce ecosystem look like?

Unified commerce ecosystems go beyond simple curbside pickups or eCommerce. Customers don’t want to shop completely online or completely at a physical store. They’re looking for experiences that are able to blend the two, and they don’t want the two experiences to feel disconnected.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen that many retailers still keep online shopping and physical retail sales in separate silos. An order management system can certainly help ease these woes by streamlining inventory control and shipments, but it doesn’t provide retailers with capabilities for selling across all channels. 

Unified commerce sets the stage for customers to be able to purchase across all channels seamlessly—from live chat to social media and voice command to in-store. Companies that are able to conquer the full customer journey are reaping the rewards.

For instance, luxury brand Louis Vuitton was able to take advantage of its unified commerce platform to launch a virtual pop-up shop on the Chinese communications platform WeChat during Valentine’s Day 2020. Online customers had access to curated Valentine’s Day looks and products. Store associates could share QR code discounts with clients and chat with them to help with their purchases. As a result of its virtual pop-up shop, Louis Vuitton doubled its Valentine’s Day sales in 2020 over 2019.

In the U.S., Walmart converted more than 2,500 of its physical retail locations to fulfillment centers to keep up with online retail demand. The company increased investments into multichannel sales platforms, such as curbside pickup and delivery, to support triple digit sales growth during the pandemic.

While these are both large retailer examples, it’s important for small businesses and independent retailers to know this is what they’re competing with.

3 tips for creating a seamless shopping experience for customers

Being able to deploy the benefits of a unified commerce system is crucial when it comes to providing customers with a good experience across channels.

So what can small businesses do to create a better unified commerce strategy?

1. Ensure you have the necessary technology foundation

Review how much of your technology speaks to each other. Unified commerce is dependent on the ability to ensure the front-end experience is seamless for customers. Look for API-based software so you have flexibility to add new channels and user interface (UI) tech.

2. Get serious about data

Unified commerce relies on the smart use of data. What does it mean for your company when people abandon their shopping carts? This can inform your marketing strategy. For instance, should you offer a discount code via follow-up email? Should you encourage them to make a store visit to try on an item in person? In order to make shopping a seamless conversation, you need to combine both qualitative and quantitative data into a marketing plan.

3. Audit your customer experience journey to see where you can improve

Big data, or quantitative data, is great for helping you uncover patterns and trends. But it can’t tell you who your customers are or their pain points. Instead, host interviews or focus groups to gather “thick data” on your customers that can lead to marketing insights that help improve your overall commerce experience.

Ensure your tech stack is ready for post-pandemic shopping

Your customers want to shop offline and online, and do it all seamlessly. As we look ahead to post-pandemic, it’s important that customers who have established new habits can continue to use curbside and in-store pickup. However, as they grow comfortable with more in-person experiences, you want to make sure they have a seamless experience with your digital channels.

With unified commerce, you can create a more cohesive experience for your customers across all channels. This helps improve the chance they’ll follow through on purchases, whether that’s through an offline channel, online, or a mix of both.

To learn more about the customer buying journey and how to create an omnichannel strategy, check out our article: "Research Online, Purchase Offline: Why Are Customers Driven to the Omnichannel Experience?"

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