Technology is growing at an astronomical pace, and the advent of portable technologies has given birth to omni-channel customer experiences. New omni-channel solutions are able to better manage the daily data deluge, understand customers from every angle and surpass their growing expectations for enhanced services. In the recent years, online retailers have flooded the market with attractive discounts and huge promotions, making people shift their buying preferences online. Several big retail brands are diversifying their businesses and adopting omni-channel strategies for the benefit of the customer.
In a survey on e-commerce by Dyn, over 52 percent of the respondents preferred buying goods online. E-commerce in India is growing at a breakneck speed, and as per a study conducted by Goldman Sachs, e-commerce in India will breach the $100-billion mark by FY2020. In contrast, in India’s largest opinion poll conducted by Inshorts and Ipsos, between July 25 and August 7 2016, 54 percent of urban Indians said if the cost is same, they would prefer to visit a proper retail store to buy a product, while four percent said they don’t want to indulge in online shopping at all.
While the transition from offline to online shopping is slow and non-disruptive, it also allowed retailers to shift their preferences with ease. As per Forrester’s Asia Pacific Online Retail Forecast, 2014 to 2019, India will have 125 million online buyers by the end of 2019. Furthermore, in India, the web has the capability to influence $70 billion of retail sales in 2019, which accounts for 30 percent of the overall organised retail market in India.
Online vs brick-and-mortar stores
The in-store draw still plays an important role for many merchants. In fact, most of the successful online retailers are making an omni-channel presence felt in their e-commerce businesses, i.e., they have both online and brick-and-mortar stores. The reason is customers are keen to touch, feel and experience the product or service before they buy, especially in cases such as apparel, furniture, shoes, and jewellery. They demand easy transitions between physical and online stores. For example, a customer may buy a refrigerator online but return the product in case of damage in the physical store or vice-versa. Thus, the chances are high that retailers may lose out on valuable customer segments if they do not adopt an omni-channel approach. Therefore, retailers are adopting strategies to leverage the appeal of a physical store along with a digital format to capture the maximum number of sales. This will help to build sustainable loyalty and create umpteen opportunities to cross-sell.
Omnipresence making inroads
The idea of omni-channel is to make different channels provide the same customer experience, ensuring that a customer starts his/her research of a product or service from a smartphone, then visits the nearest retail outlet to experience the product, and then closes the transaction online. The concept of omnipresence is not just to reach out to as many customers as possible, be it online or offline, but to provide them with a homogeneous brand experience. Omnipresence is expected to drive the growth of retailing and help attract not just repeat customers but new ones.
Bridging the online to offline gap and vice-versa
While all current omni-channel solutions offer seamless flow of consumers from an online channel to an offline one, there is still a gap witnessed to solve the problem of lost sales amongst offline retailers. Many a time, customers are forced to leave the store unsatisfied as they witness problems with respect to size, availability, colour etc., of a product. Although Indian customers are becoming increasingly comfortable with online purchases, product categories like apparel, footwear, jewellery and home furnishings require the physical component to convert a sale. The solution is to help a brand in cross-selling its products across different brand stores. In this way, a seamless service can be experienced on not just online-to-offline market but on offline-to-online market as well, thus enabling the best use of both market spaces.
Being present on multiple platforms has become a necessity to flourish in the retail space. The trend is bound to grow in the coming years, and, will prove to be a win-win situation for both consumers and retailers. Eventually, the war between online/offline stores will no longer exist, as each retailer will have strongly established their presence on both the media to offer the most enjoyable and complete user experience.