What is the Role of the Store in Omnichannel Retail During COVID-19?

04 November 2020

Customer experience

A good omnichannel strategy in retail is a lot like baking chocolate chip cookies.

Think of each channel involved in an omnichannel experience - like your website, social media presence and physical stores - as the ingredients.

Some of the ingredients might be nice by themselves, like the chocolate chips, the sugar or even the entire stick of butter, depending on how rough your week has been.

But ultimately when the ingredients are combined in the right way at the right time, the result is so much better, because all the ingredients have different roles and complement each other perfectly.

It's become pretty difficult to deny the superiority of an omnichannel shopping experience. Brands with a strong omnichannel presence retain 89% of their customers, versus only 33% for brands with a weak omnichannel strategy.

73% of today's shoppers shop across multiple channels, and 85% of digital consumers start their purchase on one device and finish on another.

With 80% of sales still occurring in-store, it's evident that stores have an integral role to play in the omnichannel experience, in the same way that chocolate chips are kind of a big deal when it comes to making cookies.

At least, all that used to be true. 

But since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and turned the retail industry on its head, what exactly is the role of the store within the omnichannel experience?

Here are 3 purposes every store should fulfil in the perfect omnichannel shopping experience in the COVID-19 era, and some best practices for helping your stores get there.

Short on time? Watch this short video summary instead!

roleofthestore-omnichannel

 

1) The role of the store is to immerse.

Stores immerse customers in the physical embodiment of your brand in a way that other channels can't. That doesn't make stores better or more valuable - it just makes them different.

From store layout to visual merchandising, from the music to the air freshener and even the free food or drink samples, stores immerse each of your customers' 5 senses in your brand.

And when everything is executed perfectly, customers are physically experiencing your brand - they're living your brand story for as long as they're in the store.

In-store experience has become a more complicated concept since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Entering a brick-and-mortar store involves a certain level of risk now, and the service provided must be worth the customer’s while. Add to that the fact that so many stores have been forced to close at various points this year, and it’s even more crucial to get customers buying in-store again and make sure they leave feeling safe and happy.

Pandemic or no pandemic, rule #1 of an omnichannel retail strategy is that every experience, no matter where it happens, has to be consistent.

So the role of stores is to translate the design and customer journey your website and social media channels offer into real life.

How to make your stores immersive:

Give store and field teams a tool to streamline and simplify time-consuming operational tasks like implementing VM guidelines, remote store visits, daily store tasks and maintaining social distancing measures, so they can focus their time where it matters.

2) The role of the store is to connect.

Stores provide a space for connecting with other people in the form of getting assistance and advice from sales associates and even interacting with other customers.

Humans are innately social creatures and we're wired to seek out connections with others, so the experience your customers have with your store employees is a critical one. It takes the whole experience to the next level.

In 2020, that innate need for human interaction has taken on new significance. Shopping online is safe and convenient, it’s true - but nothing can beat a great interaction between customers and employees, especially when our everyday interactions are now so limited.

In fact, the pandemic has encouraged retailers to get creative with their omnichannel strategy. Many companies are introducing a virtual shopping feature, which allows customers to book video shopping calls with sales associates.

The way your store employees communicate with your customers is a continuation of the brand messaging and tone of voice they find online. Your store employees' product knowledge should be consistent with information customers can find online.

You'd never want your Instagram posts or cart abandonment emails to sound apathetic or detached, so you definitely wouldn't want your store employees to sound like anything other than passionate brand ambassadors.

How to foster connection in your stores by turning employees into passionate brand ambassadors:

  • Equip your store teams with mobile devices so they can help shoppers order out of stock products, personalize recommendations and find answers to customer questions. Better yet, give them access to a knowledge base that's always kept up-to-date with anything they might need to know on the job - especially now that guidelines are changing so frequently.
  • Rethink your training and tailor it to the realities of being a frontline retail employee in the COVID-19 era.

Related: A Guide to Effectively Training Frontline Employees

  • Engage your frontline employees by connecting them to your brand mission - and each other - through effective internal communications. Show them how valuable their contribution is at this tough time by recognizing and rewarding achievements and creating incentives to succeed.

Related: The Complete Guide to Retail Employee Engagement

3) The role of the store is to inspire.

For some, the decision to purchase starts when they see an inspiring display in-store, even if they decide to complete their purchase on another channel.

For others, the decision starts online or on social media, but it's seeing the product in-store that seals the deal. In fact, 56 cents of every dollar spent in-store is influenced by online interactions or research, according to Deloitte.

And for most of us, seeing that perfectly displayed item or irresistible sale is more than enough to trigger an impulse buy right there and then.

That's because being in a store where everything is just right puts us in a certain frame of mind where we're looking for new ideas and new items to add to our baskets.

One study found that the average consumer spends $5,400 a year on impulse purchases. There's no denying that stores actively inspire - and trigger - future purchases and customer loyalty.

And impulse buys don’t have to stop just because the in-store experience has been limited by the COVID-19 crisis - there is still an opportunity to be had with click-and-collect services. If customers are coming into the store to pick something up, they might be tempted to buy a few more things - especially if they’re craving some retail therapy.

Retailers must stay ahead of the curve of innovation and be continually aware of how customers are responding to in-store experiences in the COVID-19 era, so they can always be crafting and implementing better ones. 

How to stay ahead of the curve and make your stores more inspiring:

  • Tap into the goldmine of data your stores provide. Maintaining real-time visibility into key performance indicators like compliance rate, store visit scores and even online reviews will empower you to take action to resolve issues. 
  • Sharing and replicating best practices across the network will help each store improve its performance.

It seems like only yesterday that "omnichannel shopping" was a new, exciting and slightly overused buzzword. It also seems like only yesterday that people worried that stores would somehow lose out or become unnecessary as omnichannel retail experiences took off.

Now we can see with our 2020 hindsight vision (see what we did there?) that this was never the case. Stores always have been, and always will be, an integral part of the perfect customer experience - even when stores can’t operate in the same way they used to.

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