Omni channel – the inevitable future of retailing

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

As the years pass by, consumers are getting smarter when it comes to shopping. Be it the latest smartphone or most fashionable clothing, consumers have more than one way of going about it. Brands are now not only restricted by a single channel of retail (visiting the physical outlet to purchase a product).

We are slowly shifting into the digital age, an age where we’re very dependent on the technology that surrounds us, mainly the technology that our mobile phones and laptops are capable of. Your wish can turn into a command by just the click of a button or tap on your screen.

Thanks to the evolution of technology, consumers have gained more power when it comes to buying. And that power lays within their fingertips, courtesy the burst of eCommerce retailing. Customers can preview, assess and buy products of their choice from the convenience of their mobile screens and laptops.

And the number of people jumping onto the eCommerce bandwagon is only going to increase. According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the Indian shopper not only considers price, but convenience as well to determine a retailer’s value. This study was administered to understand the shopper’s consumption behavior with the use of different retailing channels. [1]

The report supports the fact that the frequency of online shopping in India is increasing, and will continue to do so. [1]

Respondents from India also displayed a greater acceptance for mobile/ smartphone based payments. This only further justifies the point that mobile devices are being preferred as the primary purchase activity tools. [1]

Obviously, there remains that group of people who prefer the hands-on experience of buying through the retail outlets. However, a continuous problem faced by them is the unavailability of their preferred products. Currently in most such situations the consumer would have to forget about all the effort taken for buying a product in-house and start their research from scratch  to accomplish the objective through eCommerce. This leads to a very broken experience for that particular brand.

Brands now have various channels of retailing – outlets, online stores and social media, too, to name a few. This multi-channel approach, although effective in its own right, leaves a lot to be desired. Primarily, a multi-channel approach doesn’t deliver a consistent message to the customer across all media. The objective now is to provide a seamless shopping experience to the consumer.

This is where omni-channel comes out on top. It seems that the terms multi-channel and omni-channel are interchangeable, but they’re not. There’s one major difference. Think of multi-channel as numerous swimming lanes – each channel of a particular brand will fulfill the aim of satisfying the customer’s experience, but all channels work mutually exclusive of each other, which leads to a fragmented overall experience. Omni-channel, in comparison, would be a spider-web, where the various channels are integrated with one another. This gives the consumer the same idea of a particular brand, no matter which mode of retailing he/she uses.

From major  footwear brands to the top electronic appliance providers, all understand the importance of a smooth customer outing, be it offline or online. So, you can start your research from the internet, find something you really like, head over to the brand’s physical outlet to get a feel of your purchase and place your order, and complete your transaction online. Giving them a homogenous experience throughout all channels opens up potential avenues for a larger customer base.

Take Gap Inc. for example. It set up several omni-channel strategies, which led to a visible success. Having launched a ship-from-store service, Gap Inc. was able to fulfill orders made online through their store inventories. This not only meant a wider range on the Internet, but it also improved responsiveness in delivery. Furthermore, its “find in store” (informs consumers of the closest store) and “reserve in store” (customers can reserve up to 5 items to try at the nearest outlet) services only further enhanced customer care while also integrating the store and digital channels of retail. Gap Inc. received a positive response and in view of that, in 2014 they expanded the “reserve in store” service to all the outlets in the U.S.

Macy’s is another omni-channel success story, so much so that it is widely regarded as the United States’ poster boy for omni-channel. Macy’s set up their omni-channel strategy in 2008; it included same-day deliveries for products ordered online (from physical stores), as well as clothing sales promotions customized according to the consumer’s requirements and preferences. Their belief in the omni-channel way is so strong that they now have a dedicated Chief Omni-channel Officer as an official position.

The greatest story in this is that it’s bringing online and offline closer than ever. Earlier, it was believed that an online purchase was a deterrent to the retail outlet (and vice versa). But now, thanks to omni-channel marketing, it creates a chance for cross-channel sales.

Omni-channel has been doing the rounds in the Indian retail industry for quite a while now. However, it has been largely misunderstood or misinterpreted by the Indian retailing world.

India is the world’s second largest consumer market, with retail developing in India by leaps and bounds. It is forecasted that retail will grow from being a $600 million industry in 2015 to a $1 trillion one by the year 2020. Moreover, India has rapidly climbed up to become Asia’s fastest growing eCommerce market, scoring a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 44% in comparison to the overall average CAGR of 28%. The foundation has been set, it’s just a matter of time that it grows into the Indian retail way of life.

By the end of 2019 the number of online buyers in India will reach the 125 million mark, according to a study by Forrester (Asia Pacific Online Retail Forecast, 2014 to 2019). The internet is expected to influence around $70 billion of retail sales in 2019 (in India) – this is 30% of the overall (organized) Indian retail market. Also according to another analysis by Forrester, 29% of surveyed retail consumers shop online once a month (at least), while 22% state that they do the same every week.

This shift in the mindset of Indian consumers clearly points in the direction of implementing an omni-channel strategy for Indian retailers. But before that can be achieved, but a sound understanding and expertise in channeling such a strategy to the most effective use is the need of the hour.

ND Commerce is one such player who can help retailers and merchants set up an omni-channel business. They believe in the provision of a more integrated and continuous customer experience and help brands set up the omni-channel aspect of their model.

ND Commerce enables the customer to make a purchase through either one of the following ways:

  1. Through the brand’s online web-store using a laptop or mobile phone.

  2. The consumer can also contact ND Commerce and place their order for a brand’s product, and it will be delivered to your door-step with options of secure online payment or cash on delivery.

  3. This one’s the most impressive – imagine that you’ve researched about a branded product online, but when you make your way to their retail store you find that it’s either unavailable or out of stock. In times like these, ND Commerce makes sure you receive that product, irrespective of the stock available.

A couple of examples should help you get a clearer idea as to what ND Commerce does with respect to omni-channel. As an offline distribution solution, a leading footwear brand tied up with a renowned retailer. When it comes to footwear, size is the champion; this was the focus of the brand’s challenge – potential customers walk in to the store and exit disappointed on finding that their size isn’t available. ND Commerce developed a simple solution – a customer visiting the retail store can communicate the unavailability of the appropriate size to the store manager. The store manager, in turn, logs into a central inventory system, places the order according to the customer’s preference and ND Commerce makes sure the product is delivered to the consumer without any problem.

Similarly, one of the most well-known appliances brand took the omni-channel route thanks to ND Commerce. The story’s straightforward – log in to the brand’s online store, check features (and other related content) of a particular item, book the order, and ND Commerce passes it on to the closest distributor, who then delivers the order. This was only possible through complete knowledge of stock statements of all warehouses, as well as making sure only products pertaining to a  specific pin code are displayed.

You may not see the benefit at first, but what this does for ND Commerce is that it not only leaves the customer satisfied, but it also gives rise to the possibility that the customer becomes an advocate of that brand, thereby leading to more customers.

There is no doubt that we are moving into an age where digital will be the order of the day. And omni-channel being one piece of this big puzzle is a sign of change in buying behavior. More importantly, ND Commerce is surely helping the cause.

Author: Rohit Shiva –

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