In 2014, it became clear that consumer shopping norms and habits were being disrupted more than ever thanks to the rapid adoption of new technology. Retailers therefore began to actively search for and implement strategies to ensure the future of their businesses. For some, that meant adopting omnichannel solutions to create a seamless shopping experience for their customers, and allow them to shop for all products and services whenever, wherever and however they wish.
Each month, Vantiv and PYMNTS team up to track the moves of the progressive retailers who are dedicated to making an effort to enable omnichannel by engaging, enabling and serving the customer. These efforts include a variety of merchant strategies to drive customers into their store or online with loyalty programs and relevant offers; to arm consumers with the ability to shop however they want with apps, in-app payments and location-based services; and ways in which merchant step out from behind the counter to deliver mPOS, real-time inventory checks, checkout and more.
Over the past year, innovations and developments in the space have helped omnichannel has moved from buzzword to a critical merchant strategy. At the very center of that strategy is mobile – or more specifically, mobile payments, beacon technology, mPOS and apps. To revisit the “best of” the strides made in omnicommerce this year, mobile and otherwise, that have served to mold and enhance merchants’ physical and digital storefronts, PYMNTS has put together a recap.
2014: WHERE OMNICOMMERCE HAS BEEN
Omnichannel is retail’s buzzword. At its best, omnichannel delivers the great promise of consumers moving fluidly between devices and shopping channels, with retailers in lockstep at all times. The challenge for retail at the start, noted MPD CEO Karen Webster, was to capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity to stay in lockstep with the consumer in real time and add value to their relationship. It’s something that all retailers want, but few were capable of delivering, as it’s a multi-faceted undertaking.
Mobile becomes the tool of choice for consumers and merchants as they meet at the intersection of on and offline commerce. Increased availability and adoption of connected devices have made it easier for commerce to transpire via multiple channels, but merchants still faced the challenge of effectively engaging with these “always on” consumers to convert browsing behaviors to sales. Some therefore began to adopt mobile apps to form digital loyalty cards or e-gift cards redeemable in stores. Without being incentivized to make the switch to mobile, however, consumers were slow to leave their leather wallets and cards at home.
SMBs make omnichannel their retail “trump card.” Small and mid-sized businesses have realized and embraced the need for omnichannel tools and techniques to maintain the same kind of personal relationship they have in their physical stores across all of the channels through which customers want to engage with them. While the “trump card” for smaller retailers often stems from their relationships and products provided to their customers, they have begun to figure out that offering omnichannel tactics and technologies yields even more benefits to the overall retail experience.
Focus on consumer data in omnicommerce strengthens. According to a Vantiv survey, 43 percent of consumers who said they use their phones to shop online in stores also used their phones an average of 11 minutes to aid them in shopping. For retailers, data on consumer in-store and mobile behavior can be used to offer discounts, coupons and promotions to spark spending. Retailers have therefore become more enticed by customer data to implement these tactics to engage with and drive customers to buy more (and decrease their showrooming activity). Data is also being used to track loyal shoppers, allowing them to earn rewards for sharing experiences with their networks. However, the focus remains on creating that seamless experience for customers. Based on what they learned at PYMNTS Summer School 2014, Vantiv said that’s something that “may not be possible just yet, but consistency within a channel is possible and critical to omnichannel."
Apple Pay’s impact on the future of omnicommerce. The news about Apple Pay in September generated an unusual amount of mainstream media attention. Since it was announced, it has already changed the way we talk about mobile payments and has unlocked (and will continue to unlock) new sources of value for consumers and merchants. Apple also has a unique ability to mobilize an entire ecosystem – and that prompted Karen Webster to ask: Can Apple Pay shape the future of omnicommerce?
"I think there are also other ways to make Apple Pay more plausible for consumers than just loyalty,” said Daniela Mielke, chief strategy and product officer at Vantiv on the one-month anniversary of Apple Pay’s launch. “The moment you can really leave your wallet at home, the moment you have your identity on your phone, the moment the acceptance infrastructure really takes off and you can just leave with just your phone – that’s when there’ll be a real consumer value proposition."
As we await Apple Pay’s further impact on omnicommerce, e-commerce already made its mark on the space; it became the most common way for consumers to research and shop for higher-value items as of September, according to Vantiv research. As a response, progressive retailers are linking virtually every online channel (including social) to commerce.
Tokens become omnichannel’s catalyst. The launch of Apple’s new iPad prompted a reminder of the role and influence tablets now have on the retail purchase experience. In the next two years, research suggests that the web will influence $2 trillion of retail spend – and a lot of that will be done via mobile devices like tablets and iPhones. That prompted some players to address the issue of security across all channels and adopt measures to protect valuable customer data to help drive omnicommerce further. Some mobile devices like Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus could prove to beef up payment security, and merchants began to rely on that and other mobile payment solutions for increased payment security. However, according to Vantiv research for October 2014, consumers believed more “tried and true” payment methods were safer than mobile payment methods.
Omnicommerce expected to drive holiday sales. As we approached the year’s end in 2014, there was every indication that sales could increase on Black Friday and during the rest of the holiday shopping season. Consumers, says Vantiv, were feeling more confident in their earnings power, the economy showed overall improvement, and retailers’ aggressively made moves to bring shoppers into their stores. Macy’s, for one, opened on Thanksgiving Day, just after families cleared their tables. To prep for the holiday season, merchants optimized their websites for mobile, created new in-store experiences, and took advantage of mPOS devices to enable customer ambassadors and more convenient checkout terminals.
But mobile was not just being used in a way that helps consumers pay more quickly and easily – it was also being used on the retailer side for enhanced reporting, online ordering, inventory tracking and more as retailers realized that getting consumers quick access to product information this holiday season could be key to boosting sales.
2015: WHERE OMNICOMMERCE IS GOING
For years, omnichannel has been seen in the industry as the next big thing – a way to bridge online and real-world commerce and the new frontier of personalizing the customer experience. In a webinar conducted during PYMNTS Retail Reinvention week, industry experts pondered over omnichannels – is it just a buzzword, or is it still really “what’s next” in retail?
"The reigning buzzword champion – omnichannel – is dead,” said MPD Managing Director John Caron in a PYMNTS commentary. Consumers, he explained, don’t necessarily want omnichannel shopping – but they want shopping to be easy.
But during the webinar, Forte CEO Jeff Thorness and Digital River World Payments General Manager Souheil Badran said that omnichannel was not dead – in fact, it was very much alive. But at the same time, it’s not necessarily exactly what it’s been billed to be. According to Thorness, omnichannel “is not the hockey stick that everyone anticipated, but it is surely taking hold in the United States and more so in Europe."
Omnichannel, he said, is not a goal in and of itself, but it is instead a tool in the box labeled “Customer Satisfaction.”
“Consumers are expecting that this technology exists and companies that are not embracing the omnichannel experience are going to be offering a reduced customer experience.”
At the end of the day, customers don’t ask about the quality of their omnichannel experience, they evaluate their entire experience. Badran and Thorness think omnichannel will deliver more to consumers in the future.
For a better understanding of the developments made in omnicommerce over the last 12 months and to recall the innovations that have fueled progressive merchant omnichannel strategies, download the most recent Vantiv Omnicommerce Tracker here.