Omnicommerce

Omnichannel Moves Beyond Retail

Let’s start this story with a trip to the dentist’s office.

No, we don’t want to be there, either, but life requires regular bouts of suffering. No matter how good a particular dentist is, there are few things fun, nice or even reasonably pleasant about sitting in that chair under that big light as people go to work inside one’s mouth.

However, things are getting better at the dentist, as told by Jennifer Sherman, SVP of product at unified commerce enablement provider NMI. The credit goes to omnichannel.

During a recent PYMNTS interview, Sherman talked about recent dental work she’d had done, and — no doubt — anyone can understand the groggy feeling she had when the procedure was done. The numbness remained. She felt swollen, couldn’t control half of her mouth and could have sworn that she was drooling. All a person wants to do is go home, curl up under a blanket and veg out as the numbness wears off. That’s when there is generally another point of frustration and friction: checking out after the dental work, perhaps giving over a payment card and signing up for another appointment.

Yet, as Sherman told it, she was waved through without having to deal with any of those administrative tasks, and was told that it was all good, as the office had her card on file. She was able to simply go home.

“It felt luxurious,” she said.

That stands as one of the small, but potentially appealing uses of omnichannel technology and processes outside of retail — a growing trend as the digital economy continues to encompass even more products and services, and as consumers come to expect seamless experiences everywhere and depend more heavily on their mobile devices.

Omnichannel is a word that has been bouncing around payments and commerce for some 20 years. The concept — which, in those seemingly ancient days, had to do with retailers complementing their brick-and-mortar offerings with this new thing called eCommerce — has been a main character in an untold number of white papers, press releases, annual reports, PowerPoint presentations and consultant studies.

One might have heard — especially if reading PYMNTS — that the omnichannel concept has not only endured, but changed and grown. Basically, it has come to mean all the offline and online (and mobile) steps involved in shopping, payments and services — the entire consumer and merchant experience tied together by digital technology, no matter where or when a particular task is happening. Omnichannel, at least according to this view, is a reflection of how we live our lives now, and an ideal for which to strive as consumers increasingly mix and match the paths they take to buying products and services.

According to Sherman, the backbone of omnichannel, especially outside the retail world, is that it must match or exceed the offline and online (and mobile) consumer experiences found in a variety of daily activities. These can revolve around banking, healthcare, home services and even medical offices — where patient records are becoming more portable via digital methods, saving people from having to fill out repetitive paperwork, and reducing the risk of medical mistakes, among other benefits.

There is strong evidence that this newer concept of omnichannel does indeed work, and works well. Sherman told PYMNTS that, over the past few years, NMI has seen a 20 percent year-over-year growth in merchants processing omnichannel payments on their platforms, and they are far from just retail. In fact, the vast majority of the growth NMI is seeing is happening almost entirely outside of retail.

Providing a truly omnichannel experience can be challenging, especially for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), including retailers and service providers. Enterprises have an advantage. “They can do it themselves, and build it themselves,” she said, talking about the software and technology required to make a reasonable run at the omnichannel life. SMBs, by contrast, must often rely on software built by other small firms, though eCommerce service providers are not targeting that market — along with what she called “micro merchants” — with software designed for their specific needs.

Contactless payments are also playing a role in these trends. The U.S. was late to the game with that payment method, and is still well behind Europe. However, contactless payments are providing consumers with another reason to expect even more seamless transactions and experiences, and that in turn will result in more demand (whether direct or indirect) for better omnichannel experiences, she said. In addition, contactless payments will, over the near term, lead to hardware improvements that could improve point-of-sale experiences for retailers and service providers — another big aspect of the omnichannel push.

PYMNTS wishes readers the best luck for the next time at the dentist — and may the experience, as Sherman’s was, be improved by the presence of omnichannel.

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