Despite the fact that omnichannel shopping experiences drive significantly higher customer retention, many retailers have historically lagged in investing in a long-term omnichannel strategy. The impact of COVID-19 is changing this. These unprecedented times have placed substantial stress on the retail industry, and as e-commerce becomes essential within the supply chain, we’re seeing a rise in the adoption of omnichannel strategies.
Omnichannel technology has become a survival tool for handling unexpected pivots and spikes in demand. Implementing omnichannel strategies today will help retailers be prepared for a post-COVID world, and the “new normal” over the coming weeks and months.
Here are the top three omnichannel strategies we’re seeing retailers employ to help mitigate the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
1. Maintaining sales by running storefronts like fulfillment centers
According to research from Adobe Analytics, the number of orders placed online and picked up at brick-and-mortar stores by customers surged 208% between April 1 and April 20 compared to 2019 levels. Curbside pickup and curbside returns will continue to grow in popularity even as stores reopen, as health concerns will remain top of mind for shoppers.
When retailers invest in omnichannel strategies like buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and buy-online-pickup-at-curb (BOPAC), they are ensuring a safe transaction during COVID-19 and providing shoppers with immediate gratification and products in-hand instantly. This leads to a positive customer experience and increased customer loyalty that will last well beyond the pandemic impact.
Store pickup initiatives run more seamlessly when retailers design their storefronts to operate as much as possible like mini fulfillment centers. In general, using a brick-and-mortar location to fulfill orders placed online can help retailers better manage inventory and save on fulfillment and supply chain costs during this unforeseen time. It also helps provide ongoing employment for associates and can offset fixed store lease expenses all while servicing existing clients.
Involving storefront employees in an omnichannel strategy also adds a new layer of responsibility to the associate’s role, adding new value to the retail workplace while continuing to maintain sales. Retailers should set aside space within the store for the purposes of fulfilling orders while following proper social distancing protocols. Having clear and proper processes and pick up signage within the stores will contribute greater to continuing delivering a great customer experience. Using a storefront as a mini fulfillment center is a great solve for brands who will likely still see slower brick-and-mortar sales, even as stores reopen.
2. Scaling on demand to meet changing buying habits
In the pandemic's wake, consumer buying habits have changed. Retailers are seeing more shoppers purchasing online and ordering products in bulk. The holiday shopping season will likely start earlier this year, as consumers are concerned about delivery delays. To prepare for unforeseen spikes in demand, many more retailers are relying on omnichannel technology for better inventory management and order routing. Order Management Systems (OMS) can be used to help retailers stay flexible, turning on and off fulfillment locations to drive products where demand is higher to effectively meet customer expectations.
For those retailers looking to scale up their e-commerce capabilities, especially ahead of this year’s unique peak holiday shopping season, seeking out a fulfillment partner with multi-node distribution models is key. Multi-node distribution ensures that inventory can be more easily available as well closer to the consumer to reduce shipping times while supporting contingency planning. It makes pivoting and adjusting inventory easier when consumer habits shift.
Multi-client fulfillment centers can also help retailers scale up e-commerce operations at a faster pace than they could on their own. For example, during COVID-19, Radial was able to find a major retailer a fulfilment solution within 24 hours. We had their inventory unloaded, put away, and ready for sale within 4 days with no impact on the retailer’s customers or existing orders.
Retailers investing in multi-node centers and omnichannel technology to assist with inventory management will be able to handle sudden changes to e-commerce orders and thrive during the turbulent times ahead.
3. Boosting customer loyalty through multiple touchpoints
In the wake of the pandemic, there is an increased need for exceptional customer service in ways that are accessible to all consumers. When using omnichannel customer care solutions, it’s important that retailers meet the individual where they are, providing support for those channels they feel comfortable using including social media. Providing more opportunities for consumers to connect with the brand allows for more expedient solutions in ways that the consumer likes to connect, leading to a positive customer experience and increased loyalty.
In today’s uncertain times, it’s also important for retailers to be prepared for unforeseen situations and evolving consumer habits. Omnichannel technology is a mutually beneficial initiative for the consumer and retailers alike. Consumers are able to enjoy increased customer service and variety in delivery options, while retailers are able to maintain sales and drive ROI through unique delivery strategies.
Challenging times create opportunities for retailers that are forward-thinking, and we’ll see e-commerce penetration increase significantly post-COVID as consumers become more comfortable and confident in the buying experience.
Sean Seraphin is senior director of omnichannel at Radial.