What is Omnichannel?

Omnichannel is one of the popular buzzwords flying around the industry, randomly smacking the uninitiated in the face. You’d be forgiven for thinking it has something to do with science fiction. The star of some new Transformers movie, maybe. Or the name for a new Pacific Rim Jaeger. Put simply, an “omnichannel” approach is a multi-channel, integrated approach to sales. But wait, you’d say. That’s just more marketing TEDtalky word salad. Listen to yourself and stop drinking the craft beer.

Okay. To put it even more simply, omnichannel approaches try to provide end-users (aka customers) with a seamless experience, whether they’re accessing whatever it is online, on their couch at home with a cat on their head, or in a brick and mortar store. It sounds like science fiction because it is science fiction. It’s Luke Skywalker using the Force to appear seamlessly on another planet, hopefully without being tempted towards the Dark Side. It’s Neo integrating into the Matrix, but with hopefully less Agent Anderson. See the common thread through our analogies? No, not the mega money-making profits from both SF franchises. While omnichannel can help integrate and improve the customer experience, the information you’d have to gather on a customer to make it possible is also vulnerable to abuse.

Hello from the Dark Side

Inside Retail declared in 2016 that omnichannel would soon meet its demise:

“The ability to have a continuous experience across brands, across formats and across devices that is completely bespoke – that is the promise of a new way of thinking and marketing that has been long unnoticed”.

The real reason omnichannel will die a slow and gruesome death is that the customers will reject it. Ironically the better omnichannel works, the more intense the rejection will be.

What is needed for omnichannel to work? Cloudtags explains:

  • Seamless, open lines of communication across multiple channels (in-store, on the website, in customer service emails, on store associate calls, via tweets, etc).
  • Data is used intelligently to inform decisions on the when, where, how, with whom of those communications.
  • The customer sees a valuable return for their the collection of their data. Data gathering methods are transparent and always opt-in at the end.

The first two parts is on brands to develop. The last part requires delicacy and respect. Today, as customers grow more and more tech-savvy and conscious of their privacy online and offline, it can be harder to persuade customers to provide their data to you, a commercial entity. Privacy-preserving services like VPNs, script blockers, Tor, and ad-blockers are becoming more and more popular. And with data breaches growing commonplace and increasingly egregious, affecting large companies like Sony, Yahoo, and the latest, Facebook, customers are becoming more aware about who should have their data and why.

Take the Cambridge Analytica business with Facebook. Customer data on Facebook was gathered by Cambridge Analytica through this process:

In 2015, Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, created an app named “thisisyourdigitallife” that promised to predict aspects of users’ personalities. About 270,000 people downloaded it and logged in through Facebook, giving Kogan access to information about their city of residence, Facebook content they had liked, and information about their friends.

Kogan passed the data to SCL and a man named Christopher Wylie from a data harvesting firm known as Eunoia Technologies, in violation of Facebook rules that prevent app developers from giving away or selling users’ personal information. Facebook learned of the violation that year and removed his app from Facebook. It also asked Kogan and his associates to certify that they had destroyed the improperly collected data. Everyone said that they did.

Of course, they actually hadn’t. Cambridge Analytica continued to use the data to help Trump more effectively target voters on Facebook than his rival, Hillary Clinton, giving it an unfair advantage.

Similarly, surveys are a favourite way of gathering customer data by brands. Agencies like the Retail Partners Unit can provide a nuanced omnichannel strategy that respects customer data while providing them with an affirming, useful return for its supply. This data has to be analysed and used to inform a brand’s overall approach to creating offers for clients, marketing, and other forms of communication. If the data is to be shared with other channels, consent needs to be acquired from the customer. At all points when customer data is gathered, the customer must be given information on how the information would be used. A lack of transparency will breed distrust: just look at the backlash when people were randomly messaged by the “Yes” campaign during the marriage equality vote. While we’re suspicious of people who used that incident of SMS marketing to decide they were opposed to marriage equality (what??), we note that people can find omnichannel features like geolocation contact intrusive and offensive.

How to be More like Keanu Reeves

Our quick omnichannel rules:

  • Let people know what they’re getting themselves into. Don’t be afraid to be honest.
  • Provide an experience that feels naturally seamless, and isn’t just there for the sake of being cool. The integrated touchpoints of your retail offering have to be valuable and well thought out.
  • The experience has to make the customer feel like they’re getting more out of the retail experience.
  • Don’t use data without consent.
  • Be transparent and mindful.
  • Be respectful. Data is valuable. If a customer willingly provides it to you, value their data and their trust.
  • Don’t overdo it: study when and how it would be appropriate to engage with customers, and, especially, when they might want you to engage with them. If you bury customers in messages, pings, newsletters, and more, chances are they’d unsubscribe, and worse: you might lose a customer if you piss them off.
  • Be fully digitised: this will help you integrate multiple touchpoints more easily.
  • Stay on top of retail trends. If your business is future-facing, customers will be more willing to engage with multiple touchpoints that might otherwise feel confronting and scary.
  • Don’t use the data to help elect Donald Trump.

Need more help? Still don’t understand any of this? Drop us a line.

This post was last updated on 8 July 2019.

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