No two people shop the same way—especially in a world where you can buy in-store, online, or from a mobile device; have items shipped or made available for pickup; and make buying decisions based on extensive online research as often as you do on the spot. The permutations are dizzying.
An omnichannel strategy for retailers is ultimately about designing a comprehensive, holistic user experience encompassing all of the above. It goes beyond developing new forms of retail tech or traditional marketing—it requires the involvement of IT management, who can help create a retail experience that engages people at every turn.
Why does an omnichannel strategy matter?
An omnichannel strategy is all about understanding what users want in today's modern, mobile world—and executing on it. This may seem simple, but it's something many retailers struggle with, as evidenced by the number of traditional retailers on "death watch." The retailers that survive in an increasingly competitive environment will be those embracing the new realities of customer shopping behavior.
According to BigCommerce, 96 percent of Americans with internet access have made an online purchase at some point in their life. At the center of this new reality are customers who aren't loyal to specific brands or types of shopping, but instead prefer to use different channels for different categories of products at different times. For example, a shopper may enjoy browsing through online marketplaces for clothing before going to sleep at night (case in point: 59 percent of millennials and Gen Xers have made a purchase from bed), but that same person may still shop in store for certain items, like jeans, so they can try them on.
Basically, there are no universal rules—except that an omnichannel presence is a must-have. And yet, many retailers remain stuck in the past: According to a survey of 1,164 US business owners conducted by Square and Mercury Analytics, only 34 percent of businesses sold through their own website, and just 16 percent sold through Amazon. Retailers need to meet users halfway, but how can they adapt to this complicated and shifting landscape? The answer's simple: with the help of IT.
IT management and marketing—team up!
IT management is a key part of any effort to develop an omnichannel strategy. Step one of adopting an omnichannel presence is using data collected by IT to gain insight into customers' behaviors, needs, and wants by asking questions like:
- Are shoppers frequently using their mobile devices to compare prices in store?
- Are customers abandoning online shopping carts at a high rate?
- Do they click on social media links or "buy buttons" more frequently in the evening?
IT can help businesses answer these questions by pulling customer data and analyzing it. These insights can then be passed on to the marketing team, who can use the findings to optimize its marketing campaigns. For instance, if Pinterest proves to be a key point in the customer purchasing journey, that can be the impetus to ramp up social media presence, or if customers frequently price compare while in store, delivering targeted, geo-located discounts may increase sales.
Meet your users where they are
While retail is probably the context in which omnichannel strategy is most discussed, the same principle—understanding what users want and delivering it—is applicable in other ways. Take the office, for example. Employees today want the ability to work flexibly from mobile devices, just as customers want flexible purchasing options. With a workforce that's increasingly remote and distributed, employers need IT infrastructure that helps their employees work productively—and securely—anytime, anywhere. Multiple device management, thoughtful BYOD policies, and mobile-friendly printing solutions are part of creating this cohesive user experience.
Managed print services (MPS) are also part of this trend. HP MPS, in particular, aims to provide a flexible printing solution that streamlines, automates, and mobilizes business processes. Employees don't need to worry about downtime or printer issues disrupting their workflow, and MPS reduces the IT team's workload so they can focus on more mission-critical projects. MPS also supports seamless mobile printing from smartphones, tablets, and notebooks for employees who need to print on the go. And MPS ensures printer security is strong, so an overlooked vulnerability doesn't end up compromising a company's network.
Whether in the workplace or in a retail store, businesses must meet their users—shoppers, employees, whoever—halfway to deliver the flexible, omnichannel experiences they demand. IT management can work hand in hand with the rest of the organization to get these results—and the sooner, the better.