The evolution of online retail has happened quickly. By the mid-1990s, shoppers were told that they could order a product in ‘just a few clicks’. Then with the smartphone revolution introducing the app, it became ‘just a few taps’. Now Amazon’s Echo can place Prime orders for you with ‘just a few words’.
The trouble is that very few retailers have had the time to evolve at the same pace of the digital world. The dots of the traditional store and online often remain unconnected.
Why a move towards ominchannel makes sense
This is where omnichannel fits in. For those not yet familiar with the term, it’s about retailers focusing on how the customer shops, and how the shopping experience is from their point of view.
The modern shopper’s path to purchase isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be, and shoppers value retailers that cater to both digital and physical. This means retailers need to think about how their customers research, try out, buy, return and talk about products.
How is an omnichannel strategy different to a multichannel strategy?
A multichannel retailer is one that has both online and physical stores. Many retailers, whether small-scale or household names, are multichannel retailers.
However, omnichannel goes far beyond the channels of how a customer can buy a product. It is about making entire process as seamless as possible, understanding that customers likely start online, visit a store, and increasingly want to click & collect to a destination of their choice. The customer now sets the terms, and retailers have to adapt. This means being much more joined up in how inventory is managed, evolving customer interaction across Web, social and email, and ultimately treating each customer in a more personal fashion.
So how does VR come into it?
Virtual Reality is one of this year’s breakout products. High-end headsets from Oculus and HTC are on the market to critical acclaim, Sony is launching one for PlayStation in October, and Samsung has a popular version called Gear VR which uses their Galaxy smartphones.
The interesting thing about this technology is that it is an entirely experiential product. Until you try it out, you just cannot understand how effective it is. And as it is so new, people are extra eager to see it for themselves.
Our latest research into VR revealed that that nearly four in five people would value a demo opportunity when deciding where to buy a headset, and over half would seek expert advice. A retailer that created a dedicated area to let shoppers experience VR could not only drive greater footfall to stores, but also increase cross-selling opportunities for other products.
This ability to offer consumers the chance to try out the tech that they’ve heard so much about—and three quarters of European consumers already know about VR—is a crucial advantage over ecommerce only stores.
VR presents a perfect opportunity for shrewd retailers to pair this immersive in-store experience with online content that shows them more about its possibilities. The riddle for retailers, as ever, will be to stop customers from using the store as merely a place to browse, and going elsewhere online to complete their purchase.
This is where an omnichannel strategy comes to the fore, by forcing retailers think about what customers value. Our research showed that post-sales support for VR is valued by almost half of those surveyed, home installation by four in ten. Additional services like these, can be combined with social engagement initiatives—such as asking customers to tweet or share Instagram pics of them using their VR kit—to keep the retailer relevant to the customer. Retailers can also promote in-store exclusives, and develop an online click and collect model that takes VR from being just another commodity product.
Developing an omnichannel strategy is difficult, and requires investment and a mind-set change for some retailers. However, not focusing on the customer experience and standing still is no longer an option. New challenger brands, unencumbered by legacy processes, are running with the idea of omnichannel already. Virtual Reality, because it sits at the intersection of digital and physical, is ideally suited for those retailers looking to evolve how they engage with customers.