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Omnichannel Marketing for Sporting Goods: Optimising the Customer Journey Across Multiple Channels

An omnichannel strategy helps merchants to differentiate themselves from the competition

4 Minutes

The importance of omnichannel concepts was really brought home to many retailers in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. The key here is to combine brick and mortar retail with digital commerce, while avoiding restrictions on customers within any one channel. Consumers have already shown that they can make the switch quickly - as can retailers. As such, any retailer looking to optimise their customer journey in today's complex world simply cannot afford to ignore omnichannel marketing. 

What Is Omnichannel Marketing and How Does It Differ from Multichannel and Cross-Channel Marketing?

The term "omni" comes from Latin and means "everything" or "all". This already provides a clue as to the difference from both multichannel and cross-channel approaches. Multichannel means that a company operates at least two sales channels and attempts to optimise these in terms of their performance. Cross-channel builds on this and links multiple sales channels with one another. However, the major difference from omnichannel concepts is that the communication channels are not merged with the sales channels. In basic terms, omnichannel concepts absorb multichannel and cross-channel concepts and thereby create an experience that is uncompromisingly tailored to customers, their purchase behaviour and their requirements. This is then described as the optimised omnichannel customer journey.

Possible online and offline channels

What Might a Smooth Customer Journey Look Like for Sporting Goods?

The explanations and the examples provided lead to many different combinations. This is quite intentional, as the omnichannel concept ultimately encompasses "everything". Customers looking to buy various articles from a sporting goods and sportswear retailer could, for example, be guided along a permanently optimised customer journey as described below:

Mary follows various online sporting profiles and often likes images and videos that present sporting goods on social media. One day, she sees an ad for a set of dumbbells on Instagram. Clicking on the ad takes Mary to the online shop of the sporting goods retailer, where she is provided with detailed information on the set. Her purchasing decision is actively influenced by positive customer reviews which have been left on the product page by previous customers either voluntarily or following a friendly email request. The previous customer reviews were potentially also linked to participation in a competition to win prizes. Mary is keen to buy the set of dumbbells and uses the online order process for her purchase. She is offered many different payment options here. Not only does this ensure that her choice is not unnecessarily restricted, it also massively reduces the likelihood of her abandoning the purchase altogether. Since Mary prefers contactless payments, she pays directly online. However, she would also like to receive her set of dumbbells the same day, so she can start using them right away. She therefore selects the option to collect her purchase in a retail shop and, after entering her postal code, is shown the most convenient locations for this on an online map. Mary makes her way to her local retail shop and uses her smartphone to show the assistant her order confirmation. She then receives her article and can get started with her new fitness routine the same day. Since she really liked both the product and the process and regularly buys sporting goods, she downloads the retailer's app and leaves a positive product review. At the same time, she adds a "like" on Facebook as a way of staying up-to-date with any sales or courses offered by the same business in future. A short while later, Mary receives a personalised e-mail suggesting that she might wish to show off her new dumbbells on Instagram using the retailer's hashtag. The retailer would then offer her a €5 voucher to be used for her first purchase using the app.

Sales and Marketing Merge to Create a Positive Shopping Experience

This optimised customer journey really highlights the benefits of omnichannel concepts. Customers are not forced to rely on just one sales channel either for making purchases or for communication. Instead, both channels merge and flow into one another without any discernible borders. The objective here is to offer customers the greatest number of options in every single step of the shopping process. This brings us to another factor that has made omnichannel concepts so popular: freedom of choice. Customers do not wish to adapt their purchases to a specific corporate structure, but rather use various channels based on their preferences. An omnichannel concept caters precisely to this and underlines something that retailers have already known for decades: the customer is king! However, omnichannel concepts can obviously be used for far more than just selling dumbbells.

Mary could just as easily have been interested in a bicycle that she noticed while watching one of the retailer's YouTube videos containing a link to the online shop. Since Mary would prefer to test the bike first, she makes her way to the retail shop and is immediately impressed. However, she still decides to have a think about the potential purchase for a couple of days just to make sure. Once she is certain, she then pays directly online and picks up the bike from the shop - where it is adjusted to her specific requirements. While in the shop, the assistants show her some practical accessories she may need. She can also download the app and have her bike maintained once a year - receiving a push notification on her smartphone when it is time for the next check-up.

Omnichannel on the Rise: Retailers Are Displaying Their Agility and Flexibility During the Pandemic

A survey conducted by ECC Köln underlines just how effective and agile retailers were in adapting to the altered conditions in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, yet also how the crisis has changed consumer behaviour.

  • 21% of consumers stated that they became aware of further retailer services as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
  • 10% noted that they can reserve products online and then collect them from a physical shop.
  • 7% commented that selected retailers allow orders to be placed physically in the business for subsequent delivery of the products to their home address.
  • 4% only became aware during the coronavirus crisis that they can check the inventories in place at brick and mortar businesses while using the online shop.

Above all, key changes resulting from the coronavirus crisis on the retailer side focused on expansion of delivery services and displaying offline product availabilities online in real time. Many retailers also greatly expanded their click & collect options. This concept is a perfect example of how the omnichannel approach works, as it combines an online order with offline collections and thereby offer customers far greater freedom.

The Question for Retailers: What Do We Need to Adapt and Optimise?

Retailers must be capable of allowing customers to switch channels at any time. Even if customers originally became aware of a retailer's product through social media, they might not wish to actually make a purchase via a social network. Instead, they may prefer to use the online shop to discover further information and also pay, but then collect their product from the shop in person. Equally, it must be possible to complete all processes - from initial information, through the actual purchase, all the way up to service - on just one channel. The company or the retailer must therefore bend to fit the customer's needs and not the other way around. With a payment partner like Unzer at your side, you can offer the right payment types and thereby prevent abandoned shopping baskets. Personalisation also plays a key part in omnichannel strategies. Customers enjoy personalised shopping processes and are keen to be recognised as return shoppers. It therefore makes sense for communication to be personalised. For example, if customers use the live chat option, the member of service staff should have access to all necessary information via this channel without first having to redirect customers through an app or other employees. However, this only works when all channels are perfectly networked with one another - and the business segments that determine the corporate structure are working in the background without even being actively perceived by customers. The altered consumption habits and requirements of shoppers are definitely not limited just to the coronavirus crisis. On the contrary, this period has simply made it clear how retailers are using omnichannel concepts and an optimised customer journey to stand out against their competition and offer their customers an optimum shopping experience even when times are tough. Customers really appreciate this, especially once their day-to-day life is no longer dominated by restrictions and lockdowns.

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