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How can small businesses make omnichannel work for them?

Omnichannel – it’s the retail world’s word of the year, but it’s not just a marketing buzzword, it’s a strategy retailers can no longer ignore. The rise in popularity of eCommerce sites in the past 20 years has thrown operating hours out the window, transforming retail into a 24/7 business. 

The new consumer wants more than ever – they are tech savvy and demand flexibility as they drift from in-store to mobile to online and back again before making their decision.  The new age of brick-and-click retail is here and retailers need to catch this wave or get washed away as more and more of their competitors adopt the agile omnichannel model of retail.

So, what is omnichannel?

In 2015, eCommerce accounted for nearly all of retail growth but only 10 per cent of retail sales, proving that there is still a disconnect between online and offline experiences. The essence of omnichannel not only means bringing the customer experience online and opening your business up to sales at the consumer’s convenience, it also means bringing the core look, feel and vision of your business to your customers, no matter where they are.  

Retailers today have to do in-store, online and mobile commerce well if they want to thrive and compete with bigger retailers. Omnichannel done right means you should have a 100 per cent customisable platform that enables you to sell to anyone from anywhere. 

To small retailers who often wear multiple hats and have less budget at their fingertips to implement new systems, this can sound daunting but with enough research and the right platform, it can be done and done well.  At Lightspeed, we are constantly looking at the challenges independents face adopting this new method of commerce. Here are some key points for independent retailers to follow in order to master omnichannel and outrun larger competitors.  

Brand consistency is key

This is one of the most important lessons to keep in mind, because it is such a critical component to a successful omnichannel strategy. Any additional presence should be a direct extension of the physical store and accurately convey your brand essence. For many small retailers, your brand personality is the key to loyalty and building lasting relationships so ensuring this is consistent across customer touch points is essential to maintaining this. 

There are many resources available that cater directly to independents and looking up to your peers for inspiration is always a good idea. Stores like MALIN + GOETZ, Papillon Living and Tokyo Bike are a great example of how a brand can be consistent across channels.

Think of your business as one complete enterprise

In order to succeed as an omnichannel business, think of the entire enterprise as one. Don’t think of your business as ‘online’ and ‘offline’ or your inventory will become disconnected and eventually you will end up with too little product in one place and too much in the other. Be ready to be nimble, moving inventory from the store in London to fill an order coming from York online. 

Eventually you will know what works for you but whichever platform you choose; it should be integrated. If you run a brick-and-mortar and an online store using two separate solutions, you’re left with two sets of inventory, double the work and a greater chance of making mistakes.

Go global. It’s not as hard as you think

The Internet has well and truly broken down country barriers, allowing consumers to get their hands on almost anything from anywhere. Today’s customers don’t sympathise with poor shipping policies, in fact it can do more harm than good for your business.  

As the brand grows, build the online and mobile presence; and don’t forget to make them global. When you open the brand up to new markets don’t miss out on selling to them! The key to being truly omnichannel is meeting the customers wherever they may be, and that includes markets beyond the brand’s hometown, county or country.

Many merchants consider the leap to selling across borders too intimidating to make, but the truth is it’s a lot easier than it seems. POS technology exists to handle taxes, shipping, and translation. So, take time, do research, and invest in the tools now that are needed to create a store that can manage global selling with ease.  

Know more, sell more

Given the amount of data we share every day, customers expect some level of personalisation when they interact with your business. With the right system retailers can combine data from every transaction and interaction, from any channel, into a unique individual file for each customer. 

By collecting and organising this information in the right way, retailers are able to target interactions and offer more relevant products and services that better meet customers’ needs, build stronger relationships and increase loyalty. 

It’s all about the details

Consumer expectations have never been higher - they want their purchasing experiences to be convenient, intuitive, and customised, whether they are finding products on the web or in-store. At the end of the day customers are the key to any business’ future success. There is nothing better for business than a satisfied customer, so get to know them and treat them with care. Focusing on all the minor details ensures their experience in-store and online is an easy and exciting process.  

If something does go wrong, a personal touch goes a long way. Greet in-store customers with warmth, and go the extra mile to help them find what they’re looking for. This will never fail to set the brand apart.    

Omnichannel will only become more essential to businesses as they cater to the customers of the future but with the way the market is moving, it’s no longer realistic for retailers to devise their own solution. The right platform for your industry, business and brand is essential to selling everywhere but the right partner will determine whether omnichannel will truly work for you. 

Research is essential and if retailers take these points on board during this phase of decision making they are sure to end up with the best provider for them. It’s key to remember that omnichannel is not going to look the same for every retailer - but it’s worth putting in the time and investment to determine what it means for the business, and putting strategies in place to meet the customers wherever they are.  

 Dax Dasilva, CEO, Lightspeed

Dax Dasilva founded Lightspeed in 2005, to meet the market need for cloud-based business platforms. It now provides leading commerce tools that enable more than 40,000 SMEs to thrive.