Omnichannel Retail: How Is the Combination Of Online And Offline Channels Proving To Be the Next Big Thing For Startups And MSMEs?

The adaptation of e-commerce, especially after the pandemic outbreak, has enhanced the way consumers and brands interact with each other throughout the purchasing process

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to the shopping experiences of millions of customers. It accelerated digital transformation and led to an unprecedented surge in the e-commerce sector when our nation suffered the blunt of lockdowns. With the lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures becoming the new normal, consumers ever-increasingly 'went digital' and avoided visiting traditional brick-and-mortar stores by purchasing products and services online. Such a massive shift in buying behavior strengthened the e-commerce industry's share of global retail trade from 14 per cent in 2019 to about 17 per cent in 2020. Businesses (startups and MSMEs) and consumers who were able to adopt the digital route have contributed significantly to mitigating the economic downturn caused by the virus.

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The adaptation of e-commerce, especially after the pandemic outbreak, has enhanced the way consumers and brands interact with each other throughout the purchasing process. It has helped retailers accept the digital transition and meet various consumer demands effectively. Businesses have made online operations a critical element in their competitive strategy, owing to the increased penetration of tech devices such as smartphones that have become the new virtual market.

Smartphones: The new virtual market

The Internet and smartphone adoption facilitates consumers to buy products and services with a single tap or click. Everything seems just a click away with smartphones, from purchasing electric and home appliances to buying real estate properties. Moreover, smartphone penetration has further allowed retailers to reach a more extensive and newer consumer base without adversely affecting their offline stores' performance.

However, relying only on online does not ensure survival in such a competitive marketplace. Businesses must leverage disruptive strategies that are more customer-focused than product-focused for an extensive period. In this context, an endless number of options have emerged today for purchasing goods and services, whether online, offline, or a combination of both, known as omnichannel retail.

Omnichannel retail: The need of the hour

Omnichannel has become the ideal business model for brands offering unparalleled benefits and competitive advantages, unlike a multichannel approach. Brands have ever-increasingly started realising the true potential of the omnichannel strategy, as it helps them leverage both online and offline space to sell and deliver products and services. Omnichannel retail involves multiple channels, including social media, brick-and-mortar stores, marketplaces, and more. This specific route helps retailers efficiently control expenses related to real estate costs, inventory holding, and operational expenses when implied as a long-term strategy. In addition, brands get unprecedented visibility across various online and offline sales channels and multiple segments, like the fashion/apparel sector. Notably, the fashion industry has been leading the omnichannel adoption in retail.

The omnichannel ecosystem helps retailers position their customers as the centre of attraction and allows retailers to offer homogenous and enjoyable shopping experiences. For the fashion sector, omnichannel helps apparel retailers to offload their latest collections faster, ensure faster delivery & faster returns of items, bypass seasonal demand, provide the much-needed visibility of products and customer journeys, and many more. Hence, omnichannel has garnered significant success, backed by the latest technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Role of AI and VR in omnichannel retail

The retail industry expects cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality to form a prominent role in the omnichannel ecosystem. Some brands have already offered their customers the facility to click a picture and virtually try their wearable products to check how perfectly the items suit them. After the virtual trial of the products, customers decide whether to buy the products online or from the store.

Bottomline

The points mentioned above indicate how the omnichannel approach does wonders for small businesses, startups, and MSMEs. It is undoubtedly the future of the retail sector that has started a massive transformation in today's new normal, based on an omnichannel strategy. More players should embrace this novel approach to reinforce their digitisation and attract customers to offer them a seamless shopping experience.