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Omnichannel or Multichannel: What's the Future of Retail in India? Rapid digitization, mobile revolution, and e-commerce in India have come together to change the face of retail

By KT Prasad

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Let's rewind the retail journey in India by a few years and take you back in time. Circa 2010: buying an item like a television meant visiting the neighborhood electronic store, speaking to a salesperson and making a purchase. Today, the same retail process is multi-layered and dynamic. Thanks to technology, you can browse options on your mobile device and order from an e-commerce site. What's more, you can now have it delivered to your home or pick it up from a store nearby. And in case you have any questions or complaints, you can reach out to the company via social media or use the messenger option on their website to chat with a customer service person.

Talk of new-age retail experience and the lines between online retail, social selling and brick and mortar stores are blurring. Rapid digitization, mobile revolution, and e-commerce in India have come together to change the face of retail as we know it. The result is the growing popularity of omnichannel and multichannel strategies that are redefining the retail experience.

Evolving retail landscape

The advent of multichannel retail in India goes back a few years and its journey runs parallel to the growth of the e-commerce sector. As more and more customers began to find it convenient to shop on their desktop or mobile devices, businesses had to establish an online presence. The e-commerce market has expanded beyond metro cities, with Tier 2 and 3 cities accounting for more than 40 percent of online customers. To gain an edge over competitors and penetrate smaller markets, retailers adapted the click and mortar business model with online shopping to hook more customers.

Omnichannel is a more recent phenomenon and takes the multi-channel approach a step further. While all omnichannel experiences will use multiple channels, not all multichannel experiences are omnichannel. You can have a retail store, a great website, engaging mobile marketing and social media campaigns, but they must deliver a seamless customer experience for the approach to function as an omnichannel experience.

Differences between omnichannel and multichannel

At first glance, omnichannel and multichannel may seem similar and even interchangeable. Even as both strategies use multiple channels to engage the customer but the depth of integration of these channels distinguishes one from the other. Let's take you through some of the major differences between omnichannel and multichannel retail:

Consistency of communication: Omnichannel removes the boundaries between disparate channels such as online, social, mobile and physical to create a unified shopping experience. The stress is on enforcing a consistent brand image to create a sense of familiarity with the customer and forge a stronger bond.

In a multichannel business model, the online and offline channels function individually in separate silos with little or no connection with each other. While different platforms are used to interact with customers, the shopping experience may vary from channel to channel.

Customization of consumer touch points: Multichannel creates different channels to reach out to the customer and does not necessarily look at customizing the communication strategy for each platform. But customers engage with brands in different ways across platforms and their habits and preferences may vary from one channel to another. An omnichannel strategy factors in this consumer insight and looks at each channel in isolation to adapt the content accordingly, while retaining the essence of the overall message.

Spider web Vs. race track approach: Omnichannel strategy can be compared to a spider's web, where the different channels used by customers are interconnected and they can effortlessly switch between them. The customer is the nucleus of the strategy and all communication is designed and executed in one voice. On the other hand, the multichannel strategy has a race track approach where channels are structured into separate lanes, with their own trajectories and goals. While each platform works individually to satisfy the customer's needs, it may not necessarily work in cohesion with another channel.

Tactical Vs. strategic approach: Multichannel uses a tactical approach to grab the customer via multiple channels, by casting a wider net. On the other hand, omnichannel's approach is more strategic. By understanding the customer's perspective when dealing with each retail channel, omnichannel aims to eliminate effort from the customer experience. In that sense, omnichannel is a smarter approach as it uses data to analyze the customer's behavior and works towards reducing the effort to shop.

A Peek into the Future

Omnichannel is and will continue to be the buzzword of the retail industry in India. The end goal of your sales and marketing strategy is to understand your customer's shopping habits and fulfill their retail needs.

When you are making an initial investment in technology to integrate the omnichannel, smart approach to different retail channels, you are eventually creating diverse opportunities to connect with your customers. As convenience remains the driving force, the "one size doesn't fit all' theory gains a stronger foothold in what you can call the world of happy fit retailing.

KT Prasad

Country Sales Director, Zendesk India

KT Prasad is the Country Sales Director for Zendesk, India. Since joining the Indian office of the San Francisco based SaaS Company in September 2016, he has been responsible for Business growth with a focus on helping customers transform their customer service into meaningful customer engagement with beautifully simple solutions.

He has a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) degree from the Karnatak University and over 20 years of management experience in some of the top companies from the software and services industry. Prior to joining Zendesk, KT was the General Manager with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise responsible for Microsoft Business Applications, Asia Pacific and Japan. He was in charge of delivering Microsoft based business applications such as Dynamics CRM and Dynamics Axapta and leading HPE’s Enterprise Cloud Solutions strategy for Microsoft applications. Prior to HPE, KT spent time with Adea, PSI Data Systems and Agilisys (formerly known as netdecisions) where he played various leadership roles.

In every role that he has held, his basic objectives have been; driving customer satisfaction, improving integration across business units and addressing the unique technology needs of customers.                                                                     


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