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The Challenges of Omnichannel and How Retailers Might Solve Them Customers are among the biggest challenge for retailers aiming to maximize their omnichannel potential.

By Nicole Leinbach Reyhle

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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"Omnichannel commerce" has been a retail buzzword for several years, however much confusion and curiosity still surrounds this hot topic. Among the various reasons why is simple: Omnichannel -- though aimed to help merchants increase revenue and customer visibility -- causes many retailers to lose millions of dollars each year, with one recent study identifying that 45 percent of merchants and suppliers have lost more than $1 million in revenue due to cross-channel commerce challenges, and more than one in ten have lost more than $3 million.

Lauren Freedman, SVP of digital strategy at Astound Commerce, believes that a lack of clarity is a big reason for this, causing merchants to create challenges for themselves versus streamline their selling efforts through omnichannel commerce.

"Lack of transparency of inventory across the enterprise is the biggest challenge for retailers. This is the basis of customers having the ability to select the channel of choice based on convenience and needs, which are always in flux," Freedman explains.

Related: How to Survive as a Brick-and-Mortar Retail Store

Expanding on this, Nihat Arkan, CEO of 1WorldSync, explains that "when it comes to omnichannel commerce, there is no singular problem that retailers need to address. Omnichannel is a complex, multi-faceted challenge for retailers, with many unequipped to deal with this."

Keeping this in mind, applying a multi-faceted approach to bridging the gaps in omnichannel seems to make the most sense -- while also keeping a sharp focus on customers, who ultimately determine if your omnichannel strategy works or not.

Challenges and opportunities with omnichannel

Customers, as it turns out, are among the biggest challenge for retailers aiming to maximize their omnichannel potential. Due to each customer having a one-of-a-kind road to purchase, it's a clear challenge for businesses to navigate each and every customer uniquely. Fortunately, however, this challenge is beginning to fade as technologies, data and artificial intelligence become more readily available to merchants -- helping to close the gaps of omnichannel commerce.

"A big challenge comes with recognizing the shopper and their unique profile in an omnichannel environment," shares Greg Ng, vice president of digital engagement at PointSource. "Netflix is an example of a company that does this really well. No matter what device a user is on, the content is uniquely curated to their likes and dislikes. Data driven innovation is the key to these unified experiences for retailers. Data is being collected at every customer touchpoint, and by tapping into these insights retailers can easily learn shopping patterns, preferences and user behaviors across devices. The methods may vary depending on channel, but the strategy should remain the same -- use customer data to drive iterative improvements in order to create a seamless and personalized user experience."

Related: The Growth of Artificial Intelligence in Ecommerce (Infographic)

Data undoubtedly has a huge influence on merchants and how they tackle their omnichannel strategy. A recent article on suggested that data gained from technology should support businesses rather than lead businesses -- and this same approach applies to omnichannel efforts, challenging merchants to shape their unique path in omnichannel commerce. Among the channels retailers must consider in omnichannel include email marketing, social media, mobile experiences -- including apps and web browsing -- as well as traditional storefronts, catalogs and of course, websites. Collectively, this provides a vast range of both opportunities and challenges for merchants -- making omnichannel one of the most difficult yet important journeys to perfect as a merchant.

Closing the omnichannel gaps

A recent study by analytics firm comScore and UPS provides a clear picture to the reality of consumer spending these days, identifying that shoppers made 47 percent of all their purchases online in 2014, rising to 48 percent in 2015, and to 51 percent in 2016. Summing this up, we are now positioned as a society to shop more online than offline, which means our strategy to support customers must adjust to support this change, as well.

Vincent Naigeon, managing director of BRIDGE -- a software that helps merchants streamline their online and offline experiences -- believes that technology is the answer to filling in the gaps of the customer journey while also helping to support merchants in their omnichannel efforts. Through technology, Naigeon believes that merchants will begin to "reduce any customer frustration" and as a result, experience stronger sales.

Related: 4 Ways Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Outsell Online Retailers

"Technology is important as there is often a gap between offline and online. Specifically, mobile can help to close this gap but it requires investment in the website to ensure the web experience is 'mobile first' and aligns with the messaging in other marketing channels," Naigeon explains.

Connecting all marketing channels is key, helping to create an unbroken brand experience that positions customers to feel confident and connected in their unique shopping destinations. Closing these gaps has historically been a challenge, but new technologies such as IBM's Watson, Genesys, BRIDGE and more, are helping to make these gaps a thing of the past.

The only potential setback? Businesses choosing not to invest into omnichannel strategies that can help strengthen their customer's paths to purchase and overall brand experience.

Related: 5 Steps to Build Your Global Ecommerce Site

Finally, as you look to avoid the gaps of omnichannel, remember that the following is what you should aim to accomplish:

  • Bridging offline and online shopping journeys -- aiming to connect with consumers seamlessly to help keep them on their path of purchase
  • Offering united brand experiences in all touchpoints of customer engagement, including social media, email marketing, mobile, websites, in-store, digital marketing and all other avenues of communication
  • Recognizing that online engagement can support in-store experiences, with a reported 50 percent of online shoppers shipping their product to physical stores among other roads to in-store visits from online starting points
  • Identifying the right avenues of omnichannel for your unique business -- acknowledging that no two businesses are the same and likewise, your omnichannel strategy must uniquely make sense for your specific business

"What we recognize with the best brands in retail is that their success and popularity comes from a consistent experience across devices, platforms and mediums," says Camilla Ley Valentin, CCO and co-founder of Queue-it, which helps online retailers increase sales by maximizing website function and preventing website failure during peak sales.

Expanding on this, founder and CEO of POS company Lightspeed Dax Dasilva offers this final piece of advice for those still wondering if omnichannel is the right strategy for them: "An omnichannel approach is crucial for retail success, allowing businesses to meet their customer at any time, anywhere in the world."

Connecting customers at any time, anywhere in the world? Now that's something worth working towards.

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle

Founder of Retail Minded & the Independent Retailer Conference

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the founder and publisher of Retail Minded, the co-founder of the Independent Retailer Conference and has contributed to publications and companies that include IBM, Fiverr, Forbes and more. Additionally, Reyhle is the author of the book Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business from McGraw-Hill and has been the spokesperson for Small Business Saturday from American Express since 2014. Follow Reyhle on Twitter at @RetailMinded. 

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