Online and offline: the combination counts

In-store customer service is no longer enough. If you want to secure your business in the long run, you can also offer outlets on the couch at home or on the go.

More and more brick-and-mortar stores also sell their goods online. And still not enough. Because omnichannel does not mean a short-term trend. The term describes the future: today’s teens expect to be able to find and buy their brands and fashionable must-haves online. With a few clicks, zack, zack, no cumbersome searches, long waits, complicated authentication or limited payment options. Patience is no longer a virtue of Snapchat and Instagram Reels generation.

For retailers, this means: they have to adapt the store design, order logistics and warehouse to offline and online business and properly connect IT systems. The “digital mindset” is the basis for combining brick-and-mortar sales with a successful online presence.

The best in Omnichannel
A negative example is a bicycle dealer in the east of Frankfurt who forces his customers to pick bikes in the store, pay for them, and then return to get them assembled. Order online, pay online and collect? No.

Positive examples among retailers include the Top 10 selected by Google and the German Seller Association (HDE) in April. According to the organizers, the assessment was based on the examination of the extent to which German retailers rely on a comprehensive omnichannel strategy. The reason for the study was that Euromonitor International found that in 2024 a third of all retail sales would be attributed to omnichannel sales.

The basis of the ranking was the “Google Omnichannel Excellence Study” (GOES), which shows what customers expect from omnichannel and how well German retailers are able to provide a smooth and consistent shopping experience across all channels. 52 retailers in Germany were tested using 43 comparative criteria.

According to Google, the result was the “Omnichannel Maturity Ranking”; Media Markt, Breuninger and Decathlon took 1st to 3rd places, for example, for flexibility in processing deliveries or by constantly encouraging online searches to continue shopping offline.

The basic survey results clearly show what the customers want. They include:

  • Transparency of product availability is crucial.
  • Pricing must be consistent across sales channels, as do the return options.
  • Offer your preferred payment method.

The Swiss group Meier-Tobler, wholesaler and supplier of systems for building technology, shows what omnichannel can make unique. Its customers of the online store have 24/7 access to stores. For example, artisans who urgently need materials after the store closes, receive a QR code and a door PIN to access via the store app, scan the goods themselves while invoicing is running in the ERP system. At present, the 25 Würth24 stores of a well-known screw dealer in Germany operate according to a similar pattern.

But many sellers make a well-maintained online store the basis for in-store advice as well. For example, retailers with tablets can provide customers with comprehensive on-site support. Not only do you have photos and technical details ready, but you can also see possible variants, stock levels and delivery times. Technically, it is even possible to recognize a customer in a store and access their history in real time.

Online as a base
When it comes to shipping, sellers can also earn points with innovative links such as online payment and fast delivery from the retail store (shipping from the store).

The way an omnichannel strategy is designed and filled with life can vary greatly depending on individual requirements. The seller’s creativity is required to find the right strategy for their market, product range and target groups. Which channels should be recorded and how? Applications, marketplace or social media? And how to make sense to connect websites, blogs, customer service, logistics and marketing.

Even those who start small here shouldn’t necessarily think about the little things. Rather, keep an eye on the entire path, beyond your previous local environment or previous customer groups, for example. Only those who strongly link the ties of a brick-and-mortar store with an online store can count on good business in the long run.

Because: Five years ago, a Harvard Business Review study found that on average, multi-channel customers spend more and are more loyal.

This article first appeared in Der Handel.

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