The future of omnichannel in a e-commerce era
The future of omnichannel has been drastically accelerated by the pandemic, altering the face of business forever. With no corner or process of any company left untouched amid COVID-19, even the most transformation-resistant industries are rapidly altering course. Manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers are increasingly adopting tools that not only support multi-channel sales and services, but also uncover insights that can help sellers entice, advise, and persuade buyers for new or recurring purchases.
The use of big data, predictive analytics, machine learning, and other cutting-edge technologies are now core to all facets of this digital transformation.
This trend continues unabated both internationally and in Spain, according to data published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Let’s look at how it’s been affected by the global pandemic.
COVID accelerates omnichannel in manufacturing
The pandemic poses many challenges for manufacturers and wholesalers, including stock outages and staff relocation, the shuttering of traditional physical channels such as hospitality and food service (HORECA) locations and retail shops. This left many companies with only one alternative: distance selling.
For companies at the top of their industry’s value chain – in other words, manufacturers and their brands – the move toward an omnichannel direct-to-consumer (D2C) strategy has accelerated demand for both customer data management and e-commerce technology solutions.
For example, large retailers in fashion, sporting goods, and food, have seen an upward trend in their digital channels and, therefore, demand has remained upstream in the supply chain for these categories. However, business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders have reduced aggregate demand per channel. Take, for example, the massive hit HORECA and travel organizations have experienced since the crisis began.
While the situation has certainly been an inflection point for many direct to consumer organizations, it should also be viewed in the context of the transformational groundswell that has built up in recent years.
The future of omnichannel: Getting closer to the customer
A core challenge in recent times for D2C companies has been gaining an increased understanding of the end consumer.
The future of omnichannel is the future of all businesses, whether B2B or B2C. It’s no longer enough to simply survey customers about their preferences. You need to understand their buying habits and behavioral patterns in order to recommend the right product at the right time, and increase the likelihood of purchase.
Brand spend on programmatic advertising, for example, is enormous, but this type of marketing doesn’t necessarily lead to a direct consumer relationship or an actionable customer profile to act on.
While the retail point of sale was once the customary touchpoint for understanding consumers’ buying preferences and behaviors, the need to profile the consumer now goes well beyond the physical channel. After all, customers’ behavior impacts every element of business planning and execution, from store locations, to packaging, to promotions, and more.
All of this makes the future of omnichannel critical to business success – and survival.
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This information transcends preset target groups and audiences. Via the future of omnichannel, the knowledge can be used beyond advertising and marketing to:
- Support demand forecasting
- Influence negotiations with channel partners
- Inform the redistribution of products and categories
- Optimize sales processes and operations in general and logistics in particular
- Help guide product development and innovation
This is why building richer, more consumer-like profiles for business buyers has become a well-established practice recently, especially in the context of targeting multiple small, long-tail customers, since these deeper insights, over time, can help enable more automated processes and optimized sales channels.
CDP, direct selling, and marketplaces: Welcome to the future of omnichannel
These trends and challenges, in turn, have led to the rise of a new class of customer data platform solutions . In a general sense, CDPs are databases that leverage big data to fuel two primary business competencies: customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence analytics.
For CRM projects, the tool itself is used to learn from the behavior of each individual customer as they progress through their buying journey and determine the next best step at each touchpoint, be it a promotion, survey, coupon, and so on. For analytics projects, the goal is to create dynamic dashboards and reporting to predictively anticipate demand based on customers’ behavioral trends.
In terms of direct sales, the most frequent projects during the pandemic months have been focused on going direct to consumer with specific product lines. These are typically either large enterprises testing new product or brand launches, or new smaller brands wanting to quickly enter the market.
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In either case, these are essentially testing environments that take the form of e-commerce storefronts, but the fact that these projects are exploratory does not detract from their strategic value. On one hand, this can be the best way to quickly determine a direct selling model that won’t disrupt legacy channels. On the other, this can help optimize organizational or process elements – either at a logistical level or in direct service to the end consumer – on a smaller scale than an organization-wide effort.
Another D2C model that doesn’t require its own dedicated channel is selling through marketplaces. Manufacturers use already established generalist or industry-specialized marketplaces as a sales channel and a way to engage with end consumers.
These solutions range from a simple approach with a limited catalog, manual processes, and minimal integrations, to full integration via marketplace aggregators that operate as intermediaries with various platforms. However, while agile, this approach doesn’t support the deeper consumer relationships and actionable insights direct sales models can enable in the future of omnichannel.
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