Competition in retail has always been fierce. However, it’s become ever more intense since the internet revolutionised the entire concept of marketing. Post-dotcom, bricks-and-mortar businesses struggled to compete with their online counterparts, where integration underpins customer experience.

Of course, the rise of Amazon has been nothing short of meteoric. Companies like ASOS and Very have also firmly established themselves as online competitors to the traditional UK high street.

The bricks and mortar businesses that have survived – and even thrived – over the last few decades are the ones that quickly adapted to the new status quo. For example, John Lewis, Argos, and Tesco rapidly introduced virtual shopping outlets that could compete with their online-only cousins.

However, merely extending an online offering is no longer enough. Far from easing up, today’s increasingly smartphone-driven online society demands a strategic approach to reaching new and existing customers.

Retailers are under more pressure than ever to provide shoppers with a seamless experience between the physical stores and the online experience. These days, the online experience has gone far beyond the web browser, extending into proprietary apps, online advertising, and social media marketing.

Marketing Leaders

There are several examples of companies which stand out for their seamless omnichannel approach. Starbucks is one, having pioneered the multi-channel approach with its Starbucks Rewards programme, accessible via a smartphone app. However, the company had a breakthrough in 2018 when it recognised that it only had a digital relationship with those customers who had already signed up for its loyalty scheme.

Starbucks decided to put a gateway on the WiFi access in its US stores, requiring customers to provide an email address to get online. Starbucks then emailed those customers with the offer of a free coffee when they signed up for the loyalty programme. The company gained access to ten million email addresses as a result of the change.

Another example is Oasis, which executes an outstanding omnichannel approach to high street fashion retailing. For example, the Oasis Instagram account showcases the company’s products tagged with links providing direct access to the mobile-optimised online store.

If a user adds something to their cart, it will remain there even if they later log in from a different device. The customer can purchase online, or “click and collect” from their local Oasis store.

With only a few big players in the UK supermarket scene, competing on price isn’t always possible. Therefore, a compelling omnichannel marketing campaign can make all the difference. Asda has previously demonstrated success here, with its Easter “Giant Hen” promotion.

The company deployed cross-channel messages to deliver location-specific information to potential customers of over 300 stores, each running their own promotional activities for Easter. Over four million people viewed the campaign, with 40% of views coming from previously disengaged customers.

Why Integration is Critical

Running a sophisticated omnichannel marketing campaign pivots on different parts of the organization being able to communicate effectively and seamlessly with the others. After all, if a marketing campaign pulls in the customers, the retailer needs to ensure there’s adequate inventory in stock to service those customers. An integrated system will enable ad clicks and social engagement to inform revenue forecasts and stock ordering.

How can all retailers compete on this level? Well, it starts with systems integration. Many retailers are aware of this, but the challenge is that those who have been around more than a few years are often working on fragmented legacy systems.

Therefore, integration is critical for retailers wanting to implement an effective omnichannel strategy. Many companies employ in-house teams, or external consultants to engage in lengthy system integration projects that are often outpaced by technological developments and new go-to-market strategies.

But with Smarter Integration, the journey to integration doesn’t have to be painful or even prolonged. Integration Connectivity as a Service (ICaaS) means it can be done and dusted in as little as 48 hours, and all managed in the cloud.

Once systems are integrated, retailers are on a level footing to compete with the best in offering a seamless omnichannel customer experience. Social media views and digital advertisements can push what’s in stock, or tease what’s coming soon. Customers aren’t left disappointed by lack of availability. Sales channels could even tell them when a particular item is running low, so as to compel them to buy now before it runs out.

Retailers can use these tactics to develop a growing base of loyal customers. This loyalty can also be leveraged to help share the message with other potential new customers. Integration is just the beginning, but it’s a necessary first step to a seamless customer experience.