Australian retailers are facing unprecedented challenges. Retail businesses of all sizes around the country are feeling the direct impact of decreased foot-traffic, disrupted supply chains and economic instability as a result of the COVID-19 global health pandemic. As such, it means that the idea of an ‘omnichannel strategy’, which originally encompassed the physical interaction between the customer and the merchant, must once again evolve.

As time has gone on, omnichannel retail has become more than the simple linking of an ecommerce store with a bricks-and-mortar presence. Fundamentally, it’s become the function of selling goods across multiple platforms; and while that includes in-store, it also means meeting consumers at other platforms and touch points – across all online and social media platforms.

Despite the fact that under current government restrictions, consumers have little or limited access to bricks-and-mortar stores, omnichannel strategies will continue to play a significant role in the success of businesses in the coming months and years.

Customer experience is more important than ever

The best omnichannel experiences are cohesive — they offer the customer a consistent experience across all channels that accurately captures the essence of the brand. While at times considered an overused retail buzzword, the relevance of omnichannel – especially in the current retail climate – is more important than ever.

This evolution of retail, and in turn, of the omnichannel retail strategy comes down to the changing needs of consumers. Historically, retailers have never needed to meet consumers in as many places as they do now – and never more so than in 2020.

Brands like British fashion retailers, ASOS – even without a bricks-and-mortar offering – apply omnichannel strategies seamlessly across their ecommerce website, mobile apps, marketplace and social media pages (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook) with content tailored to their specific audience needs.

Online traffic and consumer choice is on the rise

As bricks-and-mortar retailers shift their businesses online and consumers are confined to their homes, online traffic is set to soar. Consumers have more choice and more power and retailers are scrambling to adapt. Just as it became standard for bricks-and-mortar retailers to have an online offering, it’s now near impossible to operate a retail business that doesn’t sell across multiple channels.

It’s not unusual for a single retailer to need inventory connected to its online marketplace, multiple social media platforms, and of course – when relevant – its POS within the store. As such, omnichannel has become an all-encompassing term that refers to a retailer’s ability to facilitate a consumer’s needs, in order to deliver a seamless brand experience and a unified brand message across every point of contact.

Retailers like Australian beauty company Mecca Brands, are global leaders in experiential marketing and omnichannel strategy. Now a billion-dollar company, Mecca Brands – which owns Mecca and Mecca Cosmetica – has focused on providing a seamless experience between online and in-store. With a special focus on social media and education their omnichannel approach has driven their online traffic exponentially.

Omnichannel is simply retail

Driving traffic through social selling and the communication of a consistent brand message across all customer touchpoints is key. In this day and age, failing to do so risks losing the consumers business entirely.

In the last 12 months, we’ve been inundated with news of Australian retailers falling under significant pressure amidst this competitive retail landscape and the latest restrictions will only create further challenges. It goes to highlight that large or well-known brands with long-lasting customer followings are just as answerable to the expectations of consumers as smaller pure-play online businesses.

Eventually, the idea of a holistic omnichannel retail strategy will, in itself, become obsolete. Not because it lacks importance, but because the approach is accepted as the standard mode of operation.

It’s crucial to understand that it’s simply not enough to just have an online presence  – survival in the Australian retail market will come from delivering a cohesive, personalised and seamless shopping experience for consumers, at every stage of the journey. Crucially, as a retailer, the implementation of an omnichannel strategy doesn’t need to be navigated alone. There are ecommerce platforms and tools readily available, to simplify the process of creating a connected experience.

While the challenges associated with delivering such levels of service can be daunting, they also represent significant opportunities for retailers willing to adapt their business accordingly.

Shannon Ingrey is general manager for APAC at BigCommerce