This guest article was contributed by Nexcess, a leading provider of Magento and WordPress hosting.
Ecommerce gave control of the shopping experience to consumers. Instead of being forced to visit a brick-and-mortar store in person, they can shop when they like, where they like, on whichever device suits them in the moment. They can buy from local retailers anywhere in any country or from retail giants that deliver throughout the world.
But shoppers want even more control: they also want to be able to buy from within the applications they prefer and the marketplaces they are most familiar with.
That is the promise of omnichannel retail. Store owners who embrace omnichannel retail don’t create a single online ecommerce presence and strive to funnel every potential visitor to it. Instead they leverage the network effects and popularity of multiple channels. They go to where their customers are rather than demanding that customers come to them.
Bring Your Products to Consumers, Wherever They Are
Platform owners recognize the advantages of omnichannel retail. Amazon and eBay make it easy for retailers to tap into their huge market of shoppers. Social networks like Facebook and Pinterest have added ecommerce functionality that allows retailers to sell where their customers spend time online.
Developers have created plugins for major ecommerce applications like WooCommerce and Magento that make it easier to integrate an ecommerce store with many different channels.
The power of omnichannel shopping lies in the recognition that everyone is different. I like to pore through product reviews and spend hours comparing different products and building wishlists before making a purchase.
My partner much prefers to browse Facebook and Pinterest for fashion ideas: she loves a serendipitous bargain and wants to be able to click “buy” on a whim without leaving her social network of choice. My parents' online shopping is all about Amazon, and although they buy from many retailers on the Amazon marketplace, they feel safer sticking to what they know.
What’s great about omnichannel retail is that me, my partner, and my parents can spend money with the same retailer, each in our different ways.
Ecommerce Without the Ecommerce Store?
Does omnichannel mean the end of the traditional ecommerce store? After all, if the retail experience is being pushed out to platforms rather than being concentrated in a single “store”, do retailers need to maintain a traditional store?
The answer to that question is a resounding “yes!” for a couple of reasons. First, omnichannel shouldn’t mean giving up control of your ecommerce business, and, second, a central hub that integrates with the “spokes” of multiple channels makes running a complex omnichannel operation simpler and less expensive.
A self-hosted ecommerce store based on platforms like Magento or WooCommerce gives the retailer complete control over the ecommerce experience. It acts as the foundation on which an omnichannel strategy is built. No business should rely entirely on the good graces of social media networks and third-party marketplaces: policies change, businesses pivot, platform users are fickle and can easily take their business elsewhere. Just ask online publishers what happens to their business every time Facebook changes its newsfeed algorithms.
Managing an omnichannel retail business is fiendishly complex. The goal should be to provide a consistent experience across all channels, and that’s difficult to do when you have to to deal with many different order and fulfillment backends, not to mention publishing product listings and managing inventory availability.
With a platform like Magento or WooCommerce, both of which can integrate with multiple channels, data can be managed in an interface which becomes the “single source of truth” for the business as a whole. For example, using extensions, it’s relatively straightforward to integrate Magento with Amazon and eBay.
Omnichannel retail is the future of ecommerce, but that doesn’t make the ecommerce store any less vital to the health of today’s retail businesses.