Consumer behaviour is driving multichannel growth and if retailers want to stay in touch with their customers they must adapt now.

Let’s face it, multichannel is here, and the majority of customers use several channels before they buy (around 86% apparently, according to a recent study by Leo Burnett).

So, whatever you do as a retailer, if you’re not in the multichannel game, then you’re not planning to be in retail for the long run, as your customers already are.

One of the things that it is important to realise is that the multichannel concept is not a clever invention driven by retailers, but rather a reflection of the changes that are happening all around us, driven by consumer behaviour.

Access to the Internet is becoming a commodity; home broadband connectivity comes free with your mobile package, your TV subscription or landline agreement, and mobile Internet access is part of most mobile phone packages these days.

One of the effects of this increased ‘ease of access’ is a significant surge in popularity of everything Internet enabled, even people’s social lives. We have all seen stats that ‘we’ now spend more time on social networks than on email or even TV. These are fundamental changes to how we live our lives, but for some, especially older, generations still hard to fathom.

One of the things enabled by the internet is immediacy and the amount of data and services we have access to – you don’t have to wait for feedback from someone anymore, any question can be answered immediately via Google, and if you’re looking for a particular product or product information, the internet will be able to tell you more than (unfortunately) most shop assistants can.

The customer knows this and they have made up their mind, they love the web-enabled world and they will shop with the retailer that operates in the world they live in.

Their preferred retailer provides what they want, how they want it and when they want it and engages with them through the channels that they want to engage through; online, in store, mobile, catalogue, call centre. During the purchase journey the consumer will select their preferred way of satisfying their needs.

They may gather product information out of a catalogue, online or in store, check product availability over the phone or online, use their mobile to order online and have the item home delivered or reserved for in-store pick-up an hour later.

The single channel purchase journey is almost extinct. And this shift in consumer behaviour has fundamentally changed one of the retailer’s fundamental activities – conversion. No longer is this something that we can focus on a single channel, it needs to be addressed across a journey that spans multiple channels. And this is where things get interesting.

What do we have to put in place in order to make consumers convert across multiple channels?

Consider the following four elements in a multichannel context in addition to the traditional success factors such as a good product, good service and reasonable pricing:

Consistency

A user journey that allows the consumer to access the same consistent data regardless of the channel they use. Lack of consistency will lead to confusion, lack of trust and abandonment as a result.

Although a challenge, consistency is necessary across multiple channels simultaneously, and not just product information, but pricing, promotions, services on offer, stock availability and historic order information.

Relevancy

In a world where we are swamped with information on a daily basis, providing relevant information is a must. However, we now need to add to the mix not only content related to what a customer wants to buy, but also how they want to buy it.

If I know that a particular user prefers to complete their shopping journey in the store should I continue to try to convert them online, or should I provide them with the easiest possible way to get them to their local store…?

Understand customer behaviour across channels

In order to influence the consumer journey across the channels retailers need, first and foremost, to be able to understand how a customer behaves across all journeys, in a single place ideally. (Yes, ‘single view of the customer’ is back on the agenda).

Once you have gained an understanding, the next step will be to use this understanding efficiently and start optimising conversion across multiple channels within a single purchase journey.

Adapt to change

Last, but not least; in order to give your multichannel plans some longevity, you will need to be ready for change, in your organisation, processes and systems. One thing is for sure; we are not there yet with multichannel.

It is different from our traditional approach to selling already and no doubt it will continue to shape itself; new channels will emerge, propositions will evolve, solutions will change.

Make sure you are ready for that change and you are ready to respond. Change is happening at a faster pace than ever, and if you are not ready to adapt you will be losing out.