5 Keys to Success in an Omnichoice and Unboxed Retail World

September 20, 2022By Views

By Dave Wendland, for Forbes Agency Council, as appeared on Forbes.com

I began talking about the concept of unboxed retail about five years ago. You may be scratching your head wondering what I mean by “unboxed retail.” The fact of the matter is that shopper behaviors have changed dramatically from their reliance on brick-and-mortar storefronts. Today’s shoppers are interacting with retailers on their phones, through social media, websites and countless other modes. This “unboxed” reality no longer requires traditional retail footprints. This has also created a dilemma for many retail formats anchored on street corners across America. How can they untether their shoppers from legacy shopping and manage the associated logistics of inventory management, fulfillment, returns and customer service?

The pandemic certainly put a spotlight on the significance of omnichannel commerce as online retail transactions became more prevalent. Soon after Covid-19 emerged, retailers hastened to modify their digital presence to cater to stay-at-home consumers and shoppers avoiding stores. Other shoppers found their favorite brick-and-mortar retailer was no longer open or operated with strict limitations, thus forcing them to turn to alternatives.

When I first heard the phrase “omnichoice” while moderating a panel that included author, inventor, entrepreneur and speaker Sterling Hawkins, it captured the motivation behind shopper behavior as consumers are increasingly in charge of how, where and when they interact with retailers.

This reminds me of a presentation that Dr. Chris Gray, shopper psychologist and self-proclaimed “buycologist,” delivered during a recent Path to Purchase event. Dr. Gray, who has done extensive study and work around consumerism, revealed a fundamental difference between shopper behavior and motivation. He describes shopper behavior as the means to an end — in other words, the actions taken to find and purchase what they are looking for to satisfy a specific need. While, on the other hand, motivation — the why behind the buy — has remained largely unchanged.

For brand marketers striving to remain at the forefront of the market, positioning products that are available when and where consumers need them and having the infrastructure built to function in a seamless virtual world are necessities. Here are five keys to success.

Product Assets

The consistency of your brand’s data, attributes, images and representations is essential. Ensuring that all product content is accurate and consistent is no easy task. But the extra efforts to get it right are worth the investment of time, energy and expense. In fact, it has been reported that presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 20%.

Fulfillment

While access and availability (in-stock condition) remain essential, last-mile delivery and fulfillment are now key factors among consumers. Research shows that 2 in 5 consumers “report that delivery is the single most decisive factor of the shopping experience” and “94% will not return after one delivery failure.”

Start with the consumer in mind and work backward by asking yourself these critical questions: What is the desired outcome of the delivery? Where will the ordered product be stocked (warehouse, in-store, third-party, etc.)? How will the product arrive? What will happen if the consumer is dissatisfied?

Brand Integrity

As shoppers become more aware of any product and learn the purpose behind the brand, they are more likely to purchase that item. That’s why establishing — and consistently presenting — a meaningful identity is vital to a brand’s success.

Tell your brand story with honesty, transparency and authenticity. In other words, give consumers the “why” behind their buy. This will create the brand’s personality and establish its identity. The key is to communicate repeatedly. As a wise mentor of mine, “Rocket Ray” Jutkins, once told me, “Repetition will build your reputation!”

Loyalty

Consumers express their loyalty to preferred brands by spending more money on them. Creating and nurturing this loyalty can separate winners from losers.

Lifetime customers should be the goal of any brand (unless you are selling coffins). This is best accomplished by understanding your consumers, inviting them to establish a relationship with your brand and then truly getting to know them — as personally as they will allow. This inspires one-on-one conversations and a true bond between your shopper and your brand.

Expansion

When consulting with brands, they are often taken aback when I ask them “what’s next?” In other words, what are the long-term plans for the brand’s life cycle? Will a better, faster version replace it? Will it be sold and incorporated into another portfolio? Will it simply run its course and face a certain termination? Preliminary planning for a product’s evolution to meet changing consumer needs is not only smart, but it can be the difference between long-term success and short-term failure.

A Few Final Points

The unboxed dilemma mentioned earlier and the realities of today’s shoppers must be carefully considered. For brands wishing to be front-and-center on physical shelves across the country, careful consideration must be given to the investments required to become “retail ready” and drive consumer selection (e.g., promotional spend, packaging, advertising and messaging, and retail shelf placement).

On the other hand, for those planning to disintermediate brick-and-mortar stores and sell directly to customers, cutting through the clutter and reaching consumers is no easy battle. Additionally, managing back-end fulfillment and logistics associated with direct shipments is not for the faint of heart. Plan accordingly to generate brand awareness without a store presence and consider aligning with a logistics partner to manage the complex inventory and shipping process.

Although I referenced unboxed retail in this article, my personal preference is to balance the in-person experience with digital intersections. This hybrid approach provides shoppers with the omnichoice options they seek while simultaneously balancing the best of both worlds.