Customers are increasingly “omnichannel” — deploying both online and offline channels — in their thinking and behavior. In order to win in this new environment, sellers also must be omnichannel. That means having explicit strategies for the two core channel functions — provision of information about products and product fulfillment — and offering the right combination of experiences for their customers. The authors have developed a customer-focused framework for delivering these strategies, drawing on empirical research conducted with both offline-first retailers like Crate & Barrel and online first retailers like Warby Parker.
Traditional, or offline-first, retailers need to leverage the online channel not only for fulfillment but also as a venue for delivering price, inventory and other information desired by customers. Using data from a natural experiment conducted at Crate & Barrel, a retailer of furnishings and housewares, the authors show that by providing accurate price and inventory information online, a traditional retailer can significantly increase sales and traffic to offline stores.
Similarly, New York-based Warby Parker, an eyeglasses retailer that started out selling online, sells products with tactile features that some customers want to experience offline. The authors describe how Warby Parker has experienced significant benefits by developing an offline presence. For Warby Parker, offline showrooms that provide product inventory for customers to sample drive increased sales through the online channel. Furthermore, the authors note, when online-first retailers develop offline channels to deliver information, this allows customers to sort more appropriately into the channel that best suits them.
The authors argue that the omnichannel strategies they discuss — strategies that balance the customer’s need for quality information and timely fulfillment — are the key to brand building and retail success. This, they say, is true for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, pure-play Internet retailers and hybrid retailers alike.