Walk the floor of any retail trade show. Sit in on any panel session. There’s a conversation happening that’s as commonplace as it is cliché: “Ecommerce is the future of all commerce.” To be sure, consumers are spending ever more dollars online, but as a percentage of total retail sales (for which brick-and-mortar sales are included), ecommerce barely pushes the 5% mark.
I know what you’re thinking: Is he really about to say that ecommerce doesn’t matter? The answer is an unequivocal “no.” But to speak of ecommerce solely in terms of its growth trajectory really misses the point. For the CMO who oversees every sales channel, the value of ecommerce is that it’s a bellwether for brick-and-mortar stores by helping to inform ways to improve the in-store experience.
Historically, brick-and-mortar managers were more agile than their online counterparts. Boasting the ability to change the store experience based on local preferences, the brick-and-mortar business was first to the finish line in the race to provide the right message to the right visitor at the right time. (Need proof? Stop by your local hardware store before the next snow storm. You’ll see the shovels when you first walk in.)
Today, ecommerce managers have that same level of agility. Weather targeting, geotargeting, and real-time segment updates enable the web store to enhance the shopping experience based on each and every visitor section. But ecommerce managers have one additional arrow in their quivers that in-store managers lack: data.
The web store’s customer base includes every inch of territory covered by the brick-and-mortar stores, and often much more. Want to know what’s selling well in California? Or Southern Florida? Or what merchandising tactics work best in Cheboygan, Michigan? Only the online team can quickly and easily answer all three of these questions.
What beckons, then, for the marketer is an evolution away from multichannel retailing (characterized by its fragmented approaches to customer curation) in favor of omnichannel retailing, characterized by:
- General blending of the online and offline channels
- Recognition of the influence of each channel on the other
- Bidirectional data sharing
- Consistency in look, feel, offers, and messaging
And what you’ll recognize, during this evolution, is that ecommerce is not your most important store or channel—but neither is brick-and-mortar. Your most important channel is all of them, and if you want to increase sales, there’s no better time to ignore the cliché and embrace what’s really happening.