What Is Omnichannel Retail?

Omnichannel retail is a strategic approach to delivering a consistent, coordinated, and cohesive experience across all possible brand channels and customer touchpoints.



What Is Omnichannel Retail?

Omnichannel retail is a strategy in which retailers engage customers through multiple digital and physical touchpoints. As customers move across these channels, applications and data move with them. This creates a consistent, on-brand experience from start to finish. With this understanding, large brands are now using an omnichannel store as media strategy, along with other experiences, within a brick-and-mortar location to further their reach, visibility, and impact with their consumer audiences.

We are entering the world of “phygital”—physical and digital at the same time, where there is not a physical world or digital world in retail, but rather a completely connected one.1

When today’s customers shop, they use everything from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to websites to social media to mobile apps. Customers expect connected journeys, and 76 percent of customers expect consistent interactions across departments2. Customers also expect the omnichannel retail process to address product delivery options, including curbside pickups, lockers, buying online and picking up in store (BOPIS), and all other touchpoints in their relationship with a retailer.

With an integrated omnichannel strategy, retailers can provide hyperconvenient, personalized shopping experiences at every point in the customer journey—whether that customer is shopping online, via their mobile device, or in a store. The idea behind omnichannel retail is to create frictionless and personalized customer experiences at the exact moment of relevance.

Creating a better experience for customers across all channels, in turn, fosters greater satisfaction and loyalty, as well as additional benefits for the businesses themselves. By analyzing the customer journey, retailers can improve their strategies around marketing, merchandising, loyalty programs, and inventory management, and they can dedicate resources where they will matter most to meet their customers’ fast-changing expectations.

The Strategic Omnichannel Retail Experience

A unified omnichannel retail strategy provides a consistent brand experience and accurate information at every touchpoint. Where possible, experiences are integrated with the customer’s activities via other channels.

For example, a customer might see an online promotion, log in to a brand’s app to view their loyalty rewards status, place an order, then go to retrieve their purchase from a secure locker. The customer’s information would be retained throughout the process for a seamless shopping experience across all channels.

Alternately, a customer could do an online search and save items to a future purchase wish list. At a later date, that customer could go into the store or online purchase portal, retrieve their wish list, and buy those items using loyalty rewards points toward their purchase. Once purchased, the stock level in the supporting inventory management system and the customer’s purchase history record would be updated. With this data available in near-real-time, the retailer would have an accurate picture of available inventory as well as valuable insights into customer behavior. The customer experience is seamlessly integrated and branded at all touchpoints for consistency. And the physical store becomes integrated with a digital experience from both the customer and data analytics perspective.

A well-executed omnichannel strategy will eliminate confusing experiences that disappoint customers. For example, a customer could check the availability of a popular item on the phone, see it is available at the nearest store, and have confidence it will be in stock when they arrive for pickup.

Omnichannel shopping is ascendant, with about 60 to 70 percent of consumers across categories shopping/researching both in store and online and social media influencing up to 40 percent of consumers in categories like jewelry, accessories, and fitness5.

Designing the Omnichannel Experience

A successful omnichannel strategy is an ongoing journey that is regularly curated to maximize connections between various data points from customer-facing technologies, back-of-house operational systems, and supporting technology infrastructure to deliver a seamless customer experience. When data can be shared across a unified ecosystem, customers and retailers benefit.

Businesses can offer personalized sales recommendations, confirm customer account information from any source where the customer has previously shared it, and further enhance the customer experience at the moment of the transaction, whether it takes place online, at a kiosk, or on a personal device.

With the introduction of in-store edge-enabled devices and technology, such as edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI), which collect, process and analyze data closer to where it is generated, retailers can access near-real-time information about their customers. They also benefit from an additional layer of data security—by not sending data to a centralized data center and processing it locally at the edge, there is less data at risk in a single moment of transaction.

And with intelligence from edge to cloud, retailers can parlay insights from deeper customer and merchandising data analytics to understand long-term trends, inform targeted campaigns, and make predictions about the future.

Together these integrated technology solutions make the omnichannel experience not only possible but seamless.

The Future of Omnichannel in Retail

Optimizing customer engagement and experiences across channels is an ongoing effort. Customers expect convenience, which means digital experiences need to have smooth interchanges and integrate well with in-store operations.

Given the recent changes in buyer behavior, customers may expect that convenience means they don’t have to go to a store. If customers do need to go to a store, they will want a meaningful reason, such as an experience they cannot get online or that starts online and completes in the physical location. Consequently, merchants will need to design unique, thoughtful buying experiences that personalize to their customers’ wants and needs.

For example, imagine a customer using a mobile device to search for or purchase a product. The data from that buying journey or purchase gets transmitted to the business’s systems that look for trends, patterns, behaviors, and product updates. The brand’s sales representative can then access and use the information derived from that data in near-real time, through point of sale (POS) systems or other enabled devices, to provide that customer with personalized upsells or promotions. Even more, retailers can use the data analytics to see buying trends, track product performance, and update sales strategies and marketing campaigns.

Opportunities for frictionless customer experiences are becoming commonplace:

  • A customer can buy a product online or from a mobile device and easily pick it up in the store, curbside, or from a locker.
  • An item placed in an online shopping cart will appear in the customer’s mobile app and in in-store platforms, such as POS or sales assist systems.
  • A customer can use a mobile app or self-service kiosk to find an item in the store. If it’s not available at that location, the customer has the ability to easily find and order it from another store. By sharing insights across the cloud from multiple stores, the second store can not only respond locally to larger system-wide trends but also have the item pulled from inventory and ready for pickup when the customer arrives.
  • When a customer is returning an item, the POS system will accept a proof of purchase from any channel using the customer’s membership details or credit card.

Omnichannel retail requires a cohesive, 360-degree experience in store, curbside, and online. Social commerce will become a more significant strategy using, for example, livestream videos that promote in-store-only deals.

Curated products that forecast as popular based on customer buying data will become a focal point in future marketing campaigns that drive demand. Suggestive selling will be customized based on integrated insights from consumer information.

Winning brands have transformed their traditional business models rapidly by leveraging a plethora of digital practices6.

Given the increased volume of online purchases, it is likely there will be more returns. As a result, making returns faster and easier becomes part of the overall customer experience and, ultimately, an influencer determining the brand relationship quality.

Automation will support human labor so routine tasks can be delegated in the interest of ensuring human workers can focus on customer relationships and responsibilities that require higher-order thinking.

Omnichannel retail will consider back-of-house operations for warehouse automation, inventory control, and better fulfillment procedures. Last-mile delivery is already a focal point for visionary retailers. In time, shorter delivery windows will become a standard customer expectation.

Altogether, with the array of technological advances and support, there has never been such an exciting time to be in the retail business. The future of omnichannel retail is as merchants and their customers design it.

Intel® Technologies for Omnichannel Retail Solutions

Delivering an omnichannel retail experience requires a technology foundation that can support data collection and management across digital and physical touchpoints. Intel provides this foundation with compute, storage, networking, and security technologies that span edge to cloud. Additionally, Intel® offers a rich set of developer toolkits, libraries, and reference designs to help you get to market and value faster. Intel’s technologies power many of the online platforms available as well as POS systems, digital signage solutions, networks, data centers, and sensors that keep retail running today.

Intel and other top technology firms have a collaborative effort to support open solutions that deliver value and exciting service models that enhance customer loyalty. This collaboration is called the Open Retail Initiative (ORI). ORI promotes the free exchange of ideas in the retail industry with an open source approach to simplify integrating individual solutions. Vendors can publish and subscribe to data from other vendors while also supporting all operating systems, hardware, and communications protocols. Having an open approach to data sharing facilitates data fusion and provides a more accurate picture of analytics to help solve retail problems.

Another significant advantage that Intel offers retailers is an ecosystem of technology partners and prevalidated solutions that come together to support delivering optimal customer experiences. Together, our focus is on helping businesses plan and execute their personalized omnichannel retail strategy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Omnichannel is a strategy in which retailers and brands engage customers through multiple, integrated digital and physical touchpoints, such as physical stores, websites, social media, and apps. As customers move across channels, applications and data move with them for a consistent, on-brand experience from start to finish.

A streamlined, well-executed omnichannel retail strategy provides a consistent brand experience and accurate information at every touchpoint. Brands benefit from deeper insights into customer preferences and behaviors, better inventory control, and more-effective promotions and marketing campaigns.

A successful omnichannel retail approach means unifying all platforms, processes, and data sources to deliver a seamless, integrated, optimal customer buying experience. One way to strengthen a brand’s omnichannel retail experience is to assess each customer touchpoint to identify and solve gaps or inconsistencies.

A well-executed omnichannel retail experience supports a customer journey across multiple integrated touchpoints. For example, a customer may start the purchase journey online, adding items to a virtual cart, before making a trip into the physical store to pick up the order where the customer can pay using touchless technology and earn loyalty points. Meanwhile, a warehouse robot can pull the stock for fulfillment, which triggers automatic updates to inventory records. Further, the brand can design future targeted promotions, project product needs, and use data from this purchase to drive demand from other customers.