Oh the Places You'll Sell: A Modern Guide To Omni-Channel Business

  •    Freelance journalist covering women, business, policy and social good.

In an increasingly connected world, eCommerce is evolving into an "omnichannel" shopping experience where businesses can engage customers through both online and offline sales channels. There is growing demand for physical shops, local events, and pop ups to compliment eCommerce stores, online markets, social media and mobile app experiences. Think of it this way: the more roads you pave to your eCommerce store, the easier it is for potential customers to reach you.

With so many options available, the key to winning sales across multiple channels is to create a consistent customer experience, experts say. That's because whatever path they travel (or whichever device they use), customers expect to find the same destination at the end of the road. Creating a consistency increases customers' efficiency, improves the customer experience, and builds trust and confidence in your business, according to the Nielsen Norman Group, which researches user experiences.

Whether they are checking product availability online before shopping in a physical store – or checking out the look and feel of a physical product before shopping online –some 85% of customers agree, saying they want an integrated experience across online and offline sales channels.

Similarly, merchants who engage with their customers across multiple sales channels are able retain nearly nine in ten customers, while merchants who fail to create that consistency retain just a third of their shoppers.

Personalizing Experiences

Trinia Jean started Hinterland Empire, a screen printing business in Humboldt County, CA, to source unique local apparel that she couldn't find elsewhere in the U.S. “We wanted to become an example to other potential business owners; that you can be American made in theory and practice," she said.

Hinterland's varied customer base includes a mix of BMX dudes, Roller Derby women, motorcycle and moped gangs, farmers, and people who want to shop locally and are environmentally conscious. Hinterland uses Weebly and Square to create an omnichannel sales experience by selling products through its website, the Weebly app, and a physical brick and mortar shop in downtown Occidental, CA.

Using multiple sales channels creates a more personalized experience for customers while expanding the business for Hinterland: The online sales help the business offset slow sales months in the small town, while the Weebly app provides real-time communication with customers who are checking on orders, discussing shipping options and confirming sizing, says Jean.

Creating Consistency

Katie Raquel also benefits from omnichannel sales for her business, Katie's Coldpress, which splits its sales evenly between online juice package orders, a farmer's market booth, and a new retail location in downtown Monterey, CA. Her company relies on Weebly for online sales, and the integrated Square system for all three sales outlets.

Raquel's customers are wellness-focused and prioritize quality, so consistent messaging is critical: “It's important that our website clearly communicates what makes our juice special," she says. “We're a small business and Monterey is a relatively small town; I answer every social media question and email myself, and we work really hard to keep our practices and quality standards consistent so people know what they can expect from us."

To create a consistent "voice," Katie's Coldpress has a set of written brand standards and answers to common questions that the business tries to communicate to customers through social media, on the website, and at the market. The Weebly app is a “lifesaver" for on-the-go management of the website when Raquel is at her physical retail store or market stand, she says.

“Multiple channels have been a key part of our growth," she says. “We started out only online and have been able to build the business out slowly over time, and reach way more people than we could have selling in only one way."

Expanding Sales

Britt Hofer and David Penn started Krater Cellars, a natural winemaking venture using sustainably farmed grapes, in Santa Rosa, CA.

Krater primarily sells its wine to distributors in New York and California and wholesale clients like local restaurants and wine shops. But they also hold back some wine for direct retail sales to individual customers. The duo also relies on Square for retail sales at the winery.

Krater uses multiple sales channels to expand its business by also selling to direct customers through its online store with Weebly. Hofer and Penn additionally use email campaigns and social media blasts to announce new wine releases a few times a year, and to drive new traffic to their online store.

“That's where you can really make a living as a small winery," said Hofer. Currently, Krater sells about 80% of its wines through distribution and 20% through direct sales on the website.

“It would be nice to flip that," Hofer says. “The Weebly store is where our future is, and where we are able to make enough money to keep doing what we are doing."

Connecting Communities

Mel Rice uses multiple sales channels for her growing pottery business, Mel Rice Ceramica, including an online store, a small retail sidewalk stand in San Francisco and business-to-business sales to third-party retailers and high-end restaurants.

“My business is successful because of my community," says Rice, a former pastry chef with many restaurant connections. Rice also owns a physical pottery studio where she teaches ceramics classes to over 100 students and plans to eventually sell retail goods.

Rice uses Weebly for her website and Square for retail payments in her sidewalk store. Square also provided a business loan that Rice used to make a down payment on her commercial studio to take her business to the next level.

Rice also engages with customers via social media, primarily through her Instagram account and blog. And she makes her business easy to locate through Google Maps and Google Reviews.

Rice says the ideal customer is “the thoughtful home owner." Creating multiple sales channels – including plans to launch an expanded eCommerce store in 2019 – will ultimately enable her to address different customer segments by offering products with different price points in different channels.

For these four eCommerce businesses, omnichannel shopping in both online and offline outlets is a win-win strategy that not only creates better customer experiences, but also enables the merchants to expand and grow their businesses. As eCommerce evolves into omnichannel shopping, it will pay to make sure your business also paves new paths for future growth.