2multiThanks to various offers of digital information, consumers nowadays order and use diverse channels for the purchase of goods at the same time - whether catalogue, online shop or mobile application. Inevitably, companies have to deal with the issue of multi-channel to take optimal advantage of the integration of different sales channels.

Today’s brick and mortar businesses must actively meet the challenges of multi-channel to remain competitive, attract new customers, and retain their existing clientele permanently. A typical scenario today is that a customer visits a store, gets some consultation when e.g. buying a dress and tests the fit and quality of the garment. The person then leaves the brick-and-mortar shop and orders the same dress at a lower price from the Internet. We here have a kind of show-room-effect that puts a strain on the retail stores and makes it clear that companies need to coordinate and link their online and offline activities to counteract the move of customers to the Internet.

Fact is that companies have to exploit the potential of networked distribution channels to the fullest, which consequently implies today that a vendor is active on all channels to target prospective customers - through catalogues, apps or social media. Such a multi-channel strategy combines ideally the strengths of both the online and offline business, in which the borders between the individual channels blur steadily. And that’s the reason why many companies now offer interrelated services, such as e.g. ordering goods online, but picking the goods up in the shop. At best, the customer can be animated in that way to buy more.

To avoid that the online store replaces the brick-and-mortar shop, rather than complement it, and customers drift from the point of sale to the shop online, companies go further - for exclusive codes that lead the smartphone owners later to the website of the brick-and-mortar dealer. Conversely, some online retailers use the way back to the brick-and-mortar shop as a smart marketing strategy for leftover merchandise.

Shops sometimes even offer potential customers a window-shopping service, beyond the common opening hours, to stay competitive and attractive compared to online stores. Around the clock, they present a virtual range of goods by equipping their windows with a large 24/7 interactive area. Even at bus stops and on billboards, dealers increasingly use that offer. Interested parties can look at the current assortment, put a product aside via QR code or order directly.

Barpay represents another trend in the area of multi-channel, by combining online shopping and cash. Consumers can order goods online and then pay at the brick-and-mortar shop. In connection with the order on the Internet, the buyer receives a barcode via SMS, email or directly in the browser, which he can either print out or present via an app at the brick-and-mortar partner. During the payment process, the customer submits the barcode, which is scanned and transmitted, via the Barpay system to the dealer, who can then dispatch the goods.

Customers benefit from a fast and safe payment method without entering their data on the Internet or the need of a credit card. And traders should also recognize the potential of social commerce and benefit from it, since the networked consumers gives support for making decisions with their product evaluations, field reports, advice or recommendations they share with friends. In that way, online shopping becomes an interactive experience.

The current development in e-commerce shows that this trend is far from halting, as a variety of e-commerce start-ups pursue this interactive social approach. At the same time, social media themselves becomes the internet store. Thanks to targeted marketing activities, tailored to the specific profile of the consumer, the purchaser has the opportunity to go shopping and to exchange thoughts and information on the social network – all at once.

The implementation of a multi-channel sales strategy confronts dealers with many challenges that let their core business suffer frequently. Strategically, it is advisable to revert to the assistance of external service providers in the areas of fulfillment and payment.

Prerequisite for an efficient multi-channel service provider is having cross-channel expertise, both in logistics management as well as payment transactions, as only then the targeted network of brick-and-mortar and online trading is possible.

If, for instance, a product is no longer available in the store, the customer can order it at the point of sale via the online stop, pay the item already in the store by debit or credit card and have it delivered to a branch of his choice - and even return it there, if needed.

Especially start-ups often don’t have enough experience and are overrun by the multi-channel potential and requirements. With the support of industry-knowledgeable partners, companies can implement effective strategies to focus on their core business and grow gradually.

By Daniela La Marca