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Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y el Caribe, España y Portugal
UNIVERSIA BUSINESS REVIEW | SECOND QUARTER 2016 | ISSN: 1698-5117
18
1. INTRODUCTION
“Today, the average customer may engage with a brand across
10 channels, and look like a different person on each. If the brand
cannot reconcile all data points to one human being, how does it
deliver a personalized experience?”
Irving Fain (Colloquy 2014).
Recent significant advances in technology, including the emergence
of new purchase and communication channels such as the Internet,
mobile phones, tablets and social media, have opened up a vast
new frontier for business research and practice (Pauwels and Neslin,
2015). In an attempt to reshape the way marketers interact and
transact with their current and prospective customers and obtain
a competitive edge (Venkatesan, Kumar, and Ravishanker 2007),
firms have widely integrated these new channels into their daily
operations. Decathlon and Zara are good examples of companies
that have introduced new communication channels to interact with
their customers. Decathlon has designed a mobile application to
facilitate contact between people who practice the same sport and
Zara has recently achieved a leading position on social networks
(e.g. Twitter, Facebook) where customers can interact easily with the
company.
In this new reality, omni-channel management, “
the synergetic
management of the numerous available channels and customer
touchpoints, in such a way that the customer experience across
channels and the performance over channels is optimized
” (Verhoef,
Kannan, and Inman 2015, p. 176), has become a key business
priority. According to the National Retail Federation’s “Retail CIO
Recasting the Customer
Experience in Today’s
Omni-channel
Environment
1
Received: 14 December 2015. Accepted: 3 March 2016
DOI: 10.3232/UBR.2016.V13.N2.01
JEL CODES:
M31
Redefiniendo la experiencia del cliente en el
entorno omnicanal
F. Javier Sese
University of Zaragoza
javisese@unizar.es
Iguácel Melero
2
University of Zaragoza
imelero@unizar.es
Peter C. Verhoef
University of Groningen
p.c.verhoef@rug.nl
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19
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Omni-channel marketing refers to the synergetic management of the available channels and
customer touchpoints to enhance the customer experience and improve performance. It has
become a cornerstone of marketing strategy but putting it into practice is still one of the major
challenges that firms face today. In this study, we aim to understand how firms can manage
all touchpoints across all channels in an integrated manner to provide a superior customer
experience and gain competitive edge. To do so, we identify a number of key issues that firms
must consider before they can embrace the changes that their organizations need to recast the
customer experience and obtain superior performance. These include adopting a customer-
centric approach, unifying all touchpoints across all channels, delivering personalized
customer experiences, integrating the available channels, delight customers across channels,
redefining the role of the physical store and embracing mobile marketing.
RESUMEN DEL ARTÍCULO
El marketing omnicanal se refiere a la gestión sinérgica de los canales disponibles y de
los puntos de contacto con los clientes para mejorar la experiencia del cliente y mejorar el
rendimiento. Se ha convertido en una piedra angular de la estrategia de marketing, pero
su puesta en práctica sigue siendo uno de los principales retos a los que se enfrentan las
empresas hoy en día. En este estudio, nuestro objetivo es entender cómo las empresas
pueden gestionar todos los puntos de contacto en todos los canales de una manera integrada
para proporcionar una experiencia superior al cliente y aumentar la ventaja competitiva. Para
ello, se identifican una serie de cuestiones clave que las empresas deben tener en cuenta
antes de que puedan adoptar los cambios que sus organizaciones necesitan para redefinir
la experiencia del cliente y obtener un rendimiento superior. Estos incluyen la adopción de
un enfoque centrado en el cliente, la unificación de todos los puntos de contacto en todos los
canales, la prestación personalizada de experiencias al cliente, la integración de los canales
disponibles, el deleite a los clientes en todos los canales, la redefinición del papel de la tienda
física y la apuesta por el marketing móvil.
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Agenda 2015” report, seventy-six percent of business leaders
surveyed placed omni-channel management strategies as a top
priority in their agendas for 2015. The academic importance of omni-
channel marketing is also supported in Ostrom et al. (2015) where
they find that the management of customer relationships across
different touchpoints (e.g. purchases and interactions) and channels
is rated the third in importance in a list of 80 research priorities in
service science.
From a customer perspective, the proliferation of new marketing
channels has offered them new opportunities to transact and
communicate with the firm (Cao and Li, 2015). As a result, customers
increasingly use alternative channels to purchase products
and services and to contact the firm for other purposes
including requesting information, soliciting technical advice,
facilitating feedback about the products and services, and
inquiring about a product’s use or availability (Neslin et
al. 2006). This results in an increase in the number and
complexity of customer-firm interactions (Van Bruggen et
al. 2010). For example, a customer might start the purchase
experience based on the recommendation of a friend, on
an online product research, or on an offer by the company.
She can then go to a retail store to touch and feel the
merchandise. After that, she can make price comparisons on
the web and ultimately buy it from the comfort of her home
at any time using a tablet or other device. Later, she can
go online to learn about the product’s features and characteristics
and about how best to use it. Finally, she can call the service center
to report any unsatisfactory situation with the product or during the
buying process. This behavior has become the norm, rather than
the exception, in the current business environment. For instance, a
study by Oracle shows that more than 75% of consumers use two
or more channels to browse for, research and purchase products
and services. Importantly, the central role that customers play in the
value creation process have led them to become more empowered
(Higgins and Scholer, 2009) and demanding throughout the purchase
process. As a result, “customers expect (the purchase journey) to
be relevant and personalized, to reveal consistent features, offers
and experiences based on where they’ve been, what they want and
how they choose to get it” (Oracle 2011). In fact, the same study
by Oracle shows that 85 percent of shoppers expect the shopping
experience to be consistent and personalized.
From a customer
perspective, the
proliferation of new
marketing channels
has offered them
new opportunities
to transact and
communicate with
the firm
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Despite the introduction of new channels by firms and the importance
that customers attach to obtaining a satisfactory and personalized
experience through all the interactions in any of the available
channels, most companies continue to manage their channels
individually and separately. But this might no longer be a good
strategy in the current omni-channel environment, where customers
demand a seamless experience across the multiple channels
they use in their purchase journey. “Customers start their journey
anywhere, anytime and from any device. And, when they stop
midway, they expect integration: to pick up from where they left off
on another device or channel” (Accenture 2014a, p.3). The study just
quoted shows that only a third of retailers have operationalized even
the basics of multichannel management such as store pickup, cross-
channel inventory visibility, and store based fulfillment (Accenture
2014a). Thirty-nine percent of consumers are unlikely or very unlikely
to visit a retailer’s store if the online store does not provide physical
store inventory information. Retailers who struggle to implement
omni-channel initiatives online also experience challenges meeting
customer expectations in offline channels. Thus, despite massive
investments (technology, people, and processes), retailers are
struggling to come even close to meeting the omni-channel
expectations of their customers. One central question emerges: how
can firms manage all touchpoints across all channels in an integrated
manner to provide a superior customer experience and gain a
competitive edge? This question is at the heart of most businesses
in the current omni-channel environment and, in this study, we aim to
identify a number of key issues that firms must consider before they
can embrace the changes that their organizations need to recast the
customer experience and obtain superior performance in this new
environment.
The manuscript is organized as follows. In the next section, we
review the relevant research in multichannel marketing and identify
its contribution to current knowledge and practice. In the third
section, we identify a number of recommendations that can help
firms recast the customer experience and manage all interactions
and touchpoints across channels in an integrated and consistent
manner. Finally, we summarize the main takeaways from the study
and suggest some avenues for future research.
KEY WORDS
Omni-channel
customer
management;
Customer experience;
Touchpoints; Digital
channels; Customer
profitability.
PALABRAS CLAVE
Gestión omnicanal del
cliente; Experiencia
del cliente; Puntos
de contacto; Canales
digitales; Rentabilidad
del cliente.
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2. MULTICHANNEL CUSTOMER MANAGEMENT. STATE OF THE
ART
How can firms manage customer interactions and touchpoints
across multiple channels seamlessly, consistently, and profitably? As
noted in the introduction, this question summarizes well one of the
greatest challenges that businesses face today in the current omni-
channel environment and the underlying focus of the present research
(Verhoef, Kannan, and Inman 2015). In searching for an answer to
this question, existing research has started to provide some insights
which have mainly revolved around two related research areas that
aim to shed some light on (1) the factors that influence and explain
customer behavior across channels (drivers of customer channel
choice) and (2) the consequences of customer channel choices on
performance metrics (consequences of customer channel choices).
We now discuss each of these two streams of research in detail.
Drivers of customer channel choice
Why customers behave differently in the presence of multiple
channels of interaction is an important research question in the
customer management arena (Konus, Verhoef and Neslin, 2008). If a
firm understands which channels a customer prefers and the drivers
of these preferences, it can provide a more satisfactory and consistent
experience to the customer across her preferred channels (Neslin
et al., 2006). Studies in this area aim primarily at understanding
the drivers of customer channel choice by identifying a number of
variables that may explain how and why customers behave differently
in the presence of different channels of interaction. Specifically, prior
research has identified a number of categories of variables that help
explain customer channel behavior, including channel attributes and
characteristics, marketing activities, customer channel experience,
social effects and customer heterogeneity (in buying behavior as
well as in psychographics and demographics) (Gensler, Verhoef,
and Böhm 2012; Neslin et al. 2006; Valentini, Montaguty, and Neslin
2011). Below, we explain each of these groups of variables and their
influence on channel choice in detail.
Channel attributes:
Channel characteristics and attributes are
central to explaining customer channel choices and usage. The
various channels differ in several factors, including whether they are
physical or virtual, their degree of accessibility/convenience and their
travel and switching costs (Dholakia et al. 2010). Customer attitudes
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toward, and perceptions about, channel attributes are important
for understanding customer behavior in the presence of multiple
channels of interaction (Neslin et al. 2006). For example, Venkatesan,
Kumar, and Ravishanker (2007) show that travel costs and immediate
product availability predict the adoption timing of a second and third
channel. Montoya-Weiss, Voss, and Grewal (2003) find that website
design characteristics influence customers’ use of an online channel.
The degree of integration of the various channels also appears to be
an important driver of customer channel behavior, so higher levels
of integration and the transparency of this integration are associated
with desirable customer behaviors (Bendoly et al. 2005). Avery et al.
(2012) demonstrate that the different attributes and capabilities of
channels (the catalog, the store and the Internet) help understand
customer decisions to use these channels. In addition, Konus, Verhoef
and Neslin (2008) consider customer attitudes and perceptions about
channel attributes for improving customer segmentation, and Verhoef,
Neslin and Vroomen (2007) demonstrate that these perceptions
explain the research shopper phenomenon.
Marketing activities:
Prior research shows that the type and amount
of marketing expenditures have a powerful influence on customer
channel behavior and interactions (Dholakia et al. 2010). Ansari,
Mela, and Neslin (2008) find that the number of e-mails and catalogs
sent to a customer contributes to explaining customer behavior with
respect to channel selection and purchase volume. Thomas and
Sullivan (2005) show that the amount of money invested in marketing
communications has a strong impact on customer channel choice.
Venkatesan, Kumar, and Ravishanker (2007) further demonstrate
that the frequency of marketing communications shortens the time
that it takes for customers to adopt a second and third channel. More
recently, Bilgicer et al., (2015) show that marketing activities (e-mails
and catalogs) accelerate the adoption of the Internet and physical
channels.
Channel experience:
Customer channel experience has also been
considered as a central driver of channel choice. Past customer
behavior is typically a good predictor of actual and future behavior
(Venkatesan and Kumar 2004). Experience leads to learning and habit,
which increase the probability of continuing to use the same channels
used in the past (Valentini, Montaguti, and Neslin 2011). For example,
Melis et al. (2015) show that online shopping experience affects the
way customers use and compare channels within and across different
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chains. Montoya-Weiss, Voss, and Grewal (2003) show that greater
Internet expertise is positively associated with online channel use and
Ansari, Mela, and Neslin (2008) demonstrate that gaining experience
with channels contributes to explaining customer heterogeneity
with respect to customer channel selection and purchase behavior.
Valentini, Montaguti, and Neslin (2011) have also shown that there
are a significant number of inertial customers, although the effect of
inertia, for some customers, becomes less pronounced as they learn
from experience about the marketing channels.
Social effects:
Customer channel adoption and usage is thought
to be affected by the behavior of other individuals. Studies in the
diffusion domain emphasize the role of social influence in the adoption
of products and services, noting that individual behavior is affected
by “exposure to other actors’ knowledge, attitude, or behavior” (Van
den Bulte and Lilien 2001, p. 1410). This notion has recently been
extended to the adoption of marketing channels. Bilgicer et al. (2015)
are the first to demonstrate that social contagion plays a major role in
the adoption of sales channels. Interestingly, social contagion is not
equally effective in the adoption of marketing channels: the adoption
of the Internet is more influenced by the behavior of others than the
adoption of the brick-and-mortar store.
Customer heterogeneity:
Customer differences in (i) buying
behavior and (ii) psychographics and demographics have also
been related to differences in customer channel choices (Kumar
and Venkatesan 2005; Neslin et al. 2006). Venkatesan, Kumar, and
Ravishanker (2007) show that prior purchase-related characteristics
(e.g. cross-buying, purchase frequency) are good predictors of actual
customer channel behavior, while Konus, Verhoef and Neslin (2008)
include psychographic variables to explain differences in customer
channel utilities. Ansari, Mela, and Neslin (2008) control for individual
differences in their migration model by including factors such as
age and income and find that older people are less likely to use the
Internet channel. In addition, Bilgicer et al. (2015) show that customer
demographic characteristics significantly explain the differences
observed in the propensity to adopt various channels.
Consequences of customer channel choice
Understanding the consequences of customer behavior with respect
to the various channels of interaction available is essential for the
management of customer relationships across channels consistently,
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effectively and profitably (Thomas and Sullivan, 2005), especially in
a context where firms are under increasing pressure to demonstrate
the contribution of marketing investments to firm profitability and
growth (Kumar and Shah 2009). This theme has been the focus of
an increasing number of articles that intend to shed some light on the
effects of customer channel choice on different relational, behavioral
and financial company outcomes. We can divide this research
stream into two broad groups of studies: (i) research that studies
the differential impact of single channels on key company outcomes
and (ii) research that investigates the company outcomes of using
multiple channels versus a single channel to carry out transactions
with the firm.
The first group of studies investigates the differential impact on
various relational, behavioral and financial outcomes of customers
using different single channels to purchase the firm’s products and
services. The underlying motivation for these studies is that different
channels may entail significant differences in human contact, search
and switching costs and service level, which will, in turn, affect the
company outcomes (Neslin and Shankar 2009). Thomas and Sullivan
(2005) report that while brick-and-mortar-only customers tend to
show a larger number of purchases than catalog-only and Internet-
only customers, catalog-only customers seem to spend more than
either of the other groups. Neslin et al. (2006) indicate that channels
such as the Internet, ATM and call centers involve little human contact
and reduced switching costs, which may lead to missing cross-
selling opportunities and lower customer loyalty. With respect to
the Internet, findings are mixed. Shankar, Smith, and Rangaswamy
(2003) show that loyalty to the service provider is greater when the
service is purchased through the Internet than through an offline
channel. In contrast, Ansari, Mela, and Neslin (2005) find that Internet
usage is associated with less loyal customers in the long run. They
further argue that a possible explanation for this result is that online
buyers have lower search costs, which results in a higher likelihood
of purchasing elsewhere. Overall, existing evidence tends to suggest
that the consequences of purchasing in different channels may differ
significantly across channels.
The second group of studies focuses on investigating whether there are
significant differences in relational, behavioral and financial outcomes
between multichannel and single-channel customers. In general,
researchers tend to agree that customers who use multiple channels
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to purchase the firm’s products and services are more profitable than
single-channel customers (Neslin and Shankar 2009; Kushwaha and
Shankar 2008). The conceptual arguments that they provide include
(1) the higher number of touchpoints between the customer and the
firm, which helps develop deeper customer-firm relationships; (2) the
higher number of cross-selling opportunities through multiple contact
points; (3) the availability of a greater and deeper mix of service
outputs that firms can provide through various channels (e.g. call
centers to provide technical support); and (4) that customers’ complex
needs are more likely to be satisfied with a coordinated multichannel
strategy (Wallace, Giese, and Johnson 2004). Empirically, studies
tend to confirm this thesis. In a B2B setting, Kumar and Venkatesan
(2005) find that customers that buy across a larger number of
channels perform better in terms of revenues, share of wallet and
customer retention. Kushwaha and Shankar (2008) show that the
monetary value of multichannel customers is almost double that of
single-channel customers. In a retailing context, Wallace, Giese,
and Johnson (2004) show that using multiple channels increases
loyalty toward the firm. Bendoly et al. (2005) also conclude that a
multiple channel strategy may increase customer retention. Using a
longitudinal database and taking into account additional sources of
profits, Venkatesan, Kumar, and Ravishanker (2007) offer a rigorous
examination of whether profits are higher when customers engage in
multichannel shopping. The results provide significant evidence of a
positive effect of multichannel shopping on customer profitability. This
is in line with Montaguti et al. (2015)’s research, which establishes that
the relationship between multichannel and profitability is actionable.
A recent study by Kushwaha and Shankar (2013), however, indicates
that this positive relationship is not always found as it depends on the
types of products purchased. Using consumer data during 4 years for
a sample of shoppers from several multiple-category retailers, they
find that multichannel customers are only more profitable for hedonic
products, but not for utilitarian products, for which single-channel
users generate more revenues for the firm.
Figure 1
below offers a graphical representation of the previously
discussed drivers and consequences of customer channel choice.
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CHANNEL
ATRIBUTES
CUSTOMER
CHANNEL
CHOICE
DRIVERS OF CUSTOMER
CHANNEL CHOICE
CONSEQUENCES OF CUSTOMER
CHANNEL CHOICE
MARKETING
ACTIVITIES
CHANNEL
EXPERIENCE
SOCIAL
EFFECTS
CUSTOMER
HETEROGENEITY
CUSTOMER/FIRM
PROFITABILITY
FINANCIAL OUTCOMES
SHARE OF WALLET/
CUSTOMER
RETENTION/
CUSTOMER LOYALTY
BEHAVIORAL OUTCOMES
RELATIONAL OUTCOMES
RELATIONSHIP
QUALITY
Figure 1.
Drivers and consequences of customer channel choice
Overall, the literature suggests that customers vary significantly
in their choices of channel and that these differences translate into
differences in purchase behavior and profitability. Thus, a proper
understanding of the drivers of customer channel choice and of the
consequences of these choices on performance is critical for the
management of all customer interactions across all channels in an
integrated and profitable manner.
In the next section, we identify a number of critical issues that firms
should consider before they embrace an omni-channel management
strategy to recast the customer experience across all channels.
3. KEY CHALLENGES TO IMPROVE THE CUSTOMER
EXPERIENCE IN AN OMNI-CHANNEL ENVIRONMENT
As noted previously, the current omni-channel environment offers
firms a number of opportunities to improve customer relationships and
enhance profitability. However, it is important for firms to understand
the drivers and consequences of a successful omni-channel marketing
strategy (as reviewed in the prior section) and address a number of
central challenges. These challenges are the following.
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Customer-centric approach:
First and foremost, companies need
to adopt a customer-centric focus (Shah et al. 2006). It is now well-
accepted that what determines the success of business organizations
is their customers, not their products or services. Customers are the
firm’s most important asset (Gupta, Lehmann and Stuart 2004), and
they determine what a business sells and whether it will prosper.
However, many companies are still focusing on products and their
contribution to profits as well as on maximizing the number of
purchase transactions of their products. The focus should be on
customers and on building, developing and maintaining successful
relationships that provide long-term benefits in the form of more
purchases, product and service usage, positive word of mouth and
product co-creation (Bolton, Lemon, and Verhoef 2004; Dwyer,
Shurr, and Oh 1987; Ganesan 1994; Morgan and Hunt 1994). To
become truly customer centric implies a change in the culture of
the organization and all its members, requiring the firm to have all
its functional activities integrated and aligned to deliver superior
customer value (Shah et al. 2006). It also means that firms can no
longer manage their channels individually and separately, but must
manage them in an integrated manner in order to provide customers
a seamless and superior experience. Adidas is a good example of a
company in which the customer-centric focus guides all activities and
operations. This brand allows its customers to design and personalize
their own sneakers, offers games to its followers through Instagram
and other social networks in exchange for concert tickets, etc. With all
these strategies the brand hopes to get closer to its customers and to
maintain successful and long-lasting relationships with them.
Unify all touchpoints across all channels:
Every single touchpoint
between the firm and the customer matters (Neslin and Shankar
2009). Customer-firm interactions represent opportunities to improve
the relationship and are critical for building and maintaining successful
and profitable relationships (Wiesel, Pauwels and Arts 2011). Thus,
they must be managed consistently and satisfactorily. To address this
challenge, firms need a complete customer data integration that helps
them to obtain a 360-degree view of all their customers and their
behavior across all marketing channels (Neslin et al. 2006). This will
enable them to know, for example, which channels their customers
are using at each step of the purchase journey (from the search
phase, through the consideration, the evaluation and the decision
making phases to the after sales services phase) (Gensler, Verhoef,
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and Böhm 2012). And this knowledge is critical in the implementation
of a successful omni-channel management strategy as it provides
firms with a proper understanding of customer channel preferences
and enables them to use communication channels that match these
preferences. At the same time, this information helps firms to identify
why some channels are generating more sales for the company and,
thus, to offer a profitability analysis of each channel’s contribution to
firm performance (Li and Kannan 2014).
Deliver personalized customer experiences.
The data integration
presented before, if properly addressed, will enable firms to deliver
a unified and personalized message across all channels to each
customer. Marketing has evolved significantly in recent decades and
one-to-one marketing, which used to seem difficult to put into practice,
has become a reality these days. Coca-Cola and Nutella are good
examples of brands that have achieved great success through the
customizing of their products, even allowing the customers to include
their own names on the labels. Personalization is at the heart of a
successful omni-channel customer management strategy. Customers
are aware of all the information that they give away to firms about
their purchase histories, habits and demographics, and thus demand
something in exchange. They want customized communications
that understand who they are, know what they like, deliver what they
need, and reach them through their preferred channels. But, how can
marketers deliver personalized communications and experiences
to every single customer at the right time? They need a proper
understanding of each customer (the data integration discussed
before is of great importance for achieving this objective) and an
agile response system that enables them to offer their customers the
right products and services through the right channel and at the right
time. This marketing activity must be consistent across all channels
to maximize consistency and avoid creating customer confusion
(imagine a customer receiving an offer of a 15% rebate through direct
mail and one of 25% through e-mail). As an example of good practice,
Ibercaja Bank offers their customers, through their favorite channels,
personalized information about investment funds or pension plans
based on their past behavior.
Cross-channel integration:
The integration of marketing channels
deals with how to combine the available channels to create cross-
channel synergies (Cao and Li 2015). Traditionally, most multi-
channel companies had silo structures where each channel division
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operated independently. However, managing channels in isolation
frequently leads to customer confusion (e.g. prices, promotions,
assortment, etc. can differ in various channels) and frustration,
diluting the value offered to the customer (Herhausen et al. 2015).
Firms can improve the customer experience in an omni-channel
environment by coordinating and integrating their marketing
channels. Integrating channels enables firms to offer customers
what they want at each stage of the buying process. Customers can
thus gather as much information as they want in a convenient way,
reducing their uncertainty in the buying process and exposing them to
more marketing stimuli that can further reinforce the relationship and
improve sales (Cao and Li 2015). The consequence is an increase
in customer satisfaction and loyalty and in greater opportunities to
cross sell. For instance, the UK retail giant Marks & Spencer has
announced that it will provide free wi-fi at all its UK stores and to lend
customers iPads as part of its plans to further integrate its online
and bricks-and-mortar sales channels. This decision will enable the
company to develop an integrated cross-channel strategy.
Delight your customers across channels:
The previous steps can
help firms increase their customers’ satisfaction, but they must go
one step further: they should try to delight their customers. Customer
delight refers to “a profoundly positive emotional state generally
resulting from having one’s expectations exceeded to a surprising
degree” (Rust and Oliver 2000; p. 86). Achieving this delight is critical
as it not only creates brand loyalty but also brand fans who are willing
to interact with the firm to improve its success. As a result, firms must
exceed expectations and “delight and surprise” their customers. This
can be done, for example, with invitations to special events (such as
exclusive demonstrations of the latest products and services), free
nights at hotels, free dinners at restaurants and VIP access to events.
This is more complex in an omni-channel environment because it
involves the use of multiple channels in a consistent manner. For
example, a customer might receive an invitation by phone to go to
a special event at the store. Once she is there, she may receive a
personalized gift (a perfume she loves) and be shown some related
products that may interest her and for which an electronic coupon
with discounts has been sent to her e-mail address. Unexpected
benefits have been shown to be highly valued by customers and to
produce positive attitudes such as extremely high satisfaction and
increased commitment (De Wulf et al., 2001). In addition, these
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surprises normally generate buzz and contribute to improving the
attitudes of other customers (Kumar et al., 2010). LetsBonus and
Groupalia usually give their customers discount coupons for the
next purchase to try to generate positive customer word-of-mouth
on social networks. In addition, Perfumeries IF and El Corte Ingles
often give their customers free samples of cosmetic products to
enhance the brand experience. Overall, these actions aim to engage
customers and produce strong positive reactions that go beyond the
purchase of products and services (Van Doorn et al. 2010).
The role of the physical store:
Despite the increase in the number
of channels from which customers can purchase products and
services (e.g. the Internet, catalogs, mobile phones, etc.), it would be
premature to talk about the death of the physical channel. So, what
is the role of the physical store in the omni-channel environment?
Physical stores play a central role in the development of successful
customer relationships because they have a number of features
that are of great importance to customers in their purchase decision
process (Avery et al. 2012). Customers can touch and feel the
merchandise before they purchase the products, helping them
reduce some of the risk of purchasing through other channels.
They can talk face-to-face to salespeople to clarify features and
characteristics of the products and to make sure they are taking a
good decision. They can also talk to other customers face-to-face
and find out about others’ real experiences with the product. These
features are highly valued by customers. For example, a recent
report by Accenture (2014b) shows that 61% of the consumers
surveyed strongly value asking a salesperson for product information
and recommendations. In addition, the store plays a critical role in
the creation of personalized customer experiences. The store and its
employees should offer a superior service to customers and, instead
of only providing information, they must become engagement
creators (Forrester 2014). Some examples of online companies
that have introduced a physical channel are Amazon, which opened
recently a bookstore in Seattle (USA), ING Direct Bank, which was
initially oriented to online operations but has now opened branches to
be close to their current and potential customers, and Harper&Neyer,
who are also going to open sales outlets in order to receive physical
visits from its customers.
Embrace mobile channels:
New mobile channels have transformed
the business landscape. Some recent figures show that 56% of
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consumers have used their mobile devices to look for products and
services in their homes, 38% have used them to check the inventory
availability before going to the store, and 34% have used them to find
information about products while they are at the store (Accenture
2014b). In addition, a recent study by Deloitte Consulting (Brinker,
Lobaugh, and Paul 2012) predicts that 31 billion dollars of retail
revenues will be transacted using mobile devices in 2016. Domino’s
Pizza is one example of firms that actively use the mobile channel
to interact with their customers. This company has gone a step
further in mobile commerce and has designed an app through which
customers can make voice orders. The results obtained have been
very satisfactory. They reveal that 40% of the orders are made online
and that 50% of these orders are made through mobile devices
using this app. Importantly, the increasing introduction of the mobile
channel facilitates new customer behaviors, such as showrooming
(the practice of examining products and services in the traditional,
physical channels and purchasing them through the mobile channel).
While at the store, customers can use their mobile devices to find a
better deal online and purchase it right away.
Given the prevalent role that mobile devices are playing (and will
continue to play), companies must embrace digital channels in their
business models. This is important as it presents a new opportunity
for companies to offer direct contact with their customers and new
sales channels, which may enable manufacturers to increase their
market share. However, as noted previously, the introduction of these
new channels must be accompanied by a proper management of the
customer experience across the multiple available channels. The
increasing popularity of the digital channel does not imply that the
other channels are losing importance. A truly omni-channel strategy
means that firms must deliver consistent experiences, messages,
content and processes to their customers across the available
channels.
4. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE LINES OF RESEARCH
In this study, we aimed to further our understanding of omni-channel
marketing, which has become a cornerstone of marketing strategy
(Verhoef, Kannan, and Inman 2015). Although firms have integrated
new channels into their daily operations (mobile phones, tablets and
social media) due to recent and significant technological advances, it
is still a challenge for managers to develop an omni-channel strategy
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with their customers.
Specifically, this paper has attempted to offer some guidelines about
how firms can manage all touchpoints across all channels in an
integrated manner to provide a superior customer experience and
to gain a competitive edge. We have identified a number of central
issues that firms must embrace in order to develop an integrated
omni-channel customer experience:
• Firms must become customer centric. The literature has
moved from product or brand management to customer
management, from product portfolio to customer portfolio, and
from a product-centric to a customer-centric approach (Kumar,
2015). In addition, as technology does not cease evolving, it
has been possible to increase firms’ knowledge of customers
and to strengthen their investment in personalized actions by
offering products that match consumer needs. Being aware of
the importance of a customer-centric approach, companies will
be able to develop successful and profitable relationships with
their customers.
• Companies have to unify all touchpoints across all channels.
This is one of the most important challenges for companies
because some of them continue to manage their customers
individually. If firms implement a synergetic management of
the numerous available channels and customer touchpoints,
the performance across channels will be optimized. To do
this, companies have to implement accurate customer data
integration so as to coordinate data across all channels. This
integration will enable companies to deliver a unified message
to each customer.
• It is also crucial to delight customers. Successful and delightful
relationships can easily lead to customer engagement and
a high level of customer engagement will drive customers to
spread positive word-of-mouth about the company, to co-
create, to post in blogs, and so on. Customers that become
fans are willing to engage in activities that benefit the company.
• Both the traditional physical store and the digital channels play
key roles for the development of an omni-channel strategy.
Companies, therefore, must understand the importance
of coordinating traditional channels (physical stores) with
innovative ones. At the physical store, customers still desire to
touch and feel the product as well as to receive face-to-face
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information in order to reduce the risk of the potential purchase.
Digital channels are constantly evolving and transforming the
business landscape. Firms should also adapt their marketing
strategies to new devices that have and important role for users
such as mobile phones. As we have already shown, customers
start their purchase journey anywhere, anytime and from any
device and, when they come back, they expect consistency.
These challenges suppose a useful guide for companies to efficiently
develop an omni-channel marketing strategy. However, there are still
some important gaps in the literature which indicate new avenues
for future research. Verhoef, Kannan, and Inman (2015) highlight
that there are now sufficient studies on the effects of multi-channel
strategies and additional channels on performance, but more
research is required on the effects of the elimination of channels
(Konus, Verhoef and Neslin, 2014). Further research is also required
about the influence of the use of mobile channels within the store on
purchase behavior and on store performance. In addition, companies
should develop an integrated omni-channel marketing strategy,
studying to what extent shoppers control or are aware of this
integration. Finally, one of the issues that most concerns customers
is their privacy. As they want to protect their personal data, more
research is required into how companies can guarantee customers
this protection and the correct use of all their private information
across the different channels.
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NOTES
1. The names of the authors appear in alphabetical order. Iguacel Melero and F. Javier Sese
appreciate the financial support received from the projects ECO2014-54760 (MINECO,
FEDER), S09-PM062 (Gobierno de Aragon and Fondo Social Europeo), and from the
program “Ayudas a la Investigación en Ciencias Sociales, Fundación Ramón Areces”.
2. Contact author: Department of Marketing, Faculty of Economics and Business, University
of Zaragoza, María de Luna, s/n, 50018, Zaragoza, Spain.
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