Omni-channelling is a management strategy where all the channels, areas and services which directly relate to customers work in a coordinated way. This should not be confused with having multiple channels; it is where all of these channels are integrated and connected. The idea is to avoid physical channels (the shop on the street) and digital channels (websites, apps and social media) operating independently.
All the points have to be managed so that they provide the same shopping or relationship experience. This means that when, for example, a customer consults an establishment’s website or social networks, or a YouTube video of one of their products or a company or shop’s app, and then goes to the shop in the street, they get related information and the same products. For Inma Rodríguez Ardura, an associate lecturer in marketing and director of the Digital Business Research Group at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), ‘this integration has to result in close coordination of the sales channels, creating a real omni-channel distribution system and facilitating the transfer of customers from one channel to another during the purchasing process’.
According to Rodríguez Ardura, the idea is that physical shops and the internet, along with electronic shopping systems, should not be configured as separate environments working in parallel, but that they should combine to make the best of the benefits that each environment can bring to consumers, thereby increasing the total value provided for them. In the opinion of Rodríguez Ardura, moving in this direction allows a business to adapt and deal with changes in shopping decision-making processes, something that retailers fear most, because a consumer can see a product in the physical shop and examine it (showrooming), do an online search with their mobile phone, find it and then end up buying a product from the competition at a lower price.
Steps in various phases
Xavier Rivera, a lecturer at University School of Commerce – Escodi, attached to the University of Barcelona, proposes that omni-channel strategies should be adopted progressively, in various phases. The first phase is the establishment’s business offer of products for their users or customers. It involves providing them with information. This may be accompanied by a small investment in advertising. Outside the online environment, many businesses promote themselves in their area of influence, through a variety of means, such as sponsoring an activity or advertising in a local publication.
The second phase involves beginning the path towards digitalisation: moving the business online. Having an online presence. In this phase, a second action can be deployed later on, based on the creation of a product catalogue and opening an online sales channel. This is when decisions can be adopted, such as a presence on well-known social networks and, over time, achieving a positioning, with or without online advertising. Rivera graphically describes this as ‘the construction of streets, so that the customers can reach the business website’.
As Rivera underlines, this is the phase where ‘the physical world must be synchronised with the digital, in order to avoid making customers frustrated’. For example, something to avoid is facilitating information about a product on a website and on social networks and then, when customers reach the shop, they can’t find it or it isn’t available there. The expert says, ‘Now is the time to make mistakes’, not when online sales are as, or more important than, shop sales. Then, businesses will have less room to manoeuvre.
Communication and marketing
The third phase involves adopting communication and marketing strategies. This is the time to integrate channels, with the help of technology and the information generated by relationships with customers, by analysing the data.
Therefore, when a commercial establishment or a brand adopts an omni-channel strategy, this is a step in the right direction, because all the relationship and communication channels for customers are working together well: the same messages, benefits and overall customer recognition, however they gain access to the establishment. Providing a single voice. And this is a way of innovating in customer service (providing information).
According to the UOC marketing lecturer, local commerce competes in the commercial distribution business, which is complex and highly competitive. In the opinion of Rodríguez Ardura, ‘the changes that are occurring not only require the introduction and advanced use of digital business tools, but also a new concept for conventional shops, which accentuates the advantages of showrooming’ (including having more interaction with customers, incentives, a showroom where other services are provided and the possibility of getting a close look at the product).
The digital transformation of Barcelona commerce
In 2018, Barcelona City Council approved the Government Measure for ‘The digital transformation of the City of Barcelona’s commerce, markets and services’. The measure implements various strategies to favour the digital transformation of the sector, with the aim of improving its competitiveness in the light of changing consumer habits, which are now increasingly digital and always connected, as well as increasing competition from online channels. Lines of action for 2018 and 2019
Guillermo Vallejos, a Digitalisation, New Technologies and Digital Marketing adviser to Barcelona City Council’s Department of Commerce, affirms that digital transformation is an iterative, accumulative process, which must take into account the various digital maturity levels in the city’s commercial establishments.
There are five levels of digital maturity:
- No presence:
The business does not have any online presence and it therefore has no chance of reaching consumers with its value proposition or communicate with them digitally.
- Basic presence:
The business has an online presence, because it either has a business website or because it has created profiles on social networks. It has therefore started to inform consumers about its products or services, but this presence is not used to establish effective communication with customers.
- Broad presence:
The business has an online presence with a website adapted for mobile devices and some profiles on social networks, and it has started to use various online channels to communicate with its customers.
- Active presence:
The business actively uses the various digital channels to communicate with consumers and attract new customers, developing a digital marketing strategy and initiating online sales.
- Digital commerce:
The business has completed its digital transformation by implementing an omni-channel strategy, making wide use of digital channels to attract and communicate with customers, sell its products and increase customer loyalty. A large proportion of its business volume is managed digitally.
The lines of action for digital transformation revolve around five main cornerstones that make it possible to initiate and promote digital transformation in each business: training, advice, economic support, knowledge management and the application of new solutions.
Barcelona City Council’s Department of Commerce has developed an analysis tool that makes it possible to identify an establishment’s online presence and analyse its level of digital maturity. This is how a business can initiate its transformation.
‘Digitalitza’t’ [Get digitalised] municipal programme
In this digital transformation process for commercial establishments, Barcelona City Council’s Department of Commerce, through Barcelona Activa, offers its ‘Digitalitza’t’ [Get digitised] service, a personalised advice programme so that commercial businesses can improve their level of digital maturity. This service is provided at the Business Support Office (OAE), and consists of a minimum of five hours of advice for each business, including various work sessions adapted to the needs of each establishment taking part. To take part in the programme, consult the service ‘Get Digitised‘.