Opportunities and Challenges of Omni-channel Business Model for the SME Sector
It is a well-known strategy among web designers to provide a seamless experience across devices. They call it the responsive design. When one speaks about responsive design, one can open a website on a desktop, tablet, and a cellphone simultaneously, and the website adjusts to the screen size without losing, distorting the intended user experience. Responsive design is all about making browsing and accessing information across devices seamless. Now, if we use the same philosophy in marketing, we would imagine that there has to be a similar marketing strategy across devices and channels, both online and offline. Some people call this omni-channel experience.
What is the omni-channel business model?
Omni-channel model (sometimes spelled omnichannel or omni channel) is not just about providing a seamless experience across devices. The responsive design already does that. It takes responsive philosophy a step further and uses seamlessness across the enterprise. This naturally means whether one is working for a company, a customer who is shopping or a person who is interested in information, all experience seamlessness in its true sense, across different channels.
Omni-channel business model is not just about doing multi-channel model in a seamless and better way. It is about running a business as if all channels, spaces and business processes were one and the same, regardless of who is doing what in which situation. This seamlessness brings in more accountability, efficiency, productivity and of course, enhances user experience. Most big companies already follow omni-channel business models. Amazon, for instance, has a seamless way of conducting business across mobile and desktop devices, while also coordinating with logistics, inventories, and CRM.
We can say, omni-channel business model is enterprise processes and responsive design on steroids. Indeed, omni-channel business model is being used by smaller businesses too. This brings us to the topic of SMEs making use of omni-channel models in order to make it big. There are both opportunities and challenges with this strategy. In this article, let us take a look at both.
Understanding omni-channel model at a deeper level
Omni-channel business model is all about how you enable your clients and customers to engage with various channels and help you remain in sync with the business processes all along so that you can ensure as much as possible that there is a checkout in the end. It is bringing both online and offline channels together while remaining true to your core business philosophy.
It is about taking multi-channel model to a completely new level where integration and seamlessness make it a different business model altogether. A good omni-channel model makes use of multiple channels and uses consumer data to integrate business objectives, design, goals and communication across channels and devices. For instance, your new customer may have asked you a question on Twitter.
However, when they land up at your brick and mortar store, they shouldn’t have to explain everything they need from the beginning. It is about being aware of the context and providing a business process management that is in sync with agile personalization. It is about bringing the cloud and on-premise solutions together. It is about creating a unitary experience across social media, mobile devices, agencies, stores and the web. All this involves a knowledge infused process consisting of
- Experience analytics
- Live chatting and co-browsing
- Web self-service
- Guided scripting
- Marketing campaigns
- Social media campaigns
- Online and offline communication
- Responsive technology
- Knowledge management
With many SMEs adopting omni-channel business model as a primary strategy, it is important to understand both the challenges and opportunities it provides. There are a number of both pros and cons.
In this section let us take a look at some of the most important challenges and opportunities. These are the challenges:
- Associating Omni-channel model with inventory
As previously said, going omni-channel is all about ensuring that there is seamlessness and integration across channels and media. This also means the inventory must be available or not available, depending on whatever the case, in a seamless manner. This takes a considerable effort as people who purchase in a brick and mortar store may find that what they need is no longer available, even if they had cross-checked before leaving home. It becomes slightly difficult to ensure that omni-channel is really seamless in certain situations like this unless there is someone to monitor all the time and also to communicate to the customers. It is not always perfect.
- Staying relevant in a changing market
While omni-channel model is as relevant as it could get today, remaining relevant in all spheres of your business may be a challenge. This means, remaining omni-channel throughout your business career remains a challenge for a number of reasons. Marketing techniques, customer preferences, technology etc change very quickly. To be omni-channel truly, one needs to also remain in sync with the changes and make all those changes seamless across business processes.
- Remaining technically up-to-date
One of the main reasons why omni-channel business model is preferred is because it lets customers and staff to have a seamless experience no matter where they access different business processes, which of course includes buying or selling. However, for this seamlessness to remain consistent, one needs to continuously seek the help of developers and responsive designers who ensure that deeper levels of integration are made possible. There is nothing more undesirable than being irrelevant in a world that is constantly changing.
- Staff training
Being omni-channel also requires the help and assistance of the staff. Staff will need to be trained about its challenges and also the custom process of handling an omni-channel strategy. While this may not sound like a lot, training the staff requires additional expenditure and probable investment made to customize existing HRMS, through which training models can be delivered.
While there are many challenges to using omni-channel models, there are many advantages and opportunities too, for the SME sector. Let us take a look at some of the important ones:
- Redefine your digital brand
Going omni-channel helps you to redefine yourself in a digital space. It sort of breathes a new life into what probably was not exemplary. With a little bit of technological and design upgradations, omni-channel business model can totally revamp your brand identity. It can help you to reach markets that you did not exist. Most people access information about brands using online properties and to make sure that you are available across channels, omni-channel strategy is the way to go.
- Use technology to fill the existing gap
Existing gaps can be filled with responsive technology that allows you to bolster your web, mobile and offline strategies while also ensuring that your cloud and ERP technologies are up to date. All these factors seamlessly allow you to reach the targets you want to, ultimately leading to better sales.
- Enhance user experience
It is a well-known fact that when user experience is enhanced through technological or any other means, they usually come back for more. Omni-channel business model is all about enhancing user experience with seamless integration. This helps customers to make quick decisions without getting distracted while it also helps you run your business and clear inventory quickly, without causing unnecessary delays. Last but not the least, psychological studies have pointed out that a sense of unity is required to make people take action.
- Drive more sales
It does not need to be said again that seamless integration of technology and CRM helps to drive sales. Yet, it is one of the most important features of omni-channel business model. It helps people to go ahead and do what they want when they are using your website or app. At the same time, it creates a sense of connectedness so they usually end up buying more than with any other kind of business model.
- Clear inventory quickly
One of the biggest pain points while running in ecommerce store is that inventories get stale. Seasons come and seasons go and retailers are often left wondering how to clear the stock. With omni-channel business model, doing this becomes much easier than on other platforms. This way, you will not only enhance your sales figures but you will also clear up inventory quickly. This is important especially if you are a small or medium store.
While omni-channel business model may look like an improved version of multi-channel model, it isn’t so. Omni-channel business model requires seamless integration of business processes and technology. While it may seem like a daunting task to integrate omni-channel model, SME entities stand to gain a lot if they do it well. The model comes with both opportunities and challenges.
However, the opportunities outweigh the challenges and thus, it may be a good idea to go ahead with it. Moreover, a number of SMEs are expected to integrate omni-channel business model into their businesses this year. Instead of playing catch-up with them, it makes more sense to actually go ahead with it as soon as possible.
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