Does Omnichannel Retailing Really Work? - Our Tradehub

It’s been a topic that has generated nervous discussions from retailers for years: the decline of brick-and-mortar stores. More customers are doing their shopping online instead of in person, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend. In fact, between 2018 and the end of 2020, 22% of all department store locations in the US have closed.

While most of these brick-and-mortar retailers have ecommerce stores as well, many worry that the competition online is far more challenging. They may be right. In fact, Amazon alone currently accounts for 49% of all ecommerce shopping.

Those numbers might look bleak, but the reality is that both brick-and-mortar stores and online stores still have plenty of opportunities to cash in. They might simply need to get creative. One way retailers are innovating is with omnichannel shopping experiences.

Is Omnichannel Strategy a Solution for Modern Retailing Challenges?

An omnichannel strategy involves seamlessly integrating different technologies and modes of shopping (or channels) into one experience. For example, a retailer may have their brick-and-mortar store, their online store, an app, endless aisle kiosks in-store, and so on.

Retailers around the globe swear by omnichannel shopping experiences. It provides a unique edge that makes them stand above their competitors. It also allows them to put modern technology to use in a way that accommodates any shopper’s needs or goals.

The everlasting question, though, is whether omnichannel retailing truly improves the bottom line. While many say “yes,” a group of researchers decided to find out with a more scientific approach.

A Study into the True Value of Omnichannel Retailing

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, a team of researchers decided to take a closer look into omnichannel shopping and whether it truly brought value to retailers. They partnered with an unnamed major US retailer with hundreds of stores nationwide.

Throughout the course of 14 months, the team studied the behavior of 46,000 customers who made purchases while also surveying those customers about their experiences. They came away with several unique insights about the omnichannel experience.

Most Modern Customers are Multi-Channel Shoppers

In the shoppers studied, researchers found that the vast majority of them use both brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping. In fact, while just 7% were online-only shoppers and 20% were in-store-only shoppers, 73% took advantage of both options at various times. This points to the fact that most shoppers want both options.

Retailer Touchpoints are Popular Among Omnichannel Shoppers

Among the omnichannel shoppers surveyed, most of them used a wide variety of retailer touchpoints. They may have used the retailer’s app to pull up coupons, browsed size selections on in-store kiosks, checked pricing on in-store price check scanners, and more. Each of these channels offers distinct advantages that they were happy to use.

Keep in mind that in terms of this study, each app, digital tool, touchpoint, and so on is a separate channel. An omnichannel shopper is someone who uses two or more of these channels.

Shoppers Who Use More Channels are More Valuable

A key question on every retailer’s mind is, “Do omnichannel shoppers spend more money?” This study concluded that the answer is “yes, they do.” Furthermore, though, researchers found that the more channels a customer used, the more money they spent on average.


For example, omnichannel customers overall spent an average of 4% more in stores and 10% more online on each shopping occasion than customers who used a single channel. Those omnichannel shoppers who used four or more channels, though, spent around 9% more in-store on each shopping occasion.

Shoppers Who Research in Advance Buy More

For many years, conventional wisdom has said that impulse buys make up a large percentage of retail stores. Countless retailers have based their strategies on that concept. This study, though, found that the impulse buying behaviors may be shifting.

In fact, the team discovered that shoppers who first researched products online and then went to the store to buy them ultimately spent 13% more on average. They nicknamed this concept “webrooming” – using the web as a showroom to find products of interest and then going to the store to see them in person and buy them.

Researchers noticed that this strategy appeared to be especially popular among millennials, which makes it particularly helpful to retailers targeting that demographic who are now in their late 20s through early 40s.

Omnichannel Shoppers are More Loyal

Another valuable finding from this study is that omnichannel shoppers tend to be more loyal to stores where they indulge in this omnichannel experience. The researchers tracked the activity of these shoppers and found that within six months of an omnichannel shopping occasion, they had made 23% more repeat shopping trips to the store compared to single-channel shoppers.

According to the team’s surveys, omnichannel customers were also more likely to recommend the retailer to others. This shows the potential for omnichannel shoppers to not only bring in more value on their own but add value through referrals too.

A Note About Causation

As interesting as the findings from this study are, it’s important to note that this project studied correlations between omnichannel shopping and customer value; not causation. We can say that there is a correlation between omnichannel shopping and higher spend rates, but we can’t say that the omnichannel strategy caused the higher spend rates.

In fact, it may be the opposite. Some of these shoppers may be using multiple channels because they were already avid and loyal fans of the retailer so they’re more likely to use new channels the retailer introduces. With this in mind, though, the study’s results still provide a valuable window into the links between customer behavior and the channels a retailer offers.

Incorporating an Omnichannel Strategy for Your Retail Business

If you want to take advantage of the potential of omnichannel retail, you can start right away. Learn more about our omnichannel product today.

*This study was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.