This holiday season, we will likely be the subjects of vast amounts of marketing through a variety of different channels – an omni-channel, if you will. Now more than ever, companies and brands are reaching out to customers in unconventional and innovative ways.

Wikipedia defines omni-channel retailing as such: “Omni-Channel Retailing is very similar to the evolution of, but is concentrated more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog and so on.”

Basically, the omni-channel model attempts to incorporate all available media to advertise and interact with customers. Companies are investing in technology, especially mobile-focused, as they realize the opportunities for increased customer service, sales, and engagement. However, companies and brands need to stay consistent across all their marketing efforts so their message is not diluted.

Mobile – the retail giant

There has been a substantial amount of buzz around mobile marketing of late, as mobile technology is giving retailers the boost they need to compete with internet shopping sites. Many companies already have their own applications for mobile devices, and more are sure to follow.

According to Motorola, more than 80% of brick-and-mortar retailers will have free wireless networks available in their stores within the next 5 years. By encouraging customers to be online, they are also encouraging them to use their applications, visit their websites and social media accounts, and offer them sales and promotions. But perhaps the largest change will be the conventional checkout line.

By 2017, retailers believe that over 50% of sales transactions will come from a mobile device self-checkout.

Quite simply, this means that consumers will be looking for and in many cases, expecting stores to have mobile checkout options. Those who are late to adopt will be left behind. And many businesses know this. According to Retail Info Systems News, the top priority for retailers in the next 12 months is shifting to a single transaction platform that unifies POS (point of sale), e-commerce and m-commerce.

Difficulties of omni-channel

Omni-Channel solutions can be expensive

Not all businesses have the resources necessary to create an omni-channel presence. While creating your own mobile application can help provide better service to customers, the cost of developing mobile applications is high. According to AppMuse, even simple apps can cost about $7,000 on average, with more comprehensive applications costing $150,000 and more.

As applications become more developed, there is great potential for all in one, or over-the-top type apps. These apps could be usable between multiple retailers, even competitors, and will serve many purposes. However, an integrated, mobile friendly and real-time system could cost a large business millions to develop and put into practice. Still, this should be viewed as an investment and perhaps a necessity in coming years.

Adequate staffing

Although omni-channel solutions focus on customer service, a very important piece of that is having savvy employees who understand technology. A recent white paper by Motorola states that “One key is making certain that your sales associates have as much, if not more, information about your products as the customer has.”

This means employees need to have access to some sort of mobile device, know how to operate it efficiently, and be able to manage a mobile device and customer at the same time. In a world where retail employees are often pushed to their limits, it could prove difficult to provide such meticulous and personalized service to each customer.

As a recent Forbes article puts it, “Your customers don’t care how your systems are set up, but expect anyone in the organization to be able to solve their problems.  A bad experience in one area will affect how they feel about the brand as a whole.”

Personalization meets invasion

How willing are consumers to having companies and employees know personal information about them? Here’s a situation.

You walk into a store with your smartphone in your pocket. Your device is recognized by the store, and an employee is alerted that you have entered. On their own device, the employee sees your profile, address, past purchases, where your purchase occurred, and more. They then approach you and suggest some items that their algorithm says you may be interested in. Would you find this weird or helpful?

Being given personalized ads and suggestions can make people feel like they are being tracked, to a certain extent. The line between personalization and creepy could sneak up, and companies need to be careful. Facebook and Apple have already had bad experiences with consumer information.

Getting started

If you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone. As mentioned above, investing in mobile can be a big commitment, and thinking about a single omni-channel solution can be especially daunting for small businesses. But you don’t need to launch everything at once – just starting to piece together your strategy will be beneficial.

There are companies that have products and services to help you in your mobile and omni-channel quest, such as DemandWare. They are already focusing on seamless integration of the customer shopping experience, and help to manage your marketing efforts in the changing retail scene.

Antvibes offers an affordable mobile marketing solution called the Audible Tag. From their website, Audible Tags combine scanning technologies such as QR codes and NFC tags with the power of the human voice to create a unique and engaging experience for consumers.

The user scans a code with their smartphone, and gets an audio playback about that product, service or entity. Consumers can scan printed advertisements, retail products in a storefront, catalogs, and more – codes can be placed nearly anywhere on almost anything.

So how is mobile affecting you and your business? Do you embrace the omni-channel model, or is it more of an inconvenience for your company? Feel free to leave comments, or start a conversation with us through social sites. @antvibes,