It’s well established that today’s consumers use multiple channels – mobile, Web, social media, in-store – when engaging with retailers. On any given day, a shopper might research a clothing item online, visit the brand’s Facebook page and then purchase it in a store where she can try it on; the next, she might see something in a store on her lunch hour, price-check it on her smartphone and purchase it online at home, after checking in with the retailer’s social media pages. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, three-quarters of shoppers use their smartphones while in-store to make a purchase decision, and according to Vantiv VNTV 0%, Inc., half have research and purchased an item online and then picked it up in the store.

But how aware are consumers of all this channel-switching? Do they think, “Wow, I’ve really used a lot of channels today!” Or even, “Hmmmmm – which channels should I use to engage with my favorite retailer?” I’m thinking probably not. They’re just doing what consumers do, flitting from channel to channel like a butterfly, as fickle as can be, calling to mind the flighty “followers of fashion” described in The Kinks’ 1966 single.

What is an Omnichannel Strategy?

With consumers freely using whichever channel suits them at the moment, retailers must attract, engage with and gain the loyalty of these followers of fashion, and they can do this by creating a consistent experience among all channels — the so-called omnichannel experience. An omnichannel strategy begins with generating awareness on digital channels, because while brand awareness in the past was all about signage and window dressing on High Street, it’s perhaps more important today to stand out on digital channels. Indeed, in emerging markets, mobile devices are the first channel through which consumers may experience your brand.

The next stage is engagement, which entails ensuring that anything a customer sees on one channel is also accurate on all the other channels. Whether on High Street or the Information Super High Street, consumers expect consistent information — whether on product availability, pricing and discounts — and consistent features, such as side-by-side product comparisons and access to rich product information. As Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts says, “Walking through our doors is just like walking into our Web site.”Additionally, any previous actions taken in one channel (searching, ordering, registering complaints) needs to carry over to other channels, creating a seamless and seemingly channel-less ride.

Following engagement, the omnichannel strategy must also guarantee product fulfillment; that is, if an item is advertised as being in-stock, the retailer needs to deliver on that, whether ordered online and delivered in-store or ordered at an in-store kiosk and delivered to the customer’s home. This means making real-time information available anytime and anywhere, at every customer touchpoint.

According to a study by Retail Systems Research, the vast majority of respondents now believe that an omnichannel strategy is vital not only to providing a consistent customer experience across channels, but also to improving inventory visibility and fulfillment. Indeed, surviving in an omnichannel world goes beyond channel convergence, to becoming an optimized “omnibusiness,” in which all processes – from attracting and engaging customers, through fulfillment — are connected in real-time. In this way, retailers can provide customers with a smooth and kink-free customer journey, changing fickle, channel-flitting shoppers into vocal brand advocates – even followers of fashion who are ready to proclaim to the world, “You Really Got Me.”