Understanding Omni-Channel

Retail gun stores seeking to maximize sales have deployed a marketing strategy referred to as “omni-channel”. The term is now generically used to describe a seamlessly integrated retail environment whereby firearms, ammunition and accessories are advertised and sold in-store and online. Although purists would argue that more modern concepts exist, those who have been able to achieve true omni-channel sales and navigate to the next level are few and far between.  Aside from those few outliers, we’re witnessing the firearm industry make a concerted effort to achieve basic integrated retail concepts. With over $1b of sales experience under our belt, team Orchid has written this piece to share fundamental retail marketing concepts for those who are about to embark on their journey or are struggling to bring it to life.

At its core, omni-channel really means that the different channels through which a gun owner shops will not only be similar, but that they’ll be closely aligned in terms of look and feel, availability of product information, advertisement, pricing, product availability, customer service and more. The primary channels associated with this methodology occur at in-store retail operations and online store fronts with an ecommerce checkout. Although more channels do exist, we’re going to focus on these two and also focus on the presentation and sale of firearm inventory.

Inventory Search and Availability

It is safe to assume that we are all consumers and that you’ve spent time researching firearm products on your favorite online store. But, you’re the type that likes to touch, feel and try a product rather than relying solely on web graphics and a description to evaluate a product. Or, if you’re buying a firearm then Federal firearm laws require that you complete an in-store background check, 4473 and pickup the product in-person. To accommodate this process you want to know that you’re favorite retailer has the S&W M&P in-stock and at your local store. An effective retail environment makes that possible, integrating both the in-store and online shopping experience to arrive at the same result.

Modern gun stores list all types of “inventory” on their website. This includes on-hand inventory held inside of a retail point-of-sale system (e.g., Orchid POS). The second includes inventory that isn’t held by the retailer but stems from distributor catalogues such as those from Sports South, Lipsey’s, Crow, RSR or Davidson’s. Upon purchase of the product, it is “drop shipped” from the distributor to the local store (or the consumer’s home if other than a firearm) for pickup.  In either case, the access to find, research and buy inventory is the same from the consumer’s perspective aligning the behavior of each “channel.”

Consistent Customer Service Experience

Whether or not a customer buys a holster in-store through Orchid POS or online through Orchid eCommerce, the connection between the seller, the customer and post-sales customer service should be the same. That is, you, the retail FFL would ideally be able to identify the customer (through digital means), personalize their shopping experience (e.g., showing favorites at the top of their online search), present in-store coupons based on past shopping experience or service them in the same fashion regardless of channel.

The most notable omni-channel customer experience can be seen in the purchase and return cycle. You, the firearm enthusiast can buy accessory inventory online, ship it to your house, easily generate a return and drop the product off at any store for a credit.

Sounds Easy? Where Do Retail FFLs Fail at Omni-Channel?

The concept of integrated multiple channels doesn’t sound complex and the theory sure isn’t. Most of the issues stem from the availability of adequate gun store technology. Orchid POS and Orchid eCommerce, for example, are a fully native technology platform built from the ground up. Everything that exists in the POS simultaneously exists in the online storefront without any patchwork. But this isn’t the case with all offerings. In fact, most of the firearm industry’s “integrated” retail gun store software relies upon a patch work of different applications either owned by the same company or by separate companies. Common is the “after-the-fact” bolting together of a Point-of-Sale, and online storefront and in many cases, then also relying upon third party compliance applications.

Retail Gun Stores – Buyer Beware

If you’re one of over 50,000 licensed retail FFL holders you’re likely seeking to take advantage of modern technology to boost your sales. Deploying an omni-channel strategy that aligns inventory and customer experience, amongst other features are a terrific start. However, while some retail shooting sports solutions may be advertised to achieve your goals, buyer beware. Too often the applications are managed by separate teams impacting both customer service, product ordering, fulfillment and compliance.

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