As Amazon turned its key in the doors of nearly 500 Whole Foods stores across the U.S. and U.K. on Aug. 28, the online sales giant opened the gate to one of the biggest omnichannel vessels in the retail food industry.

Omnichannel, is the practice of companies utilizing multiple sales channels — think mobile apps, online shopping carts and physical store fronts — while allowing for integration in purchasing methods. So, whether a customer is picking up a few items for dinner at their local supermarket or cashing in a gift card for impulse food purchases on a smartphone from the comfort of their couch, it is a seamless sales experience.

While Amazon is a key example of how omnichannel works, they are hardly the only company using this approach to capture continuously changing consumer behavior, with supermarket kings Target and Walmart sitting at the tip of the iceberg.

And not only is omnichannel a savvy way to service customers, but it’s a necessity to keep them. In a study by Harvard Business Review, 46,000 customers shopping at one of the hundreds of retail locations between June 2015 and August 2016 of a partnered company were surveyed on their purchasing habits.

“Of the study participants, only 7 percent were online-only shoppers and 20 percent were store-only shoppers. The remaining majority, or 73 percent, used multiple channels during their shopping journey. We call them omnichannel customers,” explained Emma Sopadjieva, Utpal M. Dholakia and Beth Benjamin in their study summary.

“Not only did they use smartphone apps to compare prices or download a coupon, but they were also avid users of in-store digital tools such as an interactive catalog, a price-checker, or a tablet. They bought online and picked-up in store, or bought in the store and got their purchases shipped.”

While the omnichannel approach lends itself well to mega-retailers, it can be just as helpful to smaller operations.

As technology continues to evolve and younger generations gradually bite into a bigger piece of the buying power pie, companies that don’t embrace multiple sales channels will be leaving themselves vulnerable to losing customers chasing after convenience and efficiency in their purchase decisions.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for part two of this series as we explore the challenges food retailers face when developing an omnichannel strategy.

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