Many small business owners have found recent success creating an "omnichannel" experience for their customers, providing shoppers access to inventory and checkout whether they are on their phone at 3 a.m. or in the store at 3 p.m. This has been a prosperous move for those businesses investing in this capability, as average omnichannel customers are 21 percent more profitable than average single-channel customers.

Getting started in omnichannel may seem overwhelming, but there are some easier-to-activate programs that can serve as powerful first steps meeting real customer pain points. For example, customers want to know that if they need to return something they bought online, they can return it how and where they want. Returning online purchases can be a pain for customers, even if retailers offer free or expedited shipping. Roughly 83 percent of shoppers prefer to return items to physical stores, regardless of whether they purchased the item online or in-store. If returning items--either in-store or online--is difficult for customers, they'll be increasingly less likely to make a purchase online.

To deepen their customers' omnichannel experience, several big-box retailers and PayPal merchants including Saks Fifth Avenue and J.Crew are turning to BORIS (Buy Online; Return in Store). Not only does BORIS remove a major obstacle that stands in the way of checkout, but customers who make in-store returns often go on to exchange items for other items or even buy more than they did originally, offsetting and sometimes exceeding the cost of returns.

The convenience of in-store returns can be replicated on the ordering side, as well. Major retailers are also employing BOPIS (Buy Online; Pick up In Store). This service feature helps give customers the immediate satisfaction of getting their purchases as quickly as they want, while avoiding shipping costs. In addition, if a purchase isn't quite what a customer expected upon pickup, returns are easy. This convenience can really help a smaller retailer compete with big box chains and large online retailers by providing a great customer experience, with the touch of a small business (and perhaps even greater convenience for your local customers).

As you take your business down the BORIS and BOPIS path, remember that seamless shopping experiences are key to conversion and customer loyalty. Successful BOPIS retailers have learned that customers expect first-rate, real-time communication on the status of their orders. The customary timeframe for notification is two hours from the moment an order is ready for pickup. BORIS and BOPIS can present new challenges in terms of supply chain management, as orders can be fulfilled from different stashes of inventory. Flexibility in your inventory systems will be critical to scaling BORIS and BOPIS.

Roughly 88 percent of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. have started using BORIS and BOPIS. So, the time is now for small businesses to stay competitive, and take steps to make BORIS and BOPIS work for their business. But don't feel overwhelmed, because small business owners will find that these challenges are easily and cheaply surmounted with technology. In future posts, we'll take a look at specific technology tools that can smooth out your omnichannel sales strategy and help you harness significant growth.

Published on: Mar 26, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.