In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
Consumers today want it all. They want the convenience of shopping online but they crave the visual, emotional and physical experience of touching and trying on (or out) items, which they get by shopping in store.
So how can multichannel retailers create a seamless, pleasant brand experience, one that appeals to their customers whether they are shopping online or in a retail store? We put that question to dozens of retail, ecommerce and customer experience experts. Here are their top eight suggestions for how retailers can successfully integrate popular ecommerce and social media features into their bricks-and-mortar stores while making their ecommerce site feel more like shopping in their physical stores.
1. Equip Stores With Branded iPads and Digital Kiosks
To keep customers from leaving the store if an item is not available, many retailers, including Athleta and Deckers Outdoor, have added kiosks or iPads near checkout areas (POS), so that customers can search online for and purchase items that aren't available in store. They can then either have the item shipped for free to the store or to their home.
Moreover, by incorporating standalone kiosks and mobile tablets, retailers "can provide customers and store associates with real-time access to online information such as rich product details and global inventory visibility, as well as access to online social elements such as ratings and reviews," says Matt Rhodus, retail vertical market expert, NetSuite. That brings the ecommerce experience in-store -- and increases the likelihood of the customer making a purchase on site, from you (instead of visiting a competitor).
2. Wi-Fi Enable Your Store(s) -- and Embrace Showrooming
"People are going to search for your products on Google and Amazon while in your physical store whether you want them to or not," says Shmuli Goldberg, director of marketing, Feedvisor. "So make it easy for them."
"Set up a guest Wi-Fi program for shoppers to provide access to ratings and reviews or even to price compare," says Jay Henderson, program manager, IBM ExperienceOne. And offer a low price guarantee to ensure they purchase from your store, not a competitor, he adds.
You can also "attach a QR code next to your top products with links to find it on your website. That way, you get to control the experience," says Goldberg.
3. Use Location-based Services, Such as iBeacons
"Many retailers have started leveraging location-based services and geotargeting to engage shoppers on their mobile devices as they move throughout the store and to get them inside the store," says Henderson. "Some of the more forward-thinking retailers are even deploying in-store location technologies like iBeacon to allow for fine-grained targeting based on where people are in the store to make the customer shopping experience easier, more personalized and more engaging."
"With Beacon technology advancements, we'll soon see shoppers checking in with their phone at the door, and receiving personalized discounts/offers based on where they are in the store and what products they're looking at," says Andrew Van Noy, CEO, Warp 9, which provides advanced ecommerce, mobile commerce and B2B ecommerce solutions. "This technology will allow retailers to start capturing valuable in-store shopping behavior data, link it with the online shopping profile of the customer and start truly customizing the in-store/online shopping experience."
4. Display User-Generated Content In-Store
"Integrate online reviews [and other user-generated content] into your in-store signage to heighten consumer interest," says Lauren Freedman, president, the E-tailing Group.
"Cabela's, for example, which just won the Digiday Retail Award for 'Best In-Store Digital Retail Experience,' is successfully integrating the digital retail experience in its stores by featuring consumer-generated content on screens throughout their stores," says Jim Rudden, CMO, Spredfast, which worked with Cabela's, building social content mosaics for display on digital screens in stores. "By infusing the user experience into their stores, showcasing their own customers, Cabela's inspired purchase conversion."
Retailers can also "promote content sharing within stores by displaying [brand-related] hashtags on signage and on monitors and kiosks and encouraging customers to share content right then and there using the hashtags to enter to win a prize, receive an automatic discount code, and/or have their content featured on the website," says Rob Manning, content marketing manager, Offerpop, a digital marketing software provider.
5. Make it Easy for Online Customers to Get Their Product Questions Answered as Easily as They Can at a Store
"Because a shopper can't see or hold the actual product when they're shopping online, they tend to have a lot more questions," says Talia Shani, head of Content at Yotpo, a reviews and marketing solution for ecommerce.
To address this issue, post frequently asked questions (FAQs) on product pages. Also "encourage customers to ask questions on your product [and social media] pages and let your employees or even past buyers answer them," which you can do via Live Chat, email or social media. "This way, you can discover your customers' pain points and remove any barriers to purchasing."
6. Allow Free In-Store Pickup to Ecommerce Customers
"Offer online customers a 'pick up at store' or 'reserve in store' option when they buy from your ecommerce site," suggests Freedman. "This drives store traffic, ensures store visits and allows stores to logistically complete."
"Free shipping to the store is a must," agrees Van Noy. This "gives the retailer another opportunity to upsell to customers when they pick up their item."
7. Recreate the In-Store Visual and Touch Experience Online
"A recent study from Mindtree found that a 360-degree view of products with good zoom quality was one of the highest ranked features ecommerce providers can offer, as well as showing customers how new furniture will fit into the home or how a new shirt would look on them," says Radha R., executive vice president, Retail, CPG, MFG and Travel & Transportation, Mindtree.
"Customers online miss out on the opportunity to create an emotional connection with a product through touch," says Goldberg. "The more media you can [include on] product pages, such as photos, videos, 360-degree views, etc., the higher the chance of the customer making that critical connection."
8. Enable Mobile Payment in Store
"Expedite the checkout process by allowing in-store payment-by-phone," says Oren Levy, CEO, Zooz, which provides a merchant payments platform. "Nobody wants to wait in a long line when they could just as easily click a few buttons to purchase an item on their phone," he explains. "So let them do just that. Even retailers that don't accept Apple Pay can offer their own payment app or allow customers to pay through their online store accounts."
Remember, It's about Creating a Seamless Experience
"The key to customer engagement is making multichannel retail feel like one seamless shopping experience," says John Matthews, CIO, ExtraHop, a real-time data analytics provider. "It's not about integrating elements of one channel into another. It's about creating a wholly better shopping experience by leveraging multiple channels," he says.
"For example, the ability to check store inventory online, purchase an item for in-store pickup or return an online purchase to a store location are all ways in which a multichannel retail strategy can make life, and purchasing, easier for the consumer."
The bottom line: If you make it easy for consumers to purchase from you, whether they are in a store or online, they will.