Neiman Marcus wants to merge the online and in-store shopping experience

Tech is no longer just about beefing up e-commerce; in-store shopping now in play

High-end department store Neiman Marcus wants to improve more than its customer online buying experience. The company is working to use technology to merge its online and brick-and-mortar efforts.

For some retailers, tech isn't just about creating a better e-commerce experience. It's about bringing brick and click together to create a whole new shopping experience and to provide retailers with more information about their customers.

Neiman Marcus has been testing Bluetooth beacons -- think of wireless nodes that act as little GPS locators and communicate with the app on the customer's phone -- to guide the customer to in-store sales. But the company wants to go further.

"A lot of [what we're doing] has been about trying to bring the things that online has to offer into the store," said Scott Emmons, enterprise architect of Neiman Marcus' innovation lab, called iLab. "I think it's safe to say our e-comm team has been on the leading edge, taking advantage of technologies as they come along and mature. What I do see happening is we are focused on taking advantage of delivering new experiences in the store, too."

Scott Emmons, Nieman Marcus

Scott Emmons, enterprise architect of Neiman Marcus' innovation lab.

For many retailers, using technology meant finding ways to bring in more dollars through online shopping. That view has changed, and some retailers are looking for ways to make shopping an overall experience that includes online buying, mobile devices to search for product information, and a better in-store experience for customers.

"This is the holy grail of retail, what has been talked about for a decade," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "In the industry, it's called "clicks to bricks" or "bricks to clicks." It's when you can truly link the two worlds. It's not a new idea, but one that no one has executed. It's hard, really hard."

Linking those worlds could mean a retailer would know its customers' needs a lot better.

Online, a store might know what products a customer has been looking at on its website and how much time was spent looking at a particular item. The retailer would also know the customer's shopping and browsing history and could use that information to provide the customer with recommendations or send alerts on special deals.

If that same customer was then to walk into one of the retailer's physical stores and had the store's app on her phone, the store would recognize the customer, and the app could pop up and tell her where to find the item in the store that she'd been looking at online.

The app also could tell her that the shoes she's about to walk past just went on sale, or it could alert the store's cashier that this is a loyal customer and should be given a special discount at the register.

Using Bluetooth beacons, Neiman Marcus, for instance, could point out products in the store via the app on the customer's phone or guide the customer to sales.

"You place [beacons] throughout the store and then your mobile app can react to the customer's location," said Emmons, who spoke at the National Retail Federation's annual conference in New York this week, told Computerworld. "We know you're at my door, walking through it, so I can appropriately greet and message you. We can know when you're two feet from something. You might be at checkout, and we could make an additional offer. We might say, 'Hey, you're near the restaurant and there's a chef there signing cookbooks today.' "

Neiman Marcus did a pilot test with the beacon technology, using Apple's Passbook, which is now called Apple Wallet, in three stores last year.

"We were happy with the results," Emmons said. "We got permission to go bigger. We're doing a new beacon project now. The continuation is building beacons into our Neiman Marcus app, rather than using the Apple Wallet. You are in the app with a known ID so we can do a better job of personalizing it."

Neiman Marcus is doing a soft launch with the project in a single Dallas store this week.

After the test, which will run for three to six months, Emmons and his team will decide if the technology should be rolled out to more stores.

"Part of the process is learning what we can do, what helps the customer and what they respond to, and what they don't like so we can stop doing that," Emmons said. "We want to step lightly. Just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should do it."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said retailers should step lightly with beacons because it would be easy for customers to think a store is being intrusive with this kind of technology.

"It's one thing to say, 'Please tell us about yourself so we can serve you better in the store,' " said Gottheil. "It's another to remind people they are being "watched" whenever they browse. They know it, but unless you do it well, it seems intrusive."

However, if a retailer can use the technology without alienating its customers, the company would have more options for reaching out to consumers, while also gathering more information about their shopping habits.

"Once you've established that the [retailer] knows you as a customer, online and in-store, there's a lot you can do," said Gottheil. "You can have your own personal online representative, who communicates with in-store personnel… This is expensive, which means only higher-end retailers can do it, but it's a way of providing more value."

Join the CMO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Supporting Association

Blog Posts

The real asset of small data – getting granular unearths opportunities

When most marketers use the word ‘data’, what springs to mind are large sets of numbers, Excel spreadsheets, cloud-based IT systems and complicated algorithms. Big data speak is the mot du jour. There is even a big data Week in London called the Festival of Data.

Pip Stocks

CEO and founder, BrandHook

Digital Transformation challenges for CMOs

New problems are rarely fixed by applying old thinking. In the last decade, a combination of circumstances has evolved that requires new thinking from marketers. This new thinking takes advantage of the digital environment and transforms business as we know it.

Mark Cameron

CEO, Working Three

Why innovation requires less certainty and more ambiguity

According to the Knowledge Doubling Theory, the sum total of human knowledge doubles every 12-13 months. With the full evolution of the Internet of Things, it will eventually double every 12 hours. Faced with such a sea of shifting data and knowledge, how can we make progress if we try to nail everything down to a certainty?

Matt Whale

Managing director, How To Impact

Need to improve your customer journey? We're excited to announce that we are holding that we are holding two more sessions of our sellout...

Proto Partners

Customer journeys: The new differentiation battlefield - Customer insights - CMO Australia

Read more

Thanks Mark. A third of customers leave brands after one negative experience, thats why it is ever so important that we optimise EVERY in...

Proto Partners

Customer journeys: The new differentiation battlefield - Customer insights - CMO Australia

Read more

Hi Kyle -- great piece. I couldn't agree with you more when you say that we as marketers are in the business of choice. I actually wrot...

Matthew Willcox

Tapping behavioural science for consumer influence

Read more

Great points. When it comes to optimizing the app experience, making sure you collect rich usage data is important, but making sure you c...

Dustin Amrhein

Why app engagement must be personalised - Mobile strategy - CMO Australia

Read more

You can also use automation to help keep the contact database nice and tidy. For example, programs that check and fix database values (eg...

automatico

3 brands using marketing automation for more than just email

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in