Blurred lines: how retailers can bridge the gap between physical and digital

Many retailers are fearful of the challenges they face with the growth of online shopping. But it is now becoming clear that many of those fears are unfounded. A major report from The NZ Retailers Association shows that while over 50 percent of New Zealanders now shop online, over 60 percent of online retail purchases in New Zealand were made at domestic retailers. So the reality is that the majority are buying in New Zealand, whether that is online or offline.

It is still the case that real life shopping experiences have an important role to play in the overall, omni-channel approach to branding, transacting and fulfilment. As such, digital technology does not have to disrupt and destroy physical retail. Rather, it can be used to optimise inefficiencies and increase service and personalisation. What’s more it can enable the creation of data-driven marketing solutions and help us achieve the ultimate goal for any marketer: a single view of the customer.

Data-driven marketing technology is allowing us to create highly personalised marketing communications. We can now run trigger-based and automated programmes and capture additional data on customers through multi-channel campaigns. Using these tools can give us real insight into how people are interacting with our communications so we can better understand and connect with our customers.

With the rapid growth in smartphone usage combined with the growth in shopping apps and iBeacons, retailers now have the opportunity to communicate directly with their customers, not only at store level, but in an aisle or a fixture. And this is what our customers are demanding. According to the 2014 IBM report, Mobile commerce strategies for delivering an omni-channel customer experience, customers want the option of using their smartphone to pay for goods at checkout (52 percent), find coupons and promotions (44 percent), seek out lower prices (42 percent), locate products in store (42 percent) and want to receive personalised promotions when in-store (39 percent).

However, the 2014 Ecommerce Report by software provider Alkemi shows there is a large discrepancy between the experiences retailers are offering in-store and the how customers view these. For example, while 96 percent of consumers expect retailers to inform them of new products in-store, only three percent of retailers offer personalised promotions based on previous in-store purchases. And while 62 percent of retailers say they do offer personalised offers in-store, only 20 percent of consumers report actually seeing ‘in-store only’ personalised offers. 

So how can we reduce the gap between customers’ expectations and what retailers are offering? After all, shopping is shopping no matter where it happens. The key is to understand your customers and provide your services on the channels that are most convenient to them. Consumers have one relationship with your brand, not multiple relationships with your different channels. Data-driven marketing technology helps brings these two needs together.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Segment your database by demographic, location and order history and cross sell intelligently. By understanding your customers and their transaction history/past buyer behaviour, you can select the right products to cross or upsell.

  • Focus on email marketing. There are now 3.2 billion email accounts in the world. 95 percent of consumers use email and 91 percent check their emails at least once a day. An added bonus is the fantastic ROI you get from email marketing i.e. a whopping US $57.25 for every dollar you spend.
  • Use contests on your social media channels to get fans and followers to opt in to your email database. House the content shared on social media on your own channels—newsletters, blog, website—and nurture the relationship with your customers by regularly sharing valuable content directly through effective email marketing.
  • Tie newsletter content, offers and shopping lists directly to your stores (online and offline). Focus on your pre-store activity and how to get brand love for your product before the customer reaches the store.
  • Develop ‘voice of the customer’ initiatives. Try surveying your customers by asking why they don’t buy your products. Through this you can capture additional data on customers and gain real insight about how people are interacting with your communications.
  • Encourage those who download your shopping app to keep using it with Push messaging. Push messages, or Push notifications, are permission-based messages sent to mobile devices. Push provides a great channel for getting your message seen in-store.

It’s true that online retail will continue to displace portions of physical retail sales. But this does not mean that real live human shopping experiences are dead. Quite the opposite. In an omni-channel experience, physical retail matters more than ever. The good news is that the technology is there to enable these great shopping experiences. We just have to start using it. 

  • Theresa Clifford is head of sales and marketing at Ubiquity and a course director in digital marketing for the Marketing Association.


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