When today’s consumers say they’re going shopping, there’s a good chance they’re using multiple devices throughout every stage of the shopping process – be it their laptop, smartphone or tablet, rather than immediately getting into their car to shop in-person. What sets them on a path to purchase could be any number of touch-points — a print ad or promoted tweet, a mobile banner ad or video ad unit on YouTube.
So how can marketers reach consumers across channels and devices effectively? It’s not as easy as announcing, “We’re going omnichannel!” in your next department meeting. It involves developing and executing a seamless customer experience that empowers consumers to make the purchases they want, when they want, where they want and how they want to experience it. To accomplish that, you must first fully understand how online, social, and mobile cross paths with one another – not as channels, but as behaviors – and tailor the experience to be as seamless and personally relevant as possible.
Don’t ignore digital’s influence on in-store.
According to eMarketer’s State of Omnichannel report, 84 percent of retailers aspire to create a consistent customer experience across channels. However, less than one in five respondents reported full synchronization across their digital channels.
Why is that? One reason is that marketers haven’t had to make the tough choices yet. Brick-and-mortar stores still get a significant share of consumers’ business — more than 61 percent of shopping time — and therefore, capture most of marketers’ attention when planning their marketing budgets and strategies. In turn, this can sometimes cause their digital strategies to fall by the wayside as the lesser of their overall marketing priorities.
But brick-and-mortar stores don’t exist outside of digital marketing’s influence. The New Digital Divide, a recent study by Deloitte, highlights the need to synchronize digital channels — that is to create coherent messaging across platforms and campaigns. As the report explains, “Digital devices’ influence on in-store purchase behavior is growing much faster than anyone could have anticipated… Today digital technologies influence 36 percent or $1.1 trillion of in-store retail sales, and this number will likely increase to 50 percent of in-store sales by the end of 2014.”
Syncing channels means coherent messaging across channels.
The Deloitte study also notes that digital channels must be synced as they are “fundamental to the entire business and entire shopping experience.” What does that mean? It means retaining shoppers across channels with coherent, incentivizing marketing messages that drive them to a purchase online or in-store.
According to user experience firm UsableNet, 30 percent of U.S. shoppers actively engage their smartphone while shopping. In addition to browsing social media networks for recommendations and seeking out more product information (51 percent), those shoppers are using phones to “showroom” — compare prices or products (71 percent). Meanwhile, ShareThis recently reported that half of all shares on Facebook are mobile. Given just how much Facebook and mobile devices rule consumers’ lives, it’s no wonder eMarketer projects that 62 percent of Facebook’s ad revenue now comes from advertising on mobile devices, which this year is expected to eclipse newspapers, magazines and radio in the U.S. for the first time.
These figures reinforce that shoppers are connecting and engaging with brands across multiple touchpoints – online and offline – and expect each of those interactions to be as intuitive, relevant, personal and engaging as possible. What does this seamless experience look like? For instance, a consumer may research various handbag styles and prices directly on a retailer’s website, but will supplement this search by visiting Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to see what her social friends are posting and sharing. Once this handbag shopper heads into the retailer’s nearest store, it’s more than likely she’ll still count on her mobile device – be it her smartphone and/or tablet – to simplify and improve the shopping experience (and save money) while standing in-store.
For one, a mobile coupon would be an effective way to capture this in-store shoppers’ attention and convert her into an in-store buyer, who will then be more inclined to return for repeat purchases. This is a reminder yet again of why it’s so critical for brands to think of online, mobile and social as behaviors, not channels. When they create shopping experiences that are tailored to consumer behaviors, they’ll see higher levels of engagement, conversions and sales across every device and every channel.
Connect shoppers to your stores through digital.
According to Forrester Research, web-influenced offline sales will comprise nearly 75 percent of the $475 billion in U.S. retail growth between 2014 and 2018. If these revenue numbers aren’t already astounding enough, I don’t know what else will prove the importance of bridging the divide between the digital and physical worlds. Think about it this way. Localizing content – that is, serving promotional content that is personalized in real-time based on the products and prices available at nearby store locations — is a highly effective way to bridge that divide.
Interesting, a recent Teen Vogue survey found that 65 percent of the respondents wanted brands to tell them “where the closest store is to buy the product” when they see fashion and beauty items on social media. This preference is something fashion and beauty brands and retailers cannot afford to ignore.
Retailers and brands can also take broader steps like facilitating ‘webrooming’ experiences, instead of thinking of this trend as something to fear or ward off. Why does webrooming happen? It’s often the result of consumers’ shopping preferences and desires – it can be something as simple as avoiding shipping fees and delays, enjoying the tactile experience of touching and feeling products as they browse, or to save money by using “in-store” discounts and coupons. Whether retailers offer discounts through mobile app messaging or send personalized invitations through social targeting, there is a huge opportunity to incentivize customers to move from their screens into physical stores – and none of them have to compete with one another.
Deliver on the promise of the omnichannel experience.
As noted in Forbes, in November 2013, Gap launched its Gap’s Reserve Program, which allows customers to visit the Gap or Banana Republic website, pick out clothes that interest them and have a sales associate put those items aside to try on in-person when visiting the store the next day. Customers then receive an email or text message confirming that the chosen items are in-stock, ensuring they get what they want and seamlessly move shoppers from their second screens into the store.
Photo courtesy of Howard Greenstein
Another great example is how retailing giant Target created its Cartwheel app to offer users in-store purchase discounts. Consumers can find local product offerings and discounts through the app, then shop in-store with a personalized barcode to use at checkout. According to the company’s blog, the program saw over 7.7 million signups in its first year. Target facilitates further brand exposure by enabling the deals to be shared via social network sharing. This, in turn, provides Target with a wealth of data to mine on shoppers’ behavior and deeper marketing insights. Fortune magazine calls the program a success, stating, “…the amount of time shoppers spent browsing and shopping Target via mobile devices rose 251 percent in March to nearly 100,000,000 hours compared to a year earlier, according to comScore, and Cartwheel, primarily used in-store to help shoppers get deals, was behind all of that jump.”
These are just two examples and they may not be approaches that work for every brand. However, they do illustrate thoughtful strategies where brands have met and engaged their shoppers at one digital touch-point or another and then drove them towards an in-store interaction and purchase. Both companies enabled pre-sales research, social sharing and mobile engagement in a way where each of the tactics don’t compete with one another and effectively drive consistent sales across every channel. Essentially, the success of both brands rests heavily on their acknowledgement and recognition of the newly evolved path to purchase – or as we like to call it “path to purpose.”.
How is your business keeping its message coherent across platforms and channels? Are there any challenges your brand faces to drive omnichannel customer experiences and sales? Tell us what and why in the comments below.
Howard Greenstein is guest blogger and a marketing technology strategist.
He is the President of Harbrooke Group and teaches courses in digital strategy at NYU. Check out Howard’s Google+.