• GUEST BLOG: Retailers need digital strategies to address the change in the way we shop

    Grant Coleman, VP and Market Director, UK, SC and MEA, Emarsys

    For the past decade, many brands have sought to create online shopping experiences to match, or even outdo, their in-store counterparts. Typically, this often consisted of activity specifically targeted at peak online shopping days or around one-off offers, causing a shift in how many British consumers opt to shop. So what differences are retailers experiencing and how can they react?

    Combining the offline and online worlds

    It’s certainly not straightforward for in-store retailers to keep up with the ease of online shopping, so the key to success is bringing them together to unify their online and offline customer experiences. By no fault of their own, a store’s retail staff can’t even tell on first glance whether that person has even ever shopped with the brand before. But when that same person visits the website, the experience can be automatically personalized. Offers, product recommendations, inventory, and other specific customer preferences populate within milliseconds — and be optimised to the screen size of the device they’re using, time of visit, location and language. Essentially, the online journey is geared to create an experience that’s pre-loaded with knowledge of previous browsing and buying behaviour.

    The reason why this hybrid buying journey is becoming ever more important is down to the ubiquitous presence of technology. The rise of online and mobile shopping has not just changed how we shop – it’s reinvented the entire customer experience from end-to-end. For instance, according to our research, nearly two thirds (64%) of online shoppers are put off by shipping costs, which partly explains why nearly half (40%) of purchases are made through a combination of offline and online behaviour.

    Optimising the offline experience, not just the online

    Retailers like French beauty brand Sephora have successfully launched applications that seek to drive both online and offline sales through an interactive feature. Their app essentially attaches a service to their in-store offering by supplying its customers with tutorials on new makeup application techniques, often featuring selfies uploaded by users directly from their smartphones. Aside from its community-building impact, the app helps users to recreate Sephora’s in-store makeover looks, while also driving them to the nearest store thanks to beacon alerts, effectively unifying online behaviours with offline interactions. 

    The rise of on-demand commerce, and the resultant expansion in the retail logistics industry has facilitated incredibly fast delivery turnaround times. This trend towards convenience is particularly evident amongst shoppers, who are notorious procrastinators.

    Using physical dominance to boost your online operation

    However, given consumers’ aforementioned concerns around shipping costs, retailers are looking to reflect their physical dominance with online cues. They play on a shoppers desire for instant gratification by driving offline action while users are online shopping; “Want it NOW? This item is in stock at a store X miles from you”. This alleviates the delay incurred by shipping times.

    The brands leading the way in these connected experiences understand the value of connecting different facets of the experience and in fact, bringing the offline world online. Still, too many retailers simply have a mobile app or they have a mobile-responsive website. They need a digital strategy which incorporates all platforms in order to succeed.

    Opting for omnichannel to deliver personalised customer experiences

    Brands are moving slowly but surely away from multichannel initiatives into omnichannel or channel-agnostic initiatives oriented around the customer. For brands to remain relevant and keep up with ever-changing consumer trends, we’ll need to see a collective, industry-wide shift towards embracing omnichannel strategies that bring rich data from physical stores together with the abundance of available digital data provides a perfect case for this approach to be put into practice, and this year the best-performing online retailers factor the in-person experiences that help inform our shopping habits and shape our overall interactions with brands into their strategies. Marketers that do this will be able to create holistic buying experiences that drive and reward customer loyalty and induce customer retention for years to come. 

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