The Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago last month (June 10–13) was one of the largest conferences to visit for big and small retailers to share their success tips and tribulations as they moved forward with strategies to tackle this ever-evolving space.
It was such an eye opening experience that it took a good month just for my eyes to dilate back to the right shape. From platform providers to price bidding tools (Netotiate) to firms armed with Brand advocates (Needle) and everything in between, hundreds of booths and 9,600 attendees were on hand to pitch, research, learn, and share from the industry.
Two overarching themes stood out for me amongst the countless ideas all vying for my attention..These themes are both new in some ways and yet remain true from years past.
The Seamless Experience
Customers expect that retailers and service providers will create a shopping experience that is intuitive and inspiring regardless of the channel(s) used.
Shoppers don’t care about retailer problems
Shoppers do not understand nor do they care about the dilemmas retailers face (e.g., platform issues). For example, if a retailer sells across multiple channels but specifies that products purchased online can only be returned online (not in-store) because that is how their POS is set up, this is not intuitive! Customers do not differentiate between channels; all they see is they purchased from Costco and they expect to be able to return a product to any Costco store or ship it back.
Connect the dots
How many times have you looked for a customer service number on a store or service provider’s site? Does your customer have to search extensively on your site to find the right number to inquire about how to make a return? A seamless experience would ensure that information is readily available in your packaging (e.g., on your box or on the receipt), online and via knowledgeable in-store associates. This is connecting the dots for your customer and making life just a little easier for them.
Go beyond replicating, add value
A seamless experience does not necessitate replicating the experience across channels. Mobile apps and mobile optimized sites provide the best example. If you are going to create a mobile optimized site to allow your shoppers to buy online, by nature your mobile site should add value:
- Have a leaner navigational menu than your full e-commerce site
- Provide the user with the most important links and the most likely links customers use from their mobile device (e.g., Store Locator, Contact Us, Coupons) up front
- Provide high-level shopping categories for products sold online
- Enable a robust search feature.
A mobile app on the other hand should not be just another version of your website. This is a common mistake made early on in the game. A mobile app would ideally provide added value beyond what your website provides (e.g., store rewards, coupons, etc.).
Another example is promotional material. If you are running ten banners across your website, pick and choose the most relevant ones to display on your mobile site or app. Chances are your customer is in the store or close-by, so a promotional ad may help solidify a purchasing decision or move them into the store; an ad about an event next week may not be as relevant. As always, provide a link for users to visit your full online store so they have the option to get the whole branded experience if they so choose.
Small Insights Not Just Big Data
The term big data gets thrown around significantly and if it isn’t obvious by this time, this is because data-driven targeted marketing can be a key component of making your brand more profitable not just offline but online as well. Many retailers find they collect data but don’t mine it for insights or use it accordingly. As Mindy Grossman from the Home Shopping Network put it eloquently “there’s an impotence of abundance.”
There are however ample opportunities to use your customer data even in the simplest of forms: targeting in e-mail campaigns (e.g., Happy Birthday, take 20% off!) to retargeting when a customer is on your website (e.g., displaying interactive ads across display networks to site abandoners). While large retailers like Target are known for their behavioural predicting capabilities based on consumer purchasing data, consumer data should also be used with heed. The story of the angry father who walked into Target demanding to know why his daughter was receiving coupons for baby products she didn’t sign up for, only to find out later she was in fact pregnant, is now a classic story illustrating the caution that must be deployed when using unsolicited consumer data for retargeting.
Finally, customer reviews are perhaps the holy grail of data, providing not just product reviews but keyword insights that can be used to populate product descriptions and benefit statements online in the “consumer’s words” versus traditionally used technical and industry jargon.
Test, test and test again
From a world of “supply and demand” to a world of “supply and understand” (Perry Ellis), using data must be seen as a cyclical process, whereby insights are garnered, tested and confirmed or tweaked before the entire process is begun again. In this way only can a retailer understand their customer base for their specific industry and product. While general best practices and tactics should be followed and can be broadly applied, this added level of insight will solidify the relationship a retailer has with their consumers.
Look out for our future write-ups or drop us a note on other key trends and topics such as Amazon/FBA, gamification, Video Usage, and new technologies.