Your average consumer tends to buy with their hearts and justify with their heads. This duality has become even more pronounced over the past decade as the ubiquity of technology has created a phenomenon dubbed the ‘always-on consumer’. This breed of shopper has essentially taken the upper-hand in the purchasing journey. They don’t just talk about their favourite brands – they text and tweet about them too. They demand an omnichannel presence, up-to-date information and in some cases, instant responses.
Both the volume and variety of customer interactions has undergone a stark rise in recent years. Smartphone penetration is said to have peaked with phones usurping laptops and TVs and predictions that by 2023, smartphone ownership across a significant portion of the world will surpass 90%. In addition, the proliferation of social media has given follower counts an element of purchasing power, as one in every four users follow the brands on social media from which they’re considering making a purchase. What’s more, even in spite of the growth of ecommerce, physical experiences reign supreme as the majority of shoppers still largely value their time in stores. Indeed, recent research shows that nearly half (40%) of purchases are made through a combination of offline and online behaviour.
The culmination of this shift in convention, alongside prevailing customer sentiment around physical, confirms that it’s in fact choice and not location that can dictate success or demise against the tide of omnichannel engagement.
Combining the online and offline worlds
The primary way that brands have been engaging with customers on this level has been to bring their online world offline. By this, we’re referring to the wide-spread digital transformation projects that go beyond seeking operational efficiency or boosting one’s CSR score, but permeate through to the customer level.
By digitising key elements of the existing customer journey retailers can strengthen their retention by converting one-time customers into loyal shoppers. Improving and personalising the interactions customers receive from their preferred channels builds on existing credibility – especially when we note that 55% of online shoppers favour buying from retailers with a physical store, over an online-only retailer.
The recipe for executing this well is choosing the right channel to bring offline. It’s no use installing an Instagram-enabled photobooth when your customers are all devoted tweeters. When we look at recent analysis, email is still one of the most widely-used forms of digital verification. It’s personal, lends itself well to mobile, and doesn’t have any of the associated security concerns of the OAuth2 process aka ‘log in with Facebook’ which has suffered from a perception problem, following on from the social network’s recent breach disclosure. What’s more, the channel has continually been proven to deliver the most in terms of ROI when compared to other options.
Consider for a moment, the number of times customers provide an email address when making a purchase online. It essentially stands as a gateway to purchase, personalisation and now, an omnichannel experience. After Apple adopted e-receipts in 2005 as part of their effort to blend digital and in-store experiences, a wave of the world’s biggest retailers ranging from Tesco to Topshop began to follow in suit. As they found, brands such as these, who take the customer experience and translate it across a hybrid of channels, stand to earn substantial rewards if they consolidate their online and offline interactions on this channel.
Aside from being used to consolidate a customer’s profile and provide proof of purchase, retailers have been using e-receipts as a viable marketing channel to highlight promotions, offers, run surveys and even competitions. An investigation in the Guardian found one prominent high street retailer to be using its e-receipts channel to include a request for survey participation, a partner promotion, all wrapped up with an invitation to download the brand’s mobile app.
Moving beyond mobile
The newly implemented changes in data privacy regulations under GDPR, however, have somewhat moved the goalposts. Consumers have increasingly begun to question what retailers are actually using their data for after consenting to e-receipts. Indeed, leading public body, the ICO, asserted in a blog post that, “Retailers must understand it’s not enough to assume that because a customer has given their email address to receive an e-receipt that they are happy for it to be used for other purposes.” As a result, brands have looked to diversify their channel strategy in order to retain customer engagement throughout the omnichannel experience.
While methods of this vary from retailers like H&M employing chatbots via Facebook’s Messenger to Airbnb pivoting towards a focus on geo-location services, the unified next step is harnessing AI and making the most of mobile. Besides to giving way to an entirely new breed of ‘always-on’, digitally native consumers, the ubiquity of smartphones has supported a new age of data analysis seeking to use location tracking as a means to serve marketing messaging, unique offers and limited discounts.
There are two distinct approaches here: virtual browsing and context driven marketing. The former is presenting a nearby customer with offers and directions, the latter, goes a step further to match a user’s location with seasonal, localised relevant recommendations and offers.
Retailers like Sephora and Walgreens have successfully launched applications that seek to drive both online and offline sales through a series of interactive features. Aside from its potential to aid community-building impact and support the conversion of first-time buyers into brand-loyal advocates, these apps use a combination of beacon alerts with a marketing/service offering. This effectively unifies online habits with offline interactions driving in-store footfall.
Maximising your omnichannel strategy
These mobile-powered strategies don’t just seek to capitalise on new channels; their success lies in the delivery method’s distinct suitability to personalised messaging. Today, the majority of consumers (60%) would like to receive offers from their favourite brands that are really tailored to their interests. While the retail playbook for achieving omnichannel excellence may have somewhat changed since GDPR came into effect, the new regulations are enabling brands to build trust through their customers’ new favourite channels. By building this level of confidence, retailers can form truly longer lasting relationships with their customers that supersede a single purchase. Further to this, brands must not only improve how they deliver personalised content on a variety of channels, but they must also become more proactive in engaging customers and gaining their investment in the brand-storytelling process.
Right now, implementation is undoubtedly on the rise. But it’s far from industry-wide. According to a recent report from Forrester, only one-third of retailers have mastered the basics of delivering omnichannel shopping experiences. More than simple email resolution, retailers are trailing behind in their adoption of in-store pickup services, cross-channel inventory visibility and store-based fulfilment merchandising. But most stark is the reticence around AI implementation to connect the ‘dots of data’ shoppers unknowingly produce every day.
The multiple touch-points of omnichannel unify to create one single, holistic view of a customer. Whether it’s through email, SMS, push notification, product recommendation, or personalised web content-driven experiences, using data-powered platforms can also aid in-store employees in delivering an overall better experience. An effective omnichannel approach will provide brands with a considerable competitive advantage in gaining the loyalty of today’s consumer.