Consumers want the same customer experience from online and offline shopping and retailers must deliver by ensuring their data strategy is in tune in order to provide a personalised shopping experience, says Martin Philpott, head of retail at information management services consultant, IMGROUP
Retail is changing beyond recognition, and like most sectors the changes are coming thick and fast. High street retailers are increasingly feeling the pinch of the expert data managers amongst them (online retailers) and some are packing up shop altogether to opt for a purely online presence.
The real danger though is coming from those originally online only retailers who are expanding onto the high street. Traditional retailers really don’t stand a chance against these data savvy entrants who really know how to manage their customer touch points to drive sales and create the most personal of shopping experiences and most loyal of consumers.
Recent statistics show 26% of UK retailers are at risk of failure within the next 12 months. This is as high street mainstay New Look announces it is shutting up to 100 shops and not even the Olympics look to be able to offer a lifeline to retailers as was expected, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of retail consultancy Conlumino. But click to brick and brick to click aren’t the only changes happening. The future lies in a combination of these approaches – clicks and bricks can and should work together.
Click in brick
The most forward thinking retailers are bringing the online experience into the offline shop. Although there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the majority of consumers research items online before buying in store, a study from Forrester Research confirms 51% of consumers do not want to wait for a product to arrive and 41% of consumers want to see the product in person before buying.
Waterstones’ recent partnership with Amazon is an excellent example of the merging of the online and offline shopping experience. By allowing customers to browse in the offline store, and download the book straight onto their Kindles through Wi-Fi hotspots within the shop – they are enabling the shopping experience, so sought after by consumers, to continue existing whilst ensuring the product can be delivered in whichever way the customer prefers. This is what customers want. They want choices – and research has shown consumers who engage across more than one channel are more loyal.
Groupon is another example of this blurred relationship between on and offline shopping – it has just opened a store in Singapore, with online booths so customers can go in store, order online and pick up immediately in the store. Perhaps this is what every shop in the high street will look like in 10 years?
Don’t get left behind
The danger is then, that retailers who can’t keep up with the changing shopping habits and preferences of consumers will get left behind, or worked around. One such trend that can be seriously damaging is ‘show rooming’ – when a customer will enter an offline retailer, scan the barcode of a product, and then buy it cheaper online. This might seem like a problem that can’t be worked around but it can, and it’s by properly managing your customer touch points, across all channels, to enable your business to analyse the vast data, and produce a personalised experience, for every customer. Research from Experian shows 84% of consumers said they would no longer buy from an organisation that failed to take into account their preferences, purchasing history and other customer information.
The problem for retailers looking to harness customer data is it comes in all forms, it’s not just a record of transactions from your online store. It’s a history of transactions in the offline store, for example from the ePOS, it’s a customer’s returns or complaints history, it’s their online profile – how long do they stay on your website, how did they get there? Do they own the app? How often do they use that? Have there been instances when they have put an item in their shopping bag but not bought it?
Now when you start thinking about the other data that’s can be utilised you start thinking about Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for example. The challenge here is not losing control of these channels, and making sure you know about it, and can use it. Facebook’s new ‘want’ button might just solve this problem.
Data goes social
Utilising the social aspects of data can be really beneficial to your business. Taking Facebook as an example – if you know a group of customers are friends on Facebook, and they buy 17 items a month in total between them – you can message this group of friends and offer them a 10% discount if they buy 20 items as a group next month. Or even more personalised – if you know two people within the group of friends have bought the same dress recently – you can message them and warn them not to wear it to the same party.
And this is OK, so long as the consumers have bought into sharing their data with you – consumers don’t mind sharing data any more, but they need to be sure they will get something in return. If you can create this kind of personal shopping experience for your consumers they will remain loyal – there’s a reason you go to the corner shop for your milk and bread rather than the supermarket everyday – it’s personal.
Whilst this all sounds excellent, the reality is organisations are struggling. Many are wrestling with the sheer volumes of data involved and the ever growing number of channels. The combination of higher customer expectations, the fact it is easier than ever before for consumers to shop around and the huge impact on customer loyalty a good customer view can make, means getting the right data strategy in place now has to be top of the agenda.
There are products out there that can help – Microsoft Dynamics for example is an excellent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform, and Leadformance’s BRIDGE software platform is driving online to offline cross channel sales in France. The local consumer review survey 2011 showed 70% of local consumers have used the internet to find a local business. This piece of software facilitates finding the most convenient store and manages the entire retail process through to sale in store through smartphones, text messages, and digital bar codes.
I believe this is where the future of retail lies. Clicks and bricks are irrelevant if the data strategy isn’t right. Customers want to replicate the offline experience of shopping online, and vice versa. Future proofing your data strategy is the only way to survive.
IMGROUP contact details:
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7842 7800
(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)