Until a few years ago, many experts predicted that the internet would eventually sound the death-knell for high-street retailers. However, the widespread movement of brands successfully introducing elements of online shopping into their in-store environments has overturned this theory. Instead, retailers – online and offline – are creating engaging, seamless shopping experiences for customers, however they decide to interact with a brand.
Much of the appeal of online shopping lies in its convenience; issues like stock availability, logistics and delivery information and difficulty finding specific products are now a thing of the past, thanks to clear, engaging websites and upfront product data. But bricks-and-mortar retailers must keep up with the changing way customers want to shop, and so in-store experiences need to reflect the multi-device interactions customers are leaning towards.
Bricks-and-mortar retailers are starting to embrace many of the key features of online shopping, with Click & Collect now a resounding success. Others are now adapting this trend in an even more joined-up approach to bringing elements of online in-store, with eBay allowing its customers to collect items from Argos stores. This provides customers with a greater level of convenience, while solving a multitude of logistical problems in the process.
Targeted recommendations and promotions have been a mainstay of online retail for several years, but in-store experiences can also reap the benefits of showing customers relevant content in real-time; offering in-store Wi-Fi can pave the way for deeper brand-customer engagement via mobile devices, as well as being used to show personalised offers that will ring true with each individual shopper.
Rise of the CMS
Managing content is a key concern for retailers; after all, having up-to-date information on products, inventory and orders is vital for the smooth running of any business. But many retailers currently rely on several different content management systems (CMS) to keep their operations going, which can lead to problems further down the line.
As retail moves into more and more channels (following the evolving shopping habits of customers), there is naturally a lot more data to keep track of – retailers should therefore be looking to avoid fragmenting this data unnecessarily in the interests of keeping things simple (and preventing data insight from becoming too obscure).
In 2014, we can expect to see retailers consolidating all of their shopping channels’ data into a single centralised CMS, which will enable them to provide a more personal omni-channel experience. Using one system to collect information results in a richer, more valuable level of data, as retailers are able to have a complete view of how they are performing across all channels simultaneously; this data can then be used to actively increase customer engagement.
Gamification of brand enhancement
‘Gamification’ refers to presenting brand content in the form of a game to make the experience more fun and engaging for customers – this not only encourages people to get involved with a brand, but also has the advantage of being spread by word-of-mouth, increasing the amount of exposure a brand gets.
The deeper benefits of gamification rest in feelings of reward and other positive emotions associated with playing – customers who have a great time engaging with a brand are likely to be left with a long-lasting impression, which bodes well for longer-term relationships.
The types of gamification are limited only by marketers’ imagination; in Ireland, Budweiser ran a special summer campaign in the form of a game linked to the weather, with consumers who downloaded the app being rewarded in the form of a discounted pint. In Germany, McDonalds used billboards and mobile technology to promote its ‘McSundae Melt’ campaign offering free ice cream, which would expire quickly if shoppers didn’t rush to get it.
2014 will bring a new wave of innovative and dynamic brand content using gamification, provided that retailers ensure their games are highly interactive and can be shared widely so as to garner new fans, and most importantly that the games are fun to play, and motivate customers to take part.
Social shopping has been high on many marketers’ agendas for some time now, and is sure to remain an important aspect of overall retail strategies for the foreseeable future.
Arguably, the real value of social shopping is its ability to influence and engage shoppers throughout their journey, from the first click on an item right through to their purchasing decision. Brands are learning how to strike the balance between using sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr as PR platforms and communicating with fans on their level, giving the brand a unique, more ‘human’ identity.
Fashion, music and cosmetics retailers are the first in line to benefit from the socialization of shopping, as these industries revolve heavily on individual self-expression; with one in every five 18-24 year olds using social media to share images of recent purchases, social media can be a vital tool.
Reviews and recommendations are an incredibly powerful and trusted source of peers’ opinions, while websites like Lyst allow users to follow their favourite figures in the fashion industry, and see their updates in a personalised feed. Mobile devices will also play a large part in the future of social shopping – bringing smartphones into the equation allows retailers to communicate selected and personalised content in a direct and engaging way, making customers feel more valued and closer to the brand.
Technology as an enabler
In a world becoming ever more saturated with different types of technology, it can be tempting for retailers to jump on any trendy new solution simply because other retailers are doing so – the desire to ‘fit in’ and employ the most popular buzzwords is powerful. However, this is the wrong way to go about the selection process; businesses often underestimate the true cost of investing in technology, so choosing the right one is a vital element of the strategy to get right.
Retailers should be seeing technology as an enabler of the creative journey, and only then looking at the best solutions for their long-term strategies. For example, if a retailer is looking to deepen customer engagement by offering a highly personalised experience, they can look to technology such as personalization tools, analytics software or data collecting programs to learn more about their audience. If used correctly, the insights resulting from the data will help them provide a truly personal experience – the key idea is that it’s not about the technology itself, but rather about the final experience it can help to deliver.