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Break down silos in ecommerce to drive performance

5 Creative Ways eCommerce Brands Have Improved Holiday Sales

For eCommerce brands, the holiday season is often the most important time of the year. Your success in the months of November and December play a huge role in your ability to hit revenue goals for the year. Today we are still seeing huge growth in eCommerce sales during the holiday season. Between 2015 and 2016, there was nearly $10 billion in holiday sales growth.

Source: SalesCycle

It’s critical that companies are able to stand out from the crowd during the holiday season. Even with the increased spending, the environment is much more competitive during these months. The last thing that any brand should want is to be seen as boring, or normal. Families spend a lot of time preparing for the holiday season and

REI Closes Their Doors and Asks Their Customers to #OptOutside

Conventional wisdom tells us that if you want to make the most of the holiday season, you have to actually be open for business. That’s just common sense. But, REI thought about things differently and as a result were able to run one of the most successful holiday marketing campaigns in the history of the company. The campaign was so successful that it has now being implemented during other holidays as well.

Originally debuting on Black Friday, the REI #OptOutside campaign bucked conventional wisdom. Instead of desperately trying to find a way to get customers into their stores and website, they closed for the day. Instead of buying that new ski jacket, they asked that customers start a new holiday tradition by spending the holiday enjoying mother nature.

It all started with a simple question during a holiday marketing meeting:

“In the midst of a big holiday brainstorming session, the head of our merchandising group said, ‘We could never do it, but what if we close on Black Friday?'” Chief Creative Officer Ben Steele said. “Obviously at face value it seems crazy, but it was all about giving our people the day off and inviting others to join us. Part of this job is about storytelling, but when you can take an action and show people rather than just telling them, it can be really powerful.”

REI originally debuted their #OptOutside campaign during Black Friday. The company quickly received coverage from some of the largest publications in the world. The campaign was such a  success that REI now duplicates it for other holidays. Sometimes the conventional thing to do can keep your marketing inside of a box.

Lagavulin Enlists Nick Offerman for Fireside Silence

What do you get when you mix high-end Scotch and the holiday season? A cozy, quiet drink in front of the fire. That’s how Lagavulin envisioned it, anyway.

During the Christmas 2016 season, Lagavulin debuted their genius marketing video, “Nick Offerman’s Yule Log”. Nick Offerman had become somewhat of a pop culture icon for playing masculine Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Rec. The character had a taste for high-end scotch and had named Lagavulin as his favorite on the show. Lagavulin’s marketing team must have known that they had hit the jackpot.

So how do you make the most of a celebrity endorsement? Invite them to events? Plaster their face on marketing materials around the world? Put him in a commercial?

Not Lagavulin. Instead, they sat Offerman in front of a cozy fireplace and had him drink a glass of Lagavulin, in silence, for 45 minutes. It was classy, if not a bit ridiculous. More importantly, the video was an excellent fit for the Lagavulin brand.

The video immediately went viral. Part of the appeal was the absurdity of the idea. Many quickly found that the video made an excellent replacement for those fireside screensaver apps that many TVs come equipped with. Today, the video has millions of views and the campaign was so successful that they did it a second time on New Year’s Eve.

Lowe’s Turns Holiday Shopping Into a Game

Posting great holiday deals to your social media accounts is pretty standard for eCommerce brands. But, Lowe’s took a run-of-the-mill marketing strategy and turned it into a big wind for their brand during the holiday season of 2016.

Instead of just posting deals, Lowe’s posted the silhouette of different items that were about to go on sale. Customers were invited to try to guess what the item was. They handed out prizes and free items to those that guessed right, then replaced the silhouette image with an image of the item along with the sale price.

It seems so simple, but turning something as simple as a holiday sale into a game attracted a lot of attention to the brand. The campaign was successful enough for Lowe’s to duplicate it during other holiday sales.

Amazon Enlists Moms to Crowdsource Xmas Gift Ideas

For the last five years, Amazon has received a lot of attention for their innovative holiday marketing campaigns. A mainstay for the company has been their yearly Amazon Holiday Toy List. On the surface, the idea doesn’t seem to be that innovative. There are thousands of eCommerce companies that publish holiday gift lists.

Where this campaign stood out was in Amazon’s ability to utilize their most precious resource — the one thing that they have that no other company has — 244 million customers. Instead of just publishing their own list, Amazon enlisted all of the moms that shop with them to put together a definitive list of the hottest toys that season. All mothers were encouraged to submit their votes and contribute.

This campaign stood out because the recommendations were coming straight from Amazon’s customers. Social proof can go a long way. You can bet that the customers that used this list to find gifts would not have been as excited about a list that Amazon had published themselves.

Macy’s Encourages Kids to Write to Santa

Every year millions of children write to Santa Clause to let him know what gifts they would like to find under the tree that year. There are an unending number of apps and websites that can help kids send their letter. So it may not seem so special that Macy’s launched their own “write to Santa” app.

But Macy’s was able garner a lot of publicity from the campaign by guaranteeing a donation of $1 to the Make-A-Wish foundation for every letter that was submitted through their Macy’s Believe website or app. Kids were able to pick items straight from the Macy’s catalog and add them to the letter that they sent Santa. Not a bad way to connect parents with the gifts their kid’s want, all while helping a great charity!

Holiday Success Comes from Creativity

All eCommerce and retail companies know just how important the holiday season is for their bottom line. There is a lot riding on the holiday marketing campaigns each and every year. To make matters worse, it is incredibly difficult to get noticed during the holiday season.

However, by taking traditional marketing ideas and putting a little creative spin on them, you can stand out from the crowd. Some of the campaigns on this list are completely original, like Lagavulin’s Yule Log video or REI’s #OptOutside campaign. But others, like Amazon’s Holiday Toy List, are a creative spin on a traditional concept.

Embrace your creative side this holiday season to stand out from the competition. Give your customers more reasons to interact with your brand and come to your website and you might have your best Christmas season yet.

For more traditional Christmas marketing prep check out our 5 Tips to Boost your PPC Campaigns This Christmas and The Surprise Holiday Shopping Trend You Might Be Missing Out On.


Strategies Digital Retailers Can Use to Cater to Short Attention Spans

Millennial’s shorter attention spans is an oft-cited fact.  But the attention spans of many users is short, and to rise above the competition you must be able to cater to that group.

There are a number of steps that digital retailers can take to cater to younger generations. Ultimately catering to short attention spans is all about making the buying process as simple as possible. It’s a UX problem. But, one that should be constantly evolving. No user experience should be static for any length of time, as customer tastes and needs evolve.

As you look for ways to improve your UX and find ways to appeal to customers with short attention spans, consider adopting these strategies:

Reduce Points of Friction

Any company with a significant amount of traffic should be optimizing their product pages for conversions. However, many companies spend time tinkering with A/B split tests and never see the results that they want. Often, this is because they are focusing on small tweaks and overlooking several bottlenecks that are driving down sales.

It can be difficult to spot points of friction when you’re too close to the design and copy of the page. It’s easy to overlook something small that customers are getting hung up on. It could be a non-functioning button on an older browser version or confusing wording on the product page.

A few ways for digital retailers to reduce friction on their website include:

  • Live chat engagement. Live chat can give your customers a quick and frictionless route to ask questions and better understand products. It takes quite a bit more effort to send an email or submit a support ticket. Consider a retail environment. How many sales would you lose if customers were required to take a number and wait in a line to ask questions? Make it easy for your customers to ask for help.
  • Customer surveys are extremely valuable. If you want to know what kind of questions your customers have or pinpoint where engaging with your brand has bothered them — ask them. Surveys can help identify points of friction and provide invaluable insights into your customer’s thoughts.
  • Use data as your guide. Where are your customers getting hung up in the checkout process? What is your data telling you? Use your data to make informed hypotheses about points of friction for customers at all stages throughout the buyer’s journey.

Even small points of friction can have a huge impact on sales. It can take some time to identify them, but making an effort to speak with customers can be eye-opening.

Do the Research for Them

When younger shoppers come to your website and consider purchasing a product, there is a good chance that they are going to open a new tab and do a little research before clicking that “buy now” button. This is true both in physical stores as well as digital retailers. 72% of young shoppers research online before purchasing in-store.

They may go to Amazon to check reviews on a similar product. They may do a search on Google or social media. Either way, it gives the customer a pretty good excuse to leave your site and get sidetracked. I’m pretty sure everyone can remember a time when that has happened to them.

Try to cover their bases for them. Include bits of information that they may leave the site to seek out. What do the Amazon reviews have to say about the product? Why is this the right product for the price point? What features does this product have that competing products do not? By providing them with this information on-site, you can reduce their need to seek out information from other sources and potentially become sidetracked.

Personalization is Key

Want to keep someone’s attention? Talk about them. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and customers love companies that seem to know important details about them. Consider a local gas station. If the attendant knew your name every time that you stopped in, told you about sales on a favorite product of yours, and generally was pleasant to be around, you would probably get your gas there every time.

That same concept applies to digital sales as well. Find every opportunity to personalize the experience for each shopper. Amazon, of course, does an excellent job of ensuring that all pages on their website display information that may be relevant to each individual visitor. You’ll see endless widgets that display recently viewed products, product listings based on your purchase history, and other tangentially related information.

Rich Media Attracts Attention

According to Kleiner Perkins, by the end of 2017, video will account for 74 percent of all online traffic. More than 500 million hours of online video are watched every day. Of that, the 24-35 age group watches video content the most. Specifically young men, who watch 40% more online video than young women.

Video provides a simple and frictionless way for people to learn about your products. They don’t have to sift through long, boring product pages to learn about your product. Videos give your brand the chance to really put itself on display.

Take a look at DollarShaveClub’s marketing video:

It’s funny. It’s entertaining. It’s great at keeping the attention of a visitor with a short attention span. But, it is also extremely informative. You can include a lot of information about your products in a video.

Quality In-House Support

One thing that younger generations with notoriously short attention spans really dislike is a disconnected support service. If they have a problem with or question about a product and they call into a support line, they don’t want to spend a lot of time waiting on hold, speaking with someone that can’t solve their problem, or trying to discern information from an impersonal scripted response.

To appeal to short attention spans, your in-house support team must be empowered. They must be able to provide quick answers and solutions to those that call in, without referring the complaint up the chain. Great support wins the hearts and minds of customers. They can forgive a mistake. They can’t forgive terrible support.

Simplicity is Key

To cater to customers with short attention spans, you should focus on simplifying all aspects of the ordering process. Focus on providing rich-media experiences and providing them with as much on-site research as you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your customers for feedback. Points of friction and bottlenecks are debilitating but easy to miss.


What is the Amazon Effect and What Do eCommerce Companies Need to Know About It?

Amazon has reshaped the way that retailers and eCommerce companies do business. With each passing year, the brand becomes more entrenched in the lives of consumers and grows its thumbprint across new industries. You’d be hard-pressed to find a retailer that hasn’t felt the “Amazon Effect.”

Despite its rampant popularity, Amazon is still seeing huge growth each year. In 2016, the company saw its North American sales increased by 25.2%. Meanwhile, eCommerce sales were up only  15.6% in 2016 as a whole. Consumers are eager to find new ways to reduce their in-store shopping requirements, and often Amazon is the top choice to fill that role. Amazon has seen steady, consistent global growth throughout the 2010s:

Source: Business Insider

You could point to many reasons why Amazon enjoys this continued success. One common argument is that Amazon has been able to identify and capitalize on the needs of the younger generations. Their ability to effectively appeal to millennials, in particular, has helped facilitate their rapid adoption. According to a survey and study by Millennial Marketing, Amazon is the leading company at appealing to people in these age groups. Using a set of pre-defined questions, the company compared the company’s ability to serve millennials to other top brands.

Even against other brands that are popular among millennials, Amazon comes out decidedly ahead. There are a few key ways in which Amazon continues to grow their footprint and appeal to younger customers:

 

  • Shipping speed. Amazon is first and foremost a distribution company. They rose to prominence largely through their ability to make shipping faster and more cost-effective. Amazon’s shipping times are fast and keep getting faster. By closing the gap between clicking the order button and the item arriving on your doorstep, they continue to improve the online shopping experience and supplant physical retailers for a wider array of products. In the last two years, Amazon’s average ship time has been reduced by 1.5 days. This reduction has been driven by Amazon’s free 2-day shipping offer for Prime subscribers. This year, Amazon reached more than 80 million Prime subscribers. With Amazon Air drone deliveries on the horizon, we could soon see deliveries just hours after ordering.
  • Subscriptions. Amazon is constantly debuting new subscription services to create new recurring revenue streams. Amazon Prime now offers monthly subscription plans, Amazon Family allows consumers to sign up for ongoing subscriptions on items like baby food and diapers at a steeply discounted rate, and Kindle Unlimited is essentially Netflix for eBooks, allowing customers to read more than 2 million titles per month for a low monthly fee. These are a few of the more than a dozen subscription programs that Amazon has launched in recent years. Amazon’s clear focus on creating recurring income streams has helped propel their growth.
  • Ease of ordering. Amazon has gone out of their way to make ordering as simple as possible, from the ability to order with a single click, re-order previously purchased items, or use the Amazon Echo or Dash Buttons to order without having to log in to their website. Amazon continues to find new, innovative way to make ordering quick and painless.

 

These practices have contributed to what has become known as the “Amazon Effect.”

So, What is the Amazon Effect?

The “Amazon Effect” is a broad term that describes the change in customer habits following the rise in popularity of Amazon and online shopping in general. It refers specifically to the ongoing evolution of eCommerce, retail, and their merging over time.

Today customers have it easy. A product pops into their mind and within a few clicks, they have it purchased and ready to arrive on their doorstep in just a few short days. In the future, that time could shrink to a few short hours. So how do physical retailers compete? That question is central to the Amazon effect. As customers have increasingly turned toward online shopping, physical retailers have been forced to adapt and offer new reasons for customers to visit stores.

The “Amazon Effect” doesn’t just force physical retailers to adapt, either. All retailers are dancing to the beat of Amazon’s drum, including eCommerce brands. Amazon offers hundreds of thousands of products at competitive prices. Their algorithms and dynamic pricing operations ensure that they will always remain competitive in that sense. These facts combined with their worldwide brand awareness make it tough for eCommerce retailers to carve out their own market share in Amazon’s wake.

How Have Retailers Reacted?

The rollout of changes due to the Amazon effect has been slow but steady over the course of the last ten years. As the popularity of online shopping has grown, retailers have realized that they need to bring more to the table to give customers a reason to come into their stores. In recent years with the advancement of internet-of-things tech, these changes have become more profound and more visible. Retailers have reacted early by embracing eCommerce, but many of the largest brands have had a hard time duplicating even a fraction the success that Amazon has enjoyed.

Let’s explore some of the other ways that retailers have reacted to the Amazon Effect.

Making In-Store Experiences More Compelling

Retailers know that they must find new ways to make the in-store experience compelling for shoppers. American retailers and especially malls have had a difficult 2017. Malls, in particular, are finding it difficult to stay afloat while more of their business heads toward eCommerce and online fulfillment. For years, malls have tried to find ways to add value for shoppers and customers. A few of the ideas that you have likely seen as you walk through your local mall include new play areas for children, relaxing lounges, salons and massage parlors, or events that may attract crowds. A great example of this comes from the Mall of America, who offer attractions like an aquarium and a dinosaur walk museum to help make the shopping center more appealing to children.

In-Store Pickups

One of the ways that Amazon was able to win over the favor of consumers was in their ability to quickly ship items to their customers. Their free two-day shipping with an Amazon Prime account has been a big hit. Many big retailers have tried to duplicate this by offering customers the ease of ordering online, combined with the ability to receive the product quickly through in-store pickups. However, in-store pickups have failed to win the hearts and minds of customers, with 82% of respondents in a recent survey saying that they would still prefer to have their items shipped to them, even if same day in-store pickup were offered.

Event-based Marketing

If you want to give customers a reason to come into your store, a special event could be the right approach. Capitalizing on a popular trend and offering a related event can be a great way to bring in new business. Last year during the sudden rise in popularity of the mobile game Pokemon Go, we saw many businesses capitalize on this by offering special Pokemon Go events. Another great example comes from the recent solar eclipse. Companies around the U.S. attracted customers to their stores by handing out (or selling) glasses that would protect customer’s eyes during the solar eclipse.

But event-based marketing doesn’t have to be limited to cultural phenomenon. Something as simple as having a local sports star in your store to sign autographs can be a great way to get the crowds flowing in. More retailers are looking to create events to catch the attention of shoppers who otherwise might prefer to do their shopping online.

eCommerce Brands Offer a Store-like Experience

It’s hard to compete with a worldwide brand that offers nearly every product on the planet. To add value to a shopper’s experience, many eCommerce brands have adopted some of the perks of an in-store shopping experience into their online checkout process. A great example of this comes in the form of expert consultations. If you were shopping for a new formal dress, an online retailer might make a fashion expert available to shoppers through live chat to help you find the perfect outfit for your event. Smaller eCommerce brands can offer a more personal experience that may cater to some customers.

Keeping Up With Amazon

Amazon is good at a lot of things, but one area where retail has them beat is in product marketing. The way customers shop on Amazon is fundamentally different from the way they tend to shop at most eCommerce shops. Amazon is transactional. Shoppers only go there when they know what they want. It’s not a place that’s easy to browse and discover completely new things – despite the recommended products section. At least, that’s how it’s worked so far – as always Amazon is looking to innovate.

Honestly, the best way for eCommerce companies to keep up with Amazon is to invest in the tech side of their business and not be afraid to pivot or innovate when new technologies become available. Amazon’s greatest strength is their ability to attract great tech talent which allows them to innovate and become more efficient.

Retailers may not be able to attract the same caliber of tech talent as a Silicon Valley company, though it is worth trying, but, there are emerging technologies out there which will help retailers to use their data as efficiently as Amazon.


CMOs Need New Model For Retail Advertising Success

There is always dissonance between the capabilities that are discussed in trade business coverage and the day-to-day realities that exist on the ground for marketers, behind their own four company walls. Nowhere is this more evident than in the routine way that large corporate retail giants choose to measure retail advertising effectiveness, and how that routine falls short. The way CMOs measure retail advertising success today is better suited to demonstrating efficiency than it is to actually realize it. Over-reliance on outdated KPIs leaves a lot of opportunity unrealized.

Old Habits Die Hard

Many long-standing brand organizations operate with KPIs that date back 10 years, and which hardly reflect the granular detail and transparent efficiency that is becoming a reality within the advertising toolset. For example, even though different products sell at entirely different margins, the routine (read: legacy) model for return on advertising spend simply factors in revenue and outright ignores those margins. It fails to distinguish whether a purchase was made by a new customer or as a repeat purchase by an existing customer. It doesn’t respect return rates and presumes that e.g. shoes and laptops are returned equally often. And it ignores whether or not the product needed advertising in the first place. A clear, useful picture of advertising effectiveness is impossible without understanding product margin, local stock levels, and the identity (ie. incremental growth) of unique customers.

The types KPIs and metrics I discuss here are hardly new ideas — they have been proposed, critiqued and otherwise discussed in forward-thinking thought pieces for nearly a decade. But in speaking with retail marketers, one quickly realizes that the reality lags so far behind and they’re not adopting the more precise, technologically dialed in, modern reality. In fact, the larger the retailer, the more likely it is that they are motivated by pressure to demonstrate return on spend to the satisfaction of the rest of the C-suite — the CFO or CEO, for example — and less by the need to improve real marketing effectiveness and efficiency.

To illustrate how the current “state of the technology” marketing capabilities have not made their way into let alone broken through the routine of current retailer practices – it’s helpful to plot the evolution of KPIs, so that you can understanding the emerging possibilities to impact your business more powerfully.

The focus on these progressively useful particular KPIs, in ascending order from the least sophisticated to most mature and instrumental, maps from low to high data quality. In short, the richer and more multi-dimensional your retail performance data the more valuable the associated KPI is to guiding your business.

Focus: orders (CPO) – In this volume-based scenario, every order is equal — regardless of order dollar value. Revenues, margins and new customer levels are merely estimated based on averages. Look no further than this hypothetical: We can spend $100,000 on advertising to sell 1,000 Gucci handbags or 1,000 cheap socks, and the CPO will be $100 in both cases. This means that a bidding system will over-bid on the socks and under-bid on the Gucci bags.

Focus: revenue (ROAS) – this typical KPI focuses on revenue and ignores dimensional margin variation across different products, based on any number of production, marketing, fulfillment factors, and other costs of doing business.

Focus: profit (ROI) – oriented around relative high per-product margins, the team promotes those products more aggressively but yet — repeat purchases are ignored. You are working with slight richer data but it’s still not the full picture.

Focus: lifetime value (LTV ROI) – armed with all data factors — optimization to this KPI takes into account exact margins and repeat purchases from new customers.

So, as your team evaluates the state of business and progress on retail marketing and sales — it’s worth checking in with yourself to determine whether you’ve been defaulting to more outdated KPIs, on the lower end of data quality and flatter by nature. CMOs have a tough enough job staying on top of the rapidly evolving customer experience as it migrates across devices and platforms; it becomes even harder still to persuade the rest of the C-Suite that their marketing activities need to be understood in a completely different light. The good news is that the data science and retail technology are ready to support such an elevation in your approach, provided that the rest of the C-Suite is open to it.

Elevating your company’s institutional understanding of marketing effectiveness when it comes to driving retail performance, will give your marketing organization the support it needs to truly scale.

This article originally appeared in MediaPost, read the original here.


Online trends and new technologies will drive in-store innovations

The retail industry at large and specifically retail merchandising has seen rapid changes due to innovations in tech. As the internet becomes more ingrained in our daily lives, the expectations of customers shift. Retailers are now expected to not only embrace innovative tech but have it integrated into the core of their shopping experience.

In the next decade, we will see a number of new tech applications begin popping up in stores. These innovations will largely be driven by big data and internet-of-things tech, which lend themselves extremely well to retail applications. New age technology will change the shape of merchandising, and allow early-adopters to stand out from the competition.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest changes that in-store merchandising will experience in the next few years:

Big Data Merges Science and Art in Retail

Throughout the history of retail, merchandising was often regarded as more of an art than a science. Creative people who understood customer motivations were able to create displays and merchandising strategies that resonated. However, testing various merchandising strategies was always difficult. Often, stores didn’t have the customer numbers to pursue accurate testing, along with the bandwidth to accurately track those tests. For smaller companies, reaching statistical significance was almost impossible. Small chains didn’t have the data to conduct reliable tests, and national chains required the collaboration and data-sharing to make that kind of broad-scale testing possible.

The rise of big data has already changed the face of retail and will continue to do so moving forward. Big data analytics are already applied to every stage of the retail process. It’s used to predict trends, forecast demand, optimize pricing, identify customers, and determine which marketing materials to show them.

Moving forward, big data will only become more integral to retail and merchandising. If there is data that can be used to inform a process, it will be. Merchandising presents a huge opportunity for big data implementation. In the future, we can expect to see it used in a variety of strategies including custom-tailored displays for customers, content delivery, and dynamic pricing.

Interactivity Encourages Engagement

Scala Lift and Learn Wall

The internet is a very interactive place. Customers are invited to leave their thoughts on every story they read and product that they purchase in comment sections. Over time, this interactivity has become a natural part of the lives of customers – and an important part of how they shop. They now expect brands to interact more personally with them, learning about them as their relationship ages. We may see this kind of interactivity quickly begin to make its way into retail stores.

According to RetailTouchPoints, more than 90% of customers use their smartphone to read reviews about products while shopping in a store. Expect more businesses to embrace these trends in physical locations moving forward. We’re already seeing companies add review ratings and quotes to signage and merchandising. By providing this information to the customer directly in the store, you can limit the chances that they read poor reviews or find another product that they would rather purchase.

A great example of interactive merchandising can be seen in the Scala Lift and Learn Wall. Designed for shoe retailers, the stand allows customers to pick up a shoe, then learn about the specs and best uses for the product on the screen. They are also shown similar products that may be a better fit based on their interests. The potential for this kind of merchandising is limitless. Scala has already applied this tech to other products like smartphones and tablets. In the future, we may see displays that invite customers to answer a few short questions, then receive a product recommendation that matches their specifications

This kind of interactivity allows the customers to feel like they’ve been walked through the decision-making process. Interactive merchandising like this can be a great way to deliver content to customers at a physical retail location.

Alternative Checkout Could Alter Merchandising Strategies

Retailers have placed a lot of focus on alternative checkout methods in recent years. Going forward, you can bet that the checkout process will be a shell of what consumers today are used to. As retailers face increased pressure on margins, they are increasingly looking for ways to automate those processes. Meanwhile, customers are becoming more likely to prefer automated checkout systems.

While traditional checkout lines will likely stick around for a long time, alternative methods will become increasingly preferred by customers. This trend was first seen with the sudden rise in self-check kiosks in grocery stores. That tech quickly found its way into many different industries.

According to StatisticBrain, 66% of shoppers responded to a survey stating that they “wanted self-checkout options when shopping.” In that same survey, 91% of people 35 and younger stated that they had used a self-checkout stand before. We are likely to see self-checkout options become the expectations among consumers, with other low-effort alternative checkout methods making their way into the market as well.

In Amazon’s recent advertisement for their Amazon Go store, we see a great example of how the future could look when it comes to retail checkout. In this example, shoppers enter the store, fill their basket with the items that they want to buy, and then simply walk out of the store. The items that are added to their basket are tracked and the transaction is processed through their smart device. Their only interaction with the store or its employees comes when they “check in” on the way in.

Using this example, it’s easy to see how alternative checkout methods like this could change merchandising and retail as a whole. When customers can simply pick up an item and walk out of the store with it, retailers aren’t fighting so hard against that feeling of regret after consumers add an expensive item to their cart and wait in line. Any checker can tell you how common it is for customers to re-think a purchase at the checkout line. In the future will we see a shift in messaging that reflects these changes?

IoT Will Allow for Real-Time Display and Pricing Updates

We’ve previously written about dynamic pricing and covered what a huge role it will play in retail’s future. For years, dynamic pricing has played its largest role in eCommerce, with only a few large retailers having the bandwidth to truly implement it in physical locations. With the cost of displays and the rise of IoT devices, we should see a rise in physical stores using dynamic pricing strategies.

When digital displays for most items become the norm in merchandising, we will see marketing materials and pricing change to reflect what the data is showing. With the flip of a switch, stores will be able to ensure that their products are priced to compete. That price can change based on a number of factors including inventory.

At some point, stores may also implement customer-centric merchandising through IoT displays, catering their messaging to what the data shows will be most effective with each particular customer. This data could potentially include information about previous purchases, trends within their segment, or historical pricing information.

New Age Tech Presents a Huge Opportunity for Retailers

Over time, the technologies outlined in this article will be adopted by retailers in many industries. Until that time, there is an abundance of opportunity available to forward-thinking retailers that are willing to jump ahead of the pack and start adopting these technologies now. Not only will it be impressive to customers, but it will give companies more outlets to put their data to use. These are just a few of the innovative tech solutions that are driving innovative merchandising strategies. There will be more to come. For retailers, it is important to keep a close eye on the trends in this space and adopt early.


Getting OmniChannel Right – Pairing Online and Offline Strategies to Maximize Sales

 

In business magazines and online publications, there has been a lot of doom and gloom regarding the retail industry in recent years. You hear stories of large retailers closing, malls emptying, and earnings slipping for some of the most well-known brands in the world. Despite the negative messaging, U.S. and worldwide trends are showing steady growth in retail markets following the recession:

USretailmarketinggrowth.png

Those big headlines might pull in visitors, but they fail to reflect the reality of the growing retail industry. Companies across the world are finding new, innovative ways to connect with their customers and provide a consistent experience wherever those interactions happen.

Omnichannel marketing plays a key role in the success of retail stores today. According to Google, 84% of smartphone shoppers use their phones to research products while in a physical store. Increasingly, customers expect a seamless experience between digital and in-store interactions.

What is OmniChannel?

So, what is omnichannel? The term itself has become a bit of a business buzzword, but the practice has real-world implications for any retailer. Omni comes from the word “Omnis,” which means “all” or “universal” in Latin.

Omnichannel refers to a company’s ability to provide a seamless experience no matter where they engage with customers — whether it is in person, through phone, or on their website. Omnichannel strategies are about true continuity of the customer experience, no matter where they interact with a company. In the early days of eCommerce, as larger retailers began to flesh out their online offerings, their online presence was often disjointed from their in-store offerings.

This disjointed feeling creates a disconnect between customers and brands. In the early days of eCommerce, this was expected by customers, they didn’t have the frame of reference to expect any different. But times have changed, and consumers are beginning to expect experiences that feel more centralized. Being able to track what a user does through online channels and apply those insights to interactions through other channels provides measurable benefits. It helps to facilitate engaged, loyal customers. The truth is that customers choose to interact with companies through multiple channels for a variety of reasons. For instance, the reasons why customers generally to shop in store as opposed to online can vary quite a bit:

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Image Source: Business Insider

As the industry has matured, many companies have found ways to improve the customer experience across channels. Still, there is a lot to learn.

Understand the Customer’s Journey

In order to provide a seamless experience across multiple channels, it’s important that companies are able to understand the customer’s journey in full. Understanding the most prevalent paths taken by your own customers will allow you to focus your efforts on smoothing over issues that apply directly to them. Customers are increasingly using multiple devices during the transactional process.  A user may begin this process on their desktop, researching the product and company. Later, they may add a product to their cart while using their phone before finalizing their purchase several hours later on their tablet.

If that process wasn’t facilitated, the company may lose the sale. Imagine that the user found that once they logged into their account from their tablet, that the item was no longer in their shopping cart. You are now asking the customer to take an additional action — one that they have already taken — in order to complete their purchase. Those types of redundancies always result in lower conversion rates. This type of omnichannel consideration is becoming an expectation among average consumers.

Other examples of omnichannel strategies could include allowing a customer to return an item using their online purchase record as proof of purchase, or using an online coupon at a physical retail location. These are small examples of how a lack of omnichannel thinking could be aggravating to a customer and ultimately push them toward taking their business elsewhere. While these examples are ones that most companies often cover, it provides a clear understanding of what people mean when they use the term “omnichannel.”

In this article, we laid out a few best practices for setting up your omnichannel strategy.

Segment Audiences and Increase Personalization

We are at the beginning of the era of “big data.” Companies are collecting more information about customers than they ever have before. Despite this fact, many companies struggle to put the information that they collect to good use. There is an unending number of ways to personalize the customer’s experience using the data that you already collect.

A simple and effective place to start with omnichannel personalization is through email. Using the data at your fingertips to ensure that you are delivering laser-targeted email messages to customers is vital for improving engagement and open rates for your email list. Use purchase data to personalize the emails that you send to every prospect, regardless of where the final purchases are made.

Segmentation is a powerful tool, and learning more about your users can help you to provide a more consistent experience across all channels. Customers prefer marketing that is tailored to their interests and habits. Using that data to improve omnichannel experiences helps companies to provide a consistent, reliable experience to their customers.

Empower Sales Associates

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Image Source: Dose Media

In physical retail locations, one of the most common omnichannel disconnects comes from sales associates’ not having the tools that they need to help customers in an omnichannel environment. Your sales team should be armed with tablets and mobile devices that allow them to access important product information, promotions, and customer information that will assist them in providing a better shopping experience. Even simply referencing an action that a customer on your website can impress and help to create a positive impression.

According to a recent study from PWC, 78% of customers want sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product. While companies with a large number of products will have a hard time training every employee on the intricacies of every product – empowering your team with information at their fingertips while engaging with customers certainly helps to bridge that gap.

Too many companies look at omnichannel success purely from a marketing perspective. We invite retailers to take a step back and see that true omnichannel success is about human interaction. A personalized email is great, but arming sales associates with your customer history provides a truly seamless experience.

Develop Omnichannel Content and Improve Accessibility

It’s no secret that customers love reading and using content throughout the customer journey. Why then, is all of the focus on providing content to customers online, with so little placed on providing that same content to in-store shoppers? Improving the accessibility of the content that you have already invested in is a great way to improve your omnichannel presence and find ways to give in-store customers access to content that helps with their buying decision.

Connect Customer Service Online and Offline

One of the most aggravating omnichannel mistakes for customers is a lack of connection between online and offline customer support options. All companies boast about their world-class customer support — well, true world-class customer support isn’t limited by where the interaction took place. Poor customer support experiences erode customer loyalty.

According to a recent study by Aberdeen Group, companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies are able to retain 89% of their customers. Compare this to the 33% of customers retained by companies with weak omnichannel implementations and the benefit of uniting support channels becomes crystal-clear.

Your customer service and support teams are often the first point of contact that a customer has with your company. They are responsible for creating that first impression or improving the relationship. Make sure that you are arming customer support reps with customer data across multiple channels to provide as seamless of an experience as you can.

Measuring Success in an Omnichannel Environment

One major challenge at the heart of any omnichannel strategy is tracking attribution: how to accurately reward different channels along the multi-channel customer journey for their contribution to a sale. It’s an important problem to solve so you know which channels to invest more in, which to drop and which to rethink.

Bridging the gap between online and offline media channels is no small feat. All the current solutions have their drawbacks whether that be complexity or coverage. But, to get an accurate picture of your activity, you need to try to express your marketing success metrics in an omnichannel way – the sum of in-channel conversions and influenced conversions in other channels.

In this article, we give an in-depth picture of how to attempt more accurate omnichannel tracking with today’s solutions and give you a preview into new technologies that will improve our understanding of omnichannel attribution.

Channel Lines Will Continue to Blur

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In the grand scheme of things, the focus on omnichannel strategies is still relatively young in the world of retail business. Growth in tech has lead to an increase in solutions to bridge these gaps, and already we see the channel lines beginning to blur. As time goes on, it will become even more difficult for customers to separate their experiences with companies on different channels. By adopting these strategies now, eCommerce companies put themselves at the forefront of a business revolution that is certain to grow.

Creating better omnichannel experiences is a process. It won’t happen overnight for any company. However, identifying gaps in the customer experience now can help to illuminate a clear path for any company that would like to improve the way they communicate with customers across channels.


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Paul is considered one of today’s most notable experts in the SEO world, and as Director of Strategy and Innovation at Catalyst, he regularly shares his key findings at events, webinars, and his blog. We were lucky to catch him at SMX Advanced and hear how he is leveraging data to surge ahead in his digital strategy.

 

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For more, follow Paul at @fighto, or check out his personal blog at searchwilderness.com

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Five Questions to Help You Navigate the Social Trifecta

If you’re in digital marketing, you know about it. If you’re a marketing diva, you probably named it. The Social Trifecta.

Cue the lights! And the trumpet players.

The social trifecta is the convergence of three entities within Social Media: Owned, Paid, and Earned. To be clear, this triad is not new; Kirk Cheyfitz prophesied the impact of all three back in 2010…and well, per usual many things have changed since then. According to Gartner, “Eighty percent of social marketers surveyed say they have or will have social advertising programs, and nearly two-thirds will have employee and/or customer advocacy programs in place within 12 months [October 2017],” pointing to a prompt adoption rate and crossover from Owned to Paid and Earned.

Even so, social media advertising itself has grown by 185% over the last year, a never-ending proliferation in media and a clear indication all entities must be intertwined to successfully master your brand’s social media strategy. We now find ourselves with an infinite combination to circulate across each channel. Yes, omnichannel has further widened its lanes and added a roundabout or five.

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At SMX Advanced, we spoke with Merkle’s Assistant Director of Research Andy Taylor, who also spoke on the Mad Scientist panel with our founder Andreas. Catch the full interview behind the scenes, where Andy weighs in on the future of Google’s roadmap, KPIs to prioritize, and the reality behind agencies in the SEM industry.

 

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For more, follow Andy on Twitter at @PronouncedAhndy.

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eCommerce Café: Frederick Vallaeys

Last month  we attended the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle…meaning we also had the pleasure of digging into the state of Product Ads and eCommerce with Adwords evangelist and Optmyzr CEO, Frederick Vallaeys. Check out the full interview below.

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To stay tuned with Frederick, follow him on Twitter, @SiliconVallaeys.

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