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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:

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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.


eCommerce Café: Paul Shapiro

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.

 

Direct Link

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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eCommerce Café: Andy Taylor

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.

 

Direct Link

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.

Direct Youtube link.

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

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Bridging the gap between Marketing and Merchandising

Some may call the concept of the 4Ps of Marketing – Product, Price, Place, Promotion – outdated, but every iteration that adds more complexity to the Marketing concept just reinforces how crucial it is that these four elements work together.

However, what the 4Ps comprehensively describe as Marketing goes way beyond what your typical operational ‘marketing’ department covers. Most everyday marketing teams focus on the Promotion-P, be it media buys or digital advertising or something similar.

The CMO’s task then is to bring together the other three Ps into a holistic approach to Marketing. Two Ps that have stratified out into their own distinct departments are Merchandising (Placement) and Buying (Pricing). The final P – Product – is generally determined by your company, though in market-oriented companies the CMO would have a say on the product-market-fit.

Merchandisers – guardians of the Placement-P, ensure that products appear in the right store/website, at the appropriate time and in the correct quantities. Similarly, the Pricing-P is typically covered by a specialized buying department, sourcing and pricing goods in close cooperation with merchandisers.

Because of these silos, Marketing is not as homogeneous on the working level as the CMO’s overall responsibility might require and the usual communication letdowns and friction losses that happen between any two departments will inevitably occur.

In this post, we’ll discuss the steps CMOs can take to help bridge the rift between everyday Promotional Marketing and Merchandising/Pricing.

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Voice search becomes voice action: A key talking point at SMX London – Search Engine Land

From combining search and social to leveraging moments that matter, last week’s attendees at SMX London gained a deeper understanding of the numerous ways they can optimize their search strategies.

Described as the “ultimate survival guide to the dynamic and tumultuous world of search marketing,” SMX  — run by Search Engine Land’s parent, Third Door Media — is a conference series designed to highlight the reach and opportunities that can be achieved through search advertising and outline search’s position in the wider marketing mix.

From my own perspective, one of the more enlightening sessions of the London event featured a presentation by Pete Campbell, founder and managing director of Kaizen, on the subject of voice search — a prominent theme given the ongoing battle of the AI assistants.

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Same buzzwords, different meaning: How data is finally catching up to the in-store experience

Crealytics visited RBTE (Retail Business Technology Expo) this week, held in London’s historic Kensington Olympia venue on 8th and 9th May.


Online marketers instantly felt at home amongst the 360 exhibitors and up to 17,000 visitors, similarly, the aspiring eCommerce executive was well catered to by the conference program of 60 talks and workshops. It was only on second glance that something felt out of place about the context in which the familiar buzzwords were used: Customer journey, touchpoints, and data, data, data were as omnipresent as they were free from any reference to the online space, they were rather used to describe the instore experience. And as surprising as that was to discover, it is as understandable in hindsight.


While eCommerce is very mature with respect to data availability and analytics, the in-store experience has been untouched by modern analytics until recently. What we saw at RBTE was a game of catch-up in the early majority stage of adoption: inferring shopper demographics and interest levels via facial recognition, tracking shoppers’ movements, adapting to changed consumer behavior – all this with a focus on the actionability of data collected. The latter was well illustrated in a joint presentation from ASDA and Profitect that highlighted the additional complexity that comes with hundreds of physical outlets, which over time, added layers and layers of legacy reporting. ASDA cut through the noise by working through the triad of 1) reducing reports and metrics, 2) centrally prescribing actions based on the data and 3) making intelligence accessible beyond the PC.

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What Google’s Q1 2017 Earnings Report means for the retail sector

Yesterday, Google’s parent company Alphabet released their earnings report for the close of Q1 2017.

As we predicted, Alphabet’s revenues rose 17% between 1Q16 and 1Q17.  Much of that revenue boost is likely due to the 53% rise in clicks on paid advertising – no surprises there. What’s odd is that while both revenue and clicks went up, cost per clicks went down by 19%.

For those of you who paid attention in Econ101, you’re probably wondering how that’s possible. How can Google receive less revenue, but still make more profit?

Google claims that they have “refined their methodology for paid clicks and cost per click to include additional categories of TrueView engagement ads and exclude non-engagement based trial ad formats.”

But we think the answer is slightly more nuanced than that.

More ad inventory

First off, the sheer number of ads Google shows on a search results page has increased. Ads, most notably of the Shopping variety, have popped up in image searches, YouTube and even Gmail.

This “ad creep” has pushed organic results further and further down the page. In these two screenshots, for example, organic results didn’t even make it above the fold at all. Considering that Google is now reporting that 51% of all clicks are coming from Mobile devices, the lack of organic results means that advertising is particularly taking over the majority of the mobile SERP.

A large part of this creep is due to the growth of visually-oriented Shopping ads, where the image of the product is presented instead of the traditional three lines of text.  Sometimes known as PLAs, not only did this ad format increase the raw number of ads a searcher was presented with, it also increased the amount of space ads took up on the page – by a lot.

See, the reason that Shopping ads are so powerful is that they include an image of the product. And images take up a lot more vertical space than text.  

So if desktop SERPs contain 5 – 9 Shopping ads and 2 – 4 Text ads, your average human now has to scroll quite far down the page in order to click something that isn’t an ad. A task which becomes even more difficult when using a small phone screen – an important factor when you consider Mobile now accounts for the majority of online ad clicks.

More ads that take up more space means two things:

  1. Searchers are more likely to click on ads (equals more revenue for Google)
  2. There are more ads for companies to buy (increased supply initially leads to lower prices while demand catches up)

Visually oriented product ads

Secondly, the move towards Google Shopping Ads has traditionally lead to an increase in clicks in total. In their report Alphabet doesn’t differentiate the number of clicks generated by Shopping vs Search ads, but overall clicks on Google’s web properties (search, Gmail, and YouTube, etc) grew 53% from 2016 to 2017.

That means that Google is getting higher click through rates on existing space, because it can place three product ads in the same space as a single text ad, and consumers are more likely to click on image-based ads than text-based ones. According to our own research Shopping ads now represent around 74% of all ads clicked on Google.

Google_Shopping_Click_Share_2014_2016

This growth is also likely due to Google serving more product ads and expanding their availability to more general search terms — for example, showing Shopping ads on a search for “running shoes,” not just “Nike Air Max.”

In addition, Shopping ads have proved highly effective. Jessica Levens, director of e-commerce at Reef (a beachwear brand), recently said in the NY Times that “product campaigns helped triple sales that started from online queries, including instances where customers searched without including the Reef brand name.”

Our research also shows that Shopping ads are more likely to lead to a sale, making them a more profitable advertising medium. This is particularly impressive considering that in a side-by-side comparison, Shopping ads are actually more expensive than Text ads.

It’s no surprise then that retailers are snapping up them up. Shopping ads accounted for 52% of all Google search ad spending by retailers in the first quarter of 2017.

The important takeaways from this quarter’s Earnings Report are that

  1. Google has prioritized use of an ad medium (Shopping) that people click on a lot (More click revenue for Google)
  2. Google has used Shopping as a way to expand the number of available ads for retailers to buy (more ad selling opportunities for Google and lower prices while demand catches up to supply)
  3. Shopping has become an advertising medium that retailers can’t live without (always good for Google)

Everyone’s a winner (for now)

It seems all that traffic pushing and ad reshuffling is really working in Google’s favor.

In Google Shopping, Alphabet has created an advertising medium that works on multiple levels.  It’s good for consumers because they can easily find the product they are looking for, and it’s good for retailers who are getting a better CR and ROI than they were with Text ads.

What’s more, this ad medium is working on Mobile, which is a big deal considering it now equates to more than half of online traffic.

The real winners, as always, are Google. They’ve created a system where even though the cost of their product has more than halved in a year, they are selling enough of it to still make money.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Right now, Google Shopping is the deal of the century. Due to the ongoing availability of ad inventory supply, its costs are at an all-time low while the CR remains high.

This will not last forever! As more retailers recognize Google Shopping as a way of converting mobile traffic and improving the digital marketing ROI, they will invest more advertising money and CPCs will rise.

That means this is the best time to start investing in Google Shopping. Costs are relatively low, returns are high and competition is minimal. As a retailer if you can work out your Shopping strategy now, you’ll be in excellent shape when the rest of them catch on.


The automation revolution in online marketing: a brief overview

“By 2017, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs.” – Laura McLellan, Gartner

Today, in the age of automation and machine learning, data and technology play a major role in driving business. It might feel as though it all happened overnight, but in recent years the face of digital marketing has undergone massive transformation.

Innovation in automation

“Today is early and slow”. That’s something Google UK’s David Sneddon mentioned in his keynote presentation at the Google Analytics Conference in Vienna this April.

Nowadays, the latest hot trends quickly turn into old news. As with hardware (remember how suddenly Nokia fell from its dominant position as the leading mobile phone manufacturer?) a lot of innovation is happening at great speed in online marketing these days. This is especially noticeable in the shift towards marketing tools and tactics that are automatically controlled, processed and optimized by data and algorithms (programmatic marketing).

In PPC, programmatic marketing algorithms can help manage big accounts efficiently (scripts, automated rules, etc) and offer Bid Management strategies – as Crealytics’ automation & intelligence tool Camato does. The result is that ad spend goes further and digital marketing methods become more streamlined.

For testing and optimization – the daily business of PPC Managers – data is the cornerstone. Technology helps here: on the one hand to process and prepare data, and on the other, to provide intelligent tools for efficient testing setup and implementation.

From thousands to one

There is also a big shift from audience-targeting to more specific user-targeting. Even granularly-defined audiences are now considered too broad. The famous example of how Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne both fit demographically into the same audience group (British, male, born 1948, married, children > 1, annual income > $25m) is testament to the flaws that audience-based targeting can carry. This is exactly why the industry’s focus has moved increasingly towards user interests and behaviour, combined with user demographics, instead of user demographics alone.

The advantage from an advertiser’s perspective is that budgets can be better controlled to avoid “blind” bidding. At the same time, users are more intelligently accompanied through their customer journey, and are only presented with relevant ads. Another benefit of the programmatic approach is that one user’s impressions can be more closely monitored, helping to avoid the annoyance of repeated and/or irrelevant ads being shown. From a brand perspective, this is especially critical.

What’s next?

Data-driven automation in advertising technology is becoming the norm throughout all online marketing channels We’ve seen radical transformation in display advertising through programmatic user-specific targeting, and here in Search, we are maybe only a few small steps away from fully-automated, real-time actions and user-specific customizations. What do you think?