In an era when you can search for anything online in a matter of seconds, how do you encourage customers to ditch the search and, instead, return to your store again and again?
I’d argue the key is genuine personalization … with a healthy dollop of seamless delivery.
Personalization has been bantered about for years — and flubbed for an equal number. Whether it's the barrage of ads that awkwardly follow you around the internet weeks after a product search to emails with the [name goes here] miscue, these efforts haven’t delivered a loyalty-building experience.
There's no one-size-fits-all piece to solving the personalization puzzle, but an obvious first step is to use available data to study and build out programs that help you gain a better understanding of your customer across all channels. If a customer is shopping online, you should be able to suggest products that match their interests. If they visit a store, wouldn’t it be great if an associate could quickly call up their purchases and suggest something that matches their interests?
Let’s explore that store example for a minute. Wouldn’t it be great if the customer received a personalized message when they arrived in-store (finally, a practical use for beacons!) that asked them what level of help they wanted. Should I send over a sales associate? Would you like for us to place items from your online shopping cart in the dressing room?
For the customer who shops online exclusively, what about a nonintrusive, real-time offer of an online chat once the shopping session hits a threshold of browsing and carting activity? Facing repeated browse and cart sessions without a sale? Maybe it’s time to trigger a message promoting your buy online, pick up in-store service or one highlighting your new service for painless, free returns.
I know what you’re saying, “This all sounds terrific, but how do I get there?” And, “It sounds expensive!”
First, let’s cross off our list what it doesn’t involve — building a costly data center that's out-of-date before it opens, or assigning data guardians that parcel out nibbles of information only after the commerce marketer begs long and hard enough.
What it does involve: empowering commerce marketers to use the data they’ve got while making key investments in connecting data that exists in disparate places. Critical to this success is the engagement of the commerce marketer in helping establish what types of data to include and how to identify it with a specific customer.
Use Your Data to Know Your Market
Why do customers buy from you? Is it the fit of your pants or the speed in which you push out new fashions? One of my colleagues prefers a certain pant fit from a well-known national retailer that appears to spend all its email marketing dollars sending her batch-and-blast emails of little value. She would, however, buy more often if they let her know when “her” fit is coming out in a new fabric or color.
On the flip side, one fast-fashion retailer is successfully using a SMS program to send texts to its most trend-conscious customers that alert them to items that are about to sell out. Being able to view who is buying what and when, and then tailor messaging through segments and triggers, is critical.
Recognize Each Customer When They Shop, and Make Suggestions
If a customer is browsing on lots of pink items, show her products in that color that she hasn't found. If she just bought a waffle maker, suggest gourmet waffle mixes. Browse recovery and product recommendation options aren't the exclusive domain of large online retailers. Paul Fredrick, the retailer of men’s professional clothing, paired a browse solution tool with a recommendations engine and quickly realized 30 times the return on investment. When consumers browse Paul Fredrick's site without buying, they receive an email with recommendations based on the types of items they were browsing for.
Pay Attention to the Customer Experience if You Offer BOPIS
Only about a third of retailers have tried buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), possibly because they're watching to see how consumers respond to other retailers’ efforts, and how these retailers smooth out the kinks. To create customer-friendly BOPIS programs, commerce marketers need data.
Here’s an example: If you promise quick in-store pickup, when the product is still sitting unboxed in the main distribution center, that’s a fail. You also need to study what type of products encourage BOPIS orders and plan for that both through inventory and customer messaging. For example, Home Depot is doing that and it’s a recognized leader in this field, with its online business growing 17 percent year-over-year. Forty percent of Home Depot's online orders get picked up at its stores.
“This integration of the online and offline channels is helping Home Depot to make its stores more efficient, leading to higher revenues and profitability,’’ notes Wall Street analyst firm Trefis in a contributed article to Forbes.
Explore Win-Win Options if You're an Online-Only Brand With Retail Partners
RST Brands sells outdoor furniture through a drop-ship arrangement with large retailers that display its product. How is RST personalizing the experience? Its retail partners want the brand to handle the transactional communications with customers (e.g., delivery and post-purchase care), and lets RST invite customers to subscribe to its email program, which is used to promote add-on products (e.g., pillows, cleaning supplies) that the retailers don’t stock.
There was a catch, however.
RST had to prove to the retailers that it could easily segment customers into transactional and post-purchase marketing lists to avoid breaking spam rules or diverting customers from the retailers. RST is growing its subscriber list and online sales, while also strengthening its partner relationships.
None of these examples involve the daunting construction of a one-to-one relationship. Instead, they involve flexible, automated tools and the engagement of the commerce marketer in planning and executing programs together with people from other parts of marketing and logistics. Instead of grinding your teeth at the thought of enhancing personalization, look to incrementally improve what you're doing now while keeping an eye on the horizon for cost-effective solutions that will take your brand to the next level.
Susan Wall is the vice president of marketing at Oracle + Bronto, a commerce marketing automation provider.