Sometimes staring into the future of retail can look a bit like a sci-fi movie. From Rebecca Minkoff's interactive mirrors and dressing rooms to ThinFilm’s new smart tags that monitor the freshness of produce to Cubifiy’s in-home 3-D printer that can print shoes on demand, retailers and technology companies are striving to deliver customer experiences on entirely new levels. It’s no longer enough to segment audiences every three months and deliver a push email campaign with a coupon. These types of innovations make it critical for retailers to restructure marketing and sales efforts to orbit the modern, mobile consumer in order to stay competitive.
While the average retailer might not be able to afford space-age technology, the ability to revolve the retail experience around your customer is becoming increasingly important. Earlier this year, Target announced a series of marketing and sales initiatives designed to ensure a more customer-centric vibe. Critical to its new strategy was an increased investment in search engine optimization; the development of small, urban stores; and embracing omnichannel consumers by ensuring a channel-agnostic shopping experience. Retailers large and small can learn from Target’s resounding commitment to its customers.
SEO: Why is Target investing so significantly in search? Because it pays off. It’s commonly held that 70 percent (or more) of buyers’ journeys now begin by searching for a product or service online. SEO ensures your website shows up on the radar of search engines and, when relevant, your customers. Retailers need to think about SEO from two perspectives: keywords and technical structure.
First, take time to research how consumers are searching for the types of products you sell and ensure that you're integrating the keywords they're using into your website, content strategy and product descriptions. Consider that 72 percent of buyers turn to Google during the research phase, as they seek out educational material, customer reviews and testimonials. Understandably, Google’s Keyword Planner tool is popular. However, a simple online search will surface a number of alternate, free tools to help you understand how people are searching for products and information related to your offering.
Second, source tools can help you assess the technical structure of your website to identify other areas where you might be penalized, such as page speed load time, mobile unfriendly design or broken links. While the world of SEO can seem complex and overwhelming, very simple changes can make a huge difference in how search engines scan, rank and serve your pages to the world. Here are two tips to get your started:
- Retail sites with online product galleries need to ensure product images have accurate, search-friendly naming structures.
- Don't simply copy and paste manufacturer product descriptions as Google and other search engines may actually penalize your site for having duplicate content.
Customer Centricity: In a commitment to the development of more “urban stores,” Target must detach from its traditional 135,000-square-foot model with large, easy loading docks, and undertake the more complicated task of building out retail locations with limited shelf space, urban delivery issues and limited parking. Why? Increasing its number of brick-and-mortar locations enables Target to offer its great deals to a growing urban population. More important than the execution is the idea that's driving this bold new move. The modern retail experience now happens across multiple channels; understanding how to deliver the the right mix of in-store, website, social and mobile purchase opportunities is the retailer’s equivalent of gravitational pull. The takeaway? Move beyond your website and empower social and mobile experiences to draw customers toward your brand as well.
- Have a plan for social. A recent study revealed 78 percent of respondents said that companies’ social media posts impact their purchases. Invest time researching what mix of social channels your audience is active on and craft regular, interesting and creative content relevant to the world around your brand.
- If you don’t have a mobile strategy in place, it’s time to create one — and fast. According to comScore, 44 percent of retail minutes are spent on mobile phones. At a minimum, you must ensure your site is responsive or mobile and tablet enabled. Innovative companies should also explore beacon and geo-targeting strategies. In both types of channels, deliver appropriate, helpful content and don’t just push ads.
Omnichannel: Omnichannel isn’t just about being present in multiple channels, it’s about providing a perfect, seamless experience regardless of channel. Target realized recently that 98 percent of its shoppers will browse products online at some point, and a large percentage of those individuals do so on mobile devices. However, this doesn’t mean that they make their purchase on a mobile device. Activities like webrooming (i.e., researching online and buying in-store) and showrooming (i.e., researching in-store and buying cheaper online) confirm that shoppers are now using multiple strategies and channels to craft a retail experience that meets their needs for price and convenience.
Consider a showrooming-like experience where a shopper finds a product they like in-store, then uses their mobile phone to send a link to their email for a desktop purchase later. If the link is a mobile-only link and your website isn't designed to sense what device your customer is on, the desktop experience will be sized for mobile. The small, awkward window could either distract from or deter the buying experience.
To deliver a true omnichannel experience, your technology stack needs to be able to deliver against three critical functions: real-time listening, clean customer data and rapid reaction. Real-time listening technology needs to plug into every channel where your audience is active and listen for triggers relevant to your brand, then pull that information into your customer database. When you have customer information in your database, you need to be able to clean that data regularly, understanding what's relevant, what requires immediate action, and what should be saved for later. Lastly, rapid reaction capabilities need to empower you to deliver content, messages and offers at lightning speed as customer preferences and needs are revealed.
As paths to purchase become increasingly complex, modern-day retailers need to get comfortable with the idea of testing and harnessing the powers of innovative technology. If SEO can put you on your customer’s radar, and a customer-centric approach ensures you have the right path of channel alignment to draw your customer toward your products, then true omnichannel delivery is like the mother ship of your endeavors. Steer in the direction of your customers and ensure your company will live long and prosper.
Paul Mandeville is the chief product officer at QuickPivot, a multichannel marketing platform for retailers.