Brick-and-mortar retail isn’t the darling it used to be for consumers. As e-commerce has exploded in recent years, brands have waged a daunting battle for foot traffic and in-store sales. The trend has forced retailers to take a hard look at themselves to determine ways to fight back by adapting to the evolving retail landscape. While this pressure has forced some retailers to close their doors, others realize that this surge of technology provides added opportunities to merge online and offline experiences to seize back market share. Think about it this way: if brick-and-mortar retail was dead, would Amazon.com open physical stores? The key for thriving in the new retail reality is rooted in a brand’s ability to use Internet of Things (IoT) data.
Retailers have a vast amount of data available at their fingertips to drive decisions that can help differentiate them from competitors. The connected world enables companies to interact digitally with in-store customers, link their online presence to physical brick-and-mortar locations, and cost effectively deliver on omnichannel expectations (e.g., offering location-based promotions due to a customer’s smartphone geolocation, using online sales data to influence physical store layouts). The first step for decision makers to make the most of the connected world is to integrate their data from all customer touchpoints.
The interactions that happen between consumers from an e-commerce site compared to in-store can vary, but the insights gained from each can help create better interactions for both. What are the most common searches that bring people to your website? What products or services are they most commonly looking for? What are some of the frustrations that are commonly expressed during in-store visits? Gaining insight into questions like these can not only help to improve your website design, but train employees to be on the lookout for these commonalities when consumers are in-store. However, unless you're getting a holistic view of your data, you’ll only get part of the picture. Additionally, going a layer deeper into your online data can provide interesting information. For example, are the interactions that happen on your mobile site negative in comparison to online interactions on the desktop website? If yes, you could be facing a platform issue.
Once your data is integrated, how do you use it to enhance both your online and offline experiences to meet customer expectations? With the amount of data that the IoT can bring, it’s important to maintain a focus on what will create a great experience regardless of where the customer interacts with your brand. We’ve all had bad experiences online, and the odds are that bad interaction impacted your willingness to check out that retailer in person. But what if that retailer was able to gather the data that identifies what triggers those bad experiences and put practices in place to avoid them? Do that, and you’ve just gained a competitive advantage. Or, for example, imagine you have site search data that tells you a large amount of people on the East Coast are searching for winter coats on your site. This type of insight could enable you to stock your stores with the item customers are looking for, saving them from having to wait for it to ship to them directly.
While trying to understand how collecting data from in-store and online can seem complex, the tools to gather and analyze these valuable data sources should be intuitive and simplistic to understand and share with key decision makers. Once you’ve identified the data points that are important to your success, the right tool should be able to seamlessly gather and present it in a digestible way that allows for meaningful action. For example, if your goal is to convert more online/in-store visits into sales, the right tool should show you specifics on your current conversion rate, allowing for you to implement campaigns and measure success over time. These types of insights allow decision makers to get a competitive advantage over retailers that are slower to adapt. The most advanced retailers are grasping at this opportunity to develop more personalized profiles that are specific to singular customers. With that profile created, in-store associates can pull up the customer's sizes, online order history, etc., to provide a more catered experience. These advantages, made possible through data, are setting successful brands apart in this rapidly changing retail landscape.
The promises of the IoT are virtually endless, and we're in the infancy of taking advantage of its full potential. In the retail sector, where the landscape is arguably changing at a more rapid rate than any other business sector, the brands that understand how to collect, integrate and implement their rich data sources will be in the best position to capture growing e-commerce sales, while providing in-store experiences that create loyal customers.
Michael Corcoran is the chief marketing officer of Information Builders, a provider of business intelligence and data management solutions.
Related story: The 2017 Retail Technology Report