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How Retailers Can Successfully Combine Online & Offline Experiences

Lindsay Tjepkema
Lindsay Tjepkema , Global Head of Content , Emarsys

Have you ever wandered past one of your favorite stores, blissfully unaware of the special discounts hidden within those four walls, or turned green with envy as your best friend parades their latest bargain in front of your very nose? Whether the answer is yes, no, maybe, or please stop asking stupid questions, the fact is we all still buy some products in physical retail stores.

I am sure there are some outlandish and completely unproven statistics to refute that statement, but until you have the product in your hands (or on your body), satisfaction is not guaranteed. Purchasing online can certainly have its drawbacks: the fabric color of that new dress clashes dreadfully with those light blue earrings, or the shoes that never quite fit even though they are your exact size, are just two examples of why physical stores will not be going the way of the Dodo any time soon.

Virtual Reality vs. In Store Experience

The immediacy of in-store purchases is something that cannot be replaced until virtual reality shopping finally takes off in the 24th century. Drifting around the shop floor is still very much a sensory experience, as the eyes, nose, and fingers still have the final say. The amazing Website images of an imitation Rococo table, or the gloriously high resolution photograph of those calf-skin jodhpurs, worn by the muscle-bound model riding a purebred stallion at sunset may, in reality, tempt you into two of the worst purchases ever made by a human being. The point, which I have belabored somewhat, is that we still want and need to shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

But let’s just hold our respective horses for a second, it is not as easy as that. The whole purchasing process has become far more complex as more channels have been added to the mix. Many of us don’t like to read lengthy text blocks, so here is a little diagram with which I am sure everyone is familiar.

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The store now has your details on record, and you will get regular email and communication, but this is usually ignored or filtered if it is not relevant or personalized.

Let’s fast-forward a few weeks. You are in the proximity of the store and get a message that there is a 50% reduction on helmets for one day only! You have indeed been considering some kind of cranium protection, and since you are in both the vicinity and the mood, decide to take advantage of this wonderful offer.

What About Privacy?

“But, how do they know? Are they spying on me? What about my privacy?” These are all common concerns. Geofencing was not used in the Cretaceous period, but arrived shortly after. When GPS is active it is actually very useful for transmitting messages to a fixed radius, and is very effective for longer distances. Beacons are more effective for those that leave Bluetooth on (which many of us do), and are extremely useful in micro locations such as sales points on the shop floor.

This type of tracking, combined with in-store promotion technology, is not some maleficent, Orwellian intrusion into our daily lives. If you don’t want to hear about some life-changing offer, just switch off Bluetooth. Remember, you are only receiving information. Of course, if you are completely paranoid, or keep everything you have ever done on your phone, then it may be wise to switch it off. That being said, if you are super paranoid then you are more than likely sitting in a nuclear bunker with a good stock of baked beans and distilled water to keep you company throughout the Armageddon years.

Creating Trust & Loyalty

So, let’s ignore the aforementioned personas and take a closer look at how this technology works. Highly relevant and timely content can actually help the customer. It is not annoying or lost in a spam folder, and can be regarded as a recommendation by a trusted friend who is trying to provide you with the best assistance possible, at the right time.

If this lovely friend helps save you money time and time again, the chances are you will trust them even more in the future. Stamping trust and loyalty into the mental data bank is something that takes time, and it can work conversely as well; make a mistake and suddenly the memory has a negative association with your name. I won’t delve into the neural machinery underlying trust and loyalty, but it is something every marketer has to keep on the radar, and is certainly imperative when it comes to keeping a customer informed and engaged with personalized content that matters to them.

If you’re like me, you, too, have the very rewarding loyalty card from The David Hasselhoff Museum of Beachwear. I then registered online and procured a bandana on the website, circled the latest ironless red shorts in the monthly magazine, received weekly (yet not-so-carefully disguised) up-sell emails, and ultimately strongly considered buying a ticket to the latest Rock Hoff concert.

All these separate activities have been tracked, logged and consolidated (don’t be scared, this is going to help). Of course, maybe you don’t want your Hoff activity to be public knowledge, but all your data is safely stored in a highly security compliant cloud.  We happen to sidle by a ticket office and suddenly get an SMS that offers a 70% discount for that day only. Your wallet is full, and you just can’t resist the offer. It’s a win-win situation.

Final Thoughts

So now, we have all this data together in one understandable and actionable format that keeps the customer engaged. There are very few platforms out there today that can actually do this in a sophisticated, automated way. Maybe it is time to start using one… See you in the VIP lounge at the next Hoff concert!

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