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The Customer Experience Revolution: Why Online and Offline Must Speak with One Voice

As customers get more digitally empowered, they demand personalized experiences and walk away very fast from anything that seems to be irrelevant to them. Personalization nowadays doesn’t mean putting a customer into a specific target group, but really following all the steps of the individual customer journey. What’s complicated now is that touchpoints of that journey easily switch from online to offline and vice versa. And this is where state-of-the-art technology must jump in to address fast-changing customer behavior.

The Future is Omnichannel

International labor markets, information availability and digitalization have allowed brands to compete more or less using similar resources and channels. Brands have been focusing on innovating their e-commerce business, which has also become an oversaturated market over the last couple of years. Sure, having the items available for online purchase is now a must for the retailers. But physical stores aren’t going away – it’s quite the opposite, in fact.

We testify the era of digital-first brands going offline. Let’s think of Amazon and the acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017. With this $13.7 billion deal, the e-commerce giant went straight into over 450 physical locations, entering the $860 billion US grocery industry. These stores are not only new pickup and delivery points to meet customer demand, but also a valuable source of data that gives insights into customer behavior both in and out of the store. Another example of a digital-first retail brand to go offline is Glossier. Since the launch in 2014, Glossier has grown from a beauty blog to a $1 billion worth cosmetics brand. Some would say, the recipe of their success is nowadays a usual business model: leveraging social media, influencers and personal recommendations. But the thing is – Glossier was among the pioneers of digital-native brands, and now it’s among the first ones to recognize the value of offline for the omnichannel experience. The first Glossier stores were opened across the US only after the huge success of the web shop. By addressing the touchpoints of the customer journey that only a combination of digital and physical can facilitate, the company is disrupting the skincare & beauty industry in terms of both value proposition and customer experience. Today, the online market is oversaturated and it’s time to go back and enhance the offline experience, by using cutting-edge technology.

While there are many debates about whether online will kill brick-and-mortar stores, recent studies – as well as strategic moves of key retailers, show that it’s rather a synergetic relationship. Real omnichannel shoppers who regularly buy from a retailer both on- and offline spend 15% more per purchase than the ones who only buy using one channel, shows one of the recent studies.*  Macy’s has recognized that their omnichannel customers are 8 times more valuable than the ones who shop on one channel only, and made big organizational changes to address this fact five years ago. Technology is changing the customer behavior both in and out of the store – and that train is moving fast, whether you’re on board or not. Moreover, experiential retail is becoming its own form of marketing – one where technology plays a crucial role as well. Digital capabilities provide an opportunity for brands to broaden the offline value proposition and take the shopping experience to the next level.

Exploit the Potential of Every Interaction

As Google searches extend 5.6 billion per day with more than half of those happening on mobile, customer journey changes accordingly. It’s no doubt that mobile plays a crucial role in navigating consumers towards buying decisions. In fact, mobile capabilities have become a new “front door to the store”– we first research online, then go to the store to finish the purchase. 50% of people who search on mobile visit the store within the next dayIt is crucial for brands to understand the importance of a seamless transition. Customers don’t care if they talk to a chatbot, a customer service agent, or an in-store sales assistant. For them, it’s one brand and one customer experience. Moreover, it’s not even about seamless journeys anymore – it’s about maximizing the possibilities of every single touchpoint. With the power of data, technology, and AI, there are endless opportunities for brands to help customers navigate to the purchase.

If we remember traditional marketing, which mostly happened in the offline world – we will probably think of mass advertising. Let’s think of a billboard on the highway, for example. Surely, it is a targeted message in some way – it may be about the products or services drivers may need. But there is so much more to narrow down. How old are these drivers? What car do they drive, how often do they drive? Where are they headed?

Now think further – today, it’s still almost the same with stores. You can change the outfit in your window every day. You can show a special deal of the day. Yes – your brand, in general, has a certain target group. But individual customers still prefer different jeans styles. They are different body types or prefer different colors. Your store window simply cannot match everything. Additionally, our phones have become our best in-store advisors. We research items online when we are about to make a purchase in-store – and we do it proactively. If digital channels can track customer behavior in real-time and generate perfect personalization online, why not leverage that to address every micro-moment happening offline as well? Looking at that same phone, I could get notifications tailored to my preferences and most recent activity in-store, that could help me in making my buying decision. Shopping environments must be supported and enhanced by technological components, and only as such, retailers will be able to excite the customers and stay competitive on the market.

Technology Empowering Human Touchpoints

Recently I went shopping for a sports item together with my friend. We went into a store of a big sports goods retailer and looked for a specific item. There were a bunch of these items on the same shelf – all of them on sale, all of them marked with the same price, which was also stated on the website. We took one and went to the cashier. It turned out the price was different than shown. We asked the store assistant if she could find out what the problem was, but she said she cannot help us – the billing system showed her the full price and there was nothing she could do. My friend decided not to buy that item, but she wanted to look around the store and find something similar. However, I asked her if we could walk away. Then we searched the mall’s website to find similar stores to that one and went to buy the item in another place.

Obviously, there was an issue in their back-office process, affecting the overall customer experience. That’s one problem – a major one, of course. But it gets worse. The store assistant didn’t know that even though I was about to buy a small item that day, a couple of months ago I bought a way more expensive piece of clothing in their store. I was a loyal customer who came back, but my trust got broken that day and the staff didn’t do anything about it. Here are some possible scenarios – if we had a chance to leverage technology to enhance our interaction that day. If she had known what products I was browsing online before coming into the store, she could have easily suggested something different within my preferred price range. Seeing my buying history would have allowed her to ask me how I was feeling about my recent purchases or say that she knows I am a loyal customer and offer a discount the next time I shop. At the end of the day – I could have been asked about my experience with a specific store assistant, share my feedback and get some kind of a gift card or a discount because of a poor experience. Not to mention that this retailer would benefit from first-hand feedback about the staff. A moment of frustration could have been turned into a moment of delight, but this chance was lost. Instead, I went to another store.

Qualified staff is an important point of the overall customer experience. Brands focus on implementing e-commerce platforms and often forget that in-store experience can also be enhanced with the help of technology – and very often it requires way less effort for a much better result. If we are able to perfectly target customers online based on behavioral data, think about all the ways we could empower store assistants that are already intelligent human beings. There are so many unexplored in-store shopping possibilities, and the race for a brilliant omnichannel experience only begins.

Mila Petrovic NETCONOMY

Mila Petrovic, Demand Generation Strategist

Experienced in developing positioning and messaging strategies and running marketing projects within the Technology & Software industry. Passionate about innovation, customer behavior and brand building. Inspired by the power of content marketing and effective storytelling. Driven to contribute to growing people, teams and organizations, and helping brands to provide outstanding experiences.