E–commerce has changed the way we shop forever. But the traditional shopping experience is very much alive and kicking, with 90 percent of transactions still completed in physical stores. For brick-and-mortar retailers to succeed in a market dominated by online retail giants, they must first make their customer’s shopping journey as frictionless as possible by creating digital connections that can transform their businesses and “digitally augment” their stores. These are the retailers that can connect with customers through digital and mobile channels at every step of the shopping journey.
Digital technology is an opportunity for retailers, not a threat. Instead of worrying about losing customers to your online competitors, leverage the technology to beat those digital-first rivals at their data-driven strategic game. What exactly is a digitally augmented store? It can be any physical store, restaurant or venue with a point of sale — but with the advantage of having a digital “layer” that allows the business to communicate with customers via various channels. This includes communications that can be delivered via email, text, mobile apps and social networks, as well as services such as navigation, reviews and ordering at any time throughout the shopping journey.
Three ways to build a digitally augmented store
With a digitally augmented store, it becomes possible to deliver on today’s consumer expectations — convenience, speed and real-time, relevant information. These are the things that e-commerce delivers, without the need to visit a store. But delivering these expectations, with the added advantage of try-before-you-buy, expert advice from experienced staff and immediacy, can make a store visit more than worthwhile.
For retailers ready to embrace digital technology, the question is: How do you create a digitally augmented store? Here are three suggestions for all types of retailers and customer-facing businesses.
Bridge the digital gap between your online and physical locations
Maintain a consistent digital presence. This consists of a good website and a robust mobile app so consumers can find you, your products and your stores when they are researching online. Ensure that your website and app can maximize conversion both online and offline, by persuading a consumer to visit your physical location, for service appointments or to collect or return purchases they have bought online. Then it becomes essential to ensure you are able to continue connecting with the shopper when they come into a store. For some retailers, digital engagement stops at the physical location simply because they offer patchy or no secure public Wi-Fi or mobile data connectivity at all.
This is what Tim Mason, Eagle Eye CEO, and I call the “digital black hole”
In our book, “Omnichannel Retail: How to Build Winning Stores in a Digital World,” we urge retailers to bridge the gap between their digital and physical sales presence by making sure their physical locations are able to digitally connect with customer because it’s the key to continuing the digital engagement with customers in-store.
Through a mobile app, the retailer can help the customer find check whether a product he or she needs is available in their nearest store. In a restaurant or bar, the F&B operator can offer order-ahead service and a timely discount while the customer is right there. For a grocer or supermarket, shoppers can scan digital coupons using their smartphones and offer scan-and-pay for checkout speed and convenience. There are endless possibilities for using mobile to augment the shopping experience.
Become an omnichannel retailer
The Latin root of “omni–” means all. In the term “omnichannel retail,” omni refers to the fact that consumers don’t distinguish between channels anymore or between online or offline shopping when they are under the same brand. As a retailer, you shouldn’t be making a distinction either. Instead, your business operations should be focused on making the everyday shopping experience more convenient and personalized across different channels you know your customers use.
Regardless of the term’s origin, being an omnichannel retailer is about being where customers want you to be whenever they choose to engage with you. Whether it’s on your website or on Facebook or Instagram, they should get the information they need and the same coherent and positive experience from your brand. To avoid creating channel silos, pick a powerful digital marketing platform that will give you the capability to deliver seamless, one-to-one customer engagement regardless of the channel.
Use DIAL as a strategic advantage
One of the biggest advantages of digital technology is the valuable customer data it provides. You can learn a lot about a particular customer when he or she uses your mobile app, registers as a loyalty program member or redeems a discount coupon. Using data from different digital touchpoints, you can personalize your messaging to customers in contrast to competitors who continue to send generic content.
In “Omnichannel Retail,” we introduced the term DIAL (Data, leading to Insight, driving Action to promote Loyalty) as a method for creating a strategic advantage in customer communications. Use the data you get from digital interactions to draw meaningful insights about customer behaviors, which you could in turn leverage to develop more compelling messaging and offers (action). Marketing communications based on digitally-enabled and data-driven insights will always be much more targeted and relevant, which a prerequisite to earning a customer’s engagement and their loyalty.
Winning in the Digital era
Online or offline, customers want the satisfaction of a great buy and a smooth shopping experience. Brick-and-mortar retailers have the distinct advantage of offering the chance to touch a product, the gratification of getting it on the spot, plus the assistance of staff who are there to help. Build a digitally augmented store to boost that advantage against those that operate online or offline-only. Not only can you enrich your interactions with customers and nurture their loyalty, you’ll expand your customer reach and enable sales growth for years to come.
About the author: Miya Knights is Head of Industry Insight at Eagle Eye, a leading SaaS technology company that enables businesses to create real-time connections with their customers through digital and mobile promotion solutions. With nearly 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and research director specializing in enterprise technology use in retail, she has spent this time reporting on the demands and challenges faced by retailers and which technologies can best support their needs in addressing ever-more complex consumer expectations and behaviors. She also has comprehensive knowledge and understanding of vendor market trends. Prior to joining Eagle Eye, she was Global Technology Research Director at Planet Retail, and a Senior Research Analyst with IDC Retail Insights.