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Representatives from Abercrombie & Fitch, Saks, and Maxymizer, a multivariate testing, personalization, and optimization firm, gathered last week at Econsultancy’s JUMP event in New York to discuss how retail can solve the riddles posed by today’s technological advances and changing consumer habits.

As retailers try to connect the shopping experience over multiple channels, this was a perfect discussion for all those looking to create a better retail journey for their customers.

Led by moderator Vicki Cantrell of the National Retail Federation, the panel of experts lit on five key solutions.

1. Say my name, say my name: The power of identity

No example spoke more to the importance of identity for the consumer experience than the one shared by Billy May, VP at Abercrombie & Fitch, which aims for a younger demographic. According to focus groups run by Abercrombie & Fitch, that age group is no fan of ATMs. “They think the interface is dumb and slow,” he said. 

Whereas he could think of nothing easier than putting a card into a machine and then pulling it out, the Millenial Generation is “used to Facebook, which is a real-time interface,” May said. “There’s an element of identity that’s already created.” 

The customer data that that identity yields, May believes, is “the lifeblood of [the] truly personalized experience.” For instance, if Abercrombie & Fitch cookies a customer on a desktop, but the customer next visits the site on a mobile device, the only way the retailer can still recognize that particular person is through an identity piece, like a Facebook login.

“I do think that will become even more critical,” he said, “which is why you’re seeing retailers explore loyalty programs more so than they have in years past.”

2. Exploit social networks

Admittedly, monetizing social networks is difficult, conceded Maxymizer founder Mark Simpson, but he believes there’s a way wrangle value: Use Facebook data to aid the personalization of the consumer’s web or mobile experience. 

“You can actually get a lot of insight from each of those individuals that interact with you,” he said, “their gender, their age, where they live, whether they’re married.” 

Take that data, Simpson recommended, and use it to serve more relevant content, whether that’s through a web channel, mobile, or even back on a Facebook page.

Instagram is the social network of choice for May. “It’s raw. It’s of the moment,” he said and, for retailers, it offers a cheaper way to showcase a catalog. 

With Instagram, “you’re not doing expensive photo shoots or page production where you’re looking at revenue per square inch,” said May.

3. Empower store associates

Right now consumers have the upper hand. They walk into a store and they’ve got smartphones or apps or tablets, and the store associate has what? A bar scanner, a walkie-talkie for paging the fitting room, a land line by the register? How is that fair?

For Saks Direct, the online channel for Saks Fifth Avenue, the answer lies in empowering their store associates. With the iPads that the company has started to widely distribute, associates can now “see runway videos of different products,” explained Michael Burgess, president of Saks Direct, giving those employees a chance “to really clientele the sale and build the relationship with the customer.”

4. Create seamless experiences

Customers are loyal to brands, not channels, argued May, but the channel experience can’t be a bumpy ride, countered Simpson.

“That’s one of the key challenges of mobile is making sure that when someone’s doing research on a mobile phone,” he said, “they’re able to come on their laptop when they get home from commuting or whatever and buy what they researched or find the same content again.”

Companies are further challenged in insuring that experience is personalized, but luckily, they don’t have to invest a fortune in the personalization game, said Simpson. 

There are SaaS out there now that ease the burden, and retailers should take advantage of them because “companies who do personalize the experience and engage and become more relevant are going to become much more trusted brands, whereas those that don’t will fall by the wayside fairly quickly,” he said.

5. Integrate internally

The external omnichannel marketing push consumers are experiencing is being mirrored internally within as even highly matrixed organizations like Saks are seeing greater integration across departments.

Said Burgess,

What we’re seeing as we move to omnichannel is an integration, a matrix-reporting structure. In some areas, it’s already advance, like in marketing, where all of marketing reports to the CMO. We’re starting to see teams collaborate. You’ll see more integrated reporting structures at the top. That is rolling across every function because, at the end of the day, it’s better for the customer to have that integrated experience. It’s better for the company. Keeping that goal in mind is really what’s allowing us to move forward.”

Cielo Lutino

Published 6 February, 2013 by Cielo Lutino

Cielo Lutino is a writer and producer for Econsultancy and other organizations. 

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