Focus on: Holiday Prep

As retailers mobilize for holidays, customer engagement is key

There’s no question about it: Shoppers will have more options than ever before when it comes to shopping this holiday, from where and how they shop to how they pay. Given the myriad of choices available, experts agree that one of the keys to a successful holiday season — and long-term survival — is customer engagement.

By giving shoppers easy access to more customer touchpoints using both personal and store-level proprietary devices, retailers will be in a better position to drive customer relationships and sales. Here are some examples of how retailers are using innovative solutions to increase customer engagement:

• Geo-location-based Mobile Marketing

The proliferation of smart mobile devices has changed the retailing paradigm, as shoppers access e-commerce sites, social media, online customer reviews and even pay for purchases right from the palms of their hands.

By integrating a mobile platform that allows retailers to interact with consumers through their own personal devices, chains are inching closer to the “holy grail” of one-to-one personalized relationships. Geo-location-based marketing messages can help achieve this goal.

Austin, Texas-based University Co-op, which operates on the University of Texas campus, has deployed Digby’s mobile marketing platform, Localpoint, an opt-in program that delivers targeted messages to shoppers when they check in to the store, as they move through the space and when they scan bar codes and read reviews.

Shoppers download “The Co-op” app and the device’s GPS interacts with University Co-op’s SSID (service set identifier), or a name assigned to the retailer’s Wi-Fi network, creating a geo-fence. When the app is launched, the geo-fence detects a smartphone user’s proximity, and as they approach or enter a store, the app delivers personalized messages that can be stored in the app’s “offer wallet.” To redeem offers, customers simply click on their desired promotion and show the screen to the cashier. The app is available for both iPhone and Android smart devices.

Localpoint’s analytics tool gives the retailer insight into repeat visits, unique visitors, bar-code and QR code scans, offer redemptions, and time spent at each location. The tool determines patterns, and measures the economic impact and success of marketing initiatives.

“This is a fresh strategy and we are already seeing a significant impact,” said Brian Jewell, University Co-op’s VP marketing.

• “SoLoMo” Loyalty

When apparel retailer Guess?, Inc. was ready to launch its exclusive loyalty program, it decided to tap into the power of a social-local-mobile (SoLoMo) strategy.

A concept that evolved through the popularity of smartphones and tablets, SoLoMo integrates geo-location and the use of social media to allow retailers to gain a more intimate relationship with their shoppers.

“When retailers ask too much of their shoppers, loyalty tends to drop,” said Michael Relich, CIO and executive VP IT, Guess, Los Angeles, which operates 503 stores in the United States and Canada and 264 stores in Europe, Asia and Latin America. “By tying social media with our CRM [customer relationship marketing] database, we have access to more information than we could ever capture on our own.”

The retailer invites shoppers to download its mobile app to gain access to accrued loyalty points connected to previous purchases, new arrivals, a store locator, a gift-giving guide, a QR code scanner for merchandise scans and to receive geo-location-based promotions. If they link their personal Facebook account to the app, a token within Facebook gives Guess access to shopper information and navigation across the Guess fan page.

The company also aligns this information with a CRM database in the cloud “to do analytics on customer preferences and trends,” Relich explained. “Facebook allow us to learn about our customers and successfully do micro-segmentation.”

• The Next-Gen of FAQs  (Frequently Asked Questions)

A retailer’s e-commerce site is often an omni-channel shopper’s first stop in the path to purchase. Details such as price, item attributes and even customer reviews are often available, helping to shape her overall decision. However, sometimes consumers need a deeper insight into merchandise.

Adorama, a New York City-based photography and related accessories multichannel retailer, improved the user experience of its website in time for last year’s holiday season. Its updated site design > features tools that help shoppers make better buying decisions, including buyer’s guides, gift-finder tools and a new question-and-answer tool from TurnTo Networks, New York City.

“Customer service is important all year long, but most importantly, during the holiday season,” said Glen Holman, CIO for the multichannel retailer. “Some shoppers troll forums and customer reviews to get answers about merchandise, but we go one step further. Our shoppers have specific technical questions, so we offer a community that can answer specific questions.”

When shoppers click on a product, they see an “Ask a Question” icon on the product’s page, which allows consumers to pose a question by clicking on a “Discuss” button. The question is sent out via email to other shoppers who have purchased the item in question. As responses come into the TurnTo tool, they are forwarded to the shopper via email and also posted on Adorama’s site.

Adorama has been using the tool for almost 12 months, and during testing, the emails had a 9% response rate, with consumers receiving an average of 4.3 answers per questions. A majority of these answers were received within 24 hours.

While other companies rely on FAQs or live chat to deliver immediate responses, these options are better suited for more common, general questions, such as those about customer service or sales information.

“Our incoming questions are very detailed and specific about our merchandise, how it works and functionality,” Holman explained. “Allowing them to ask specific questions and giving them detailed responses are big advantages over static reviews. We feel we are building communities around specific mini-topics.”

• Digital Signage

Eager to help shoppers make educated purchase decisions and find their desired product, more retailers are adding innovative digital signage solutions to in-store customer engagement strategies.

“While e-commerce is a strong piece of the [omni-channel] retailing equation, chains need to ensure their store-level experience reflects the ease and convenience of shopping online,” said Corbin Webster, an IT contractor who is currently working on projects for retailers, including Kroger and Kohl’s. “Deploying digital signage can help retailers keep the customer engaged and streamline the  shopping experience.”

SaskTel, a Canadian-based wireless retailer, knows this challenge first-hand. The popularity of smart technology keeps its 11 stores buzzing with shoppers, but long waits to complete transactions were impacting the overall customer experience. When the company began a three-year store redesign program, it put consumer-centricity at the top of its priority list and chose digital signage as a means to deliver consistent information across the chain.

“The screens broadcast wireless rate plans, accessories, as well as static promotions, information that is paramount for shoppers make better purchase decisions,” explained Joel Ganong, marketing manager, SaskTel.

Currently, four digital screens feature product information, as well as up to six 42-in. monitors that display advertising messages.

Since installing the digital screens last spring, Ganong reported that SaskTel has increased sales by an average of 58%, compared with stores not yet using the electronic signs.

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