TECHNOLOGY

Don’t Blame Email: Retailers need to provide an adaptive customer experience

BY Jeff Hassemer

Reading business news and talking to retailers, I often hear about marketers’ disappointment in not reaching their email marketing goals. It’s become a real issue that they try to solve by sending more appealing emails with better offers more often. But still, it’s an uphill battle. Why? Because retailers aren’t really missing goals with email; the truth is that you can’t look at email as a stand-alone agent any longer.

Today’s Elusive Shopper

Here’s the deal, and this may be obvious to everyone: consumers no longer shop in a single channel nor in a linear fashion. Emails may not see a direct path from email sent >email opened->click through>purchase any longer. That’s so 2006. So, if you are trying to measure email performance by considering the email, you are missing the point.

Email generates demand. It reminds the customer that you are there and reminds them to shop. That said, the subject line has become the most important aspect of an email. Mostly because they are read on mobile devices or within a sea of other emails. If the subject line doesn’t catch the eye of the viewer, it’s deleted. And often, it is the only part of the email that is read.

Yes, mobile has become critical. Consider that over 36% of mobile subscribers use iPhones or iPads to read email and 34% of subscribers only use mobile devices to read emails. (Informz). And that 80% of Internet users own a smartphone. Ignore it at your peril.

But there is still a key point to remember: Email – wherever it appears – is just one facet of a customer journey that has fast become unmappable.

Customers Off the Map

As marketers, our goal is to influence our customers’ decisions. We know that if we provide engaging and relevant experiences, they will reciprocate with loyalty, which leads to increased lifetime value. We set up defined customer journeys and triggered events to help us automate our ability to deliver the right message at the right time to influence decision making, and hopefully achieve our business objective. Right?

But what happens when deviates from the defined journey?

If they abandon their online cart, but then buy the items in the store instead of online, they most likely will still receive an email three days later reminding them to buy those same items online. Is that the best possible customer experience? If a loyal customer is overdue on their annual account renewal, but is displaying strong renewal behavior on their mobile app instead of the web, is emailing them a 20% discount code the smartest move?

Adaptive Customer Experience: Customers, Not Channels

The time has arrived for the adaptive customer experience, which can be defined as a customer experience that automatically adapts to the unpredictable behavior of your customers and naturally improves every single time a customer interacts with your brand no matter where and when the interaction occurs.

Since customers control when and where they interact with us, we need to shift focus from channels to always knowing the latest state of each customer relationship, no matter where and when they interact with us.

By converting our linear customer journeys into dynamic opportunity, we can let the customer control their journey while we make sure we have all their relevant information needed to recognize who they are and how to service them upon every interaction. Every time your customer interacts with your brand, the adaptive customer experience can use both historical and in-the-moment customer relationship information to deliver the right message. It can then dynamically spread the new state of that customer relationship across all potential touchpoints, in milliseconds.

This shift in focus means that your ecosystem gets updated with the latest state of that customer relationship so that every channel is prepared to leverage this new information, which is critical to deliver the right message when the next interaction occurs. No more annoying “abandoned shopping cart” email reminders when your customer already bought the products. No more unnecessary discounting when your customer was already going to renew. Instead, you are presented with a new opportunity to be one step ahead, maximizing customer lifetime value and increasing your power to influence.

Channels Roles in Customer Experience

Marketers can no longer look at channels separately. Channels are irrelevant to the strategy, they are a mechanism to reach the consumer only and guide the content, not the strategy. That said, you need to understand how you will use a channel.

I see it this way:

Email marketing is primarily to drive demand. Use it to start or keep a customer going down a purchase path.

Mobile is a highly personalized tool. Make sure that all email content is mobile optimized as well.

SMS is a customer service-oriented tool first. Use it sparingly for marketing.

Push is a great marketing tool, especially if combined with location and personalization.

Web is a demand-capture event. You need to provide a highly adaptive customer experience here that is tied to both your email and mobile strategy. It is all one strategy, not separate channel based concepts. Your emails should match the experience the user gets on the Web and vice versa.

In the end, it is time for marketing organizations to start forgetting about the channel and start organizing around the customer first, adapting to their needs instead of the other way around. Define the experience, starting with an audience and corporate objective for that audience. Then design the adaptive customer experience. This will take you much farther than a channel-centric approach.


Jeff Hassemer is chief strategy officer at Alterian, an adaptive customer experience company.

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TECHNOLOGY

Online fashion retailer launches limited-edition beauty collections

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Rue La La is bolstering its beauty sales by jumping into the beauty box category.

The online apparel retailer is partnering with Conde Nast's Allure magazine to get the hottest beauty merchandise into shoppers’ hands. The team collaborated to create a series of one-of-a-kind boxes filled with products hand-selected by Allure's beauty experts and Rue La La's beauty buyers.

The first box, which features 13 summer beauty essentials, is comprised of makeup, nail lacquer, dry shampoo and moisturizer, among other items, in a mix of travel and full sizes. The goal is to bring the finest items on the market — with selections across the beauty category — straight to consumers, according to the retailer.

"Beauty is one of the fastest-growing categories for Rue La La," said Jeff Steeves, senior VP marketing, Rue La La. "Our members expect the hottest, newest and best product on the market — so connecting with Allure to curate these boxes is invaluable and the perfect way to give our members exactly what they crave.”

The co-branded series consists of three boxes. The series will kick off with the summer box. The next will feature top picks for fall beauty, and another will launch for the holiday season, according to the retailer.

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TECHNOLOGY

Campus bookstore operator relies on cloud to service its loyal ‘Ducks’

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

No visit to the University of Oregon is complete without a stop at The Duck Store.

The Duck Store opened its doors on the University of Oregon campus in 1920. (The Oregon Duck is the mascot of the University of Oregon's Ducks athletic program). It has since grown into a 13-store fleet, with outposts at sporting venues and malls. It also operates an online store that can be accessed via laptop or mobile devices. In fact, half of its Web traf-fic comes from smartphones and tablets.

Serving students, facility, staff and alumni, the Duck Store sells food, coffee, course materials and apparel. It is also considered the second larg-est arts supplies store in the state. However, more competitors continue to hit the scene — from larger retailers to Amazon and pure plays featuring comparable merchandise and textbook rentals— and each one is trying to steal another piece of the collegiate sales pie.

Meanwhile, legacy systems, including an antiquated front end system, al-so began contributing to this loss of wallet share. These systems made it difficult for users to access data, and green-screen applications made fi-nancials, inventory and point-of-sale reporting a challenge. A lack of in-tegration between ERP and e-commerce platforms forced The Duck Store to run separate, disparate shopping carts for textbooks and general mer-chandise, taking a toll on inventory management.

“Between the competition we face from industry giants and the technolo-gy we are working on, it was increasingly challenging to meet needs of customers,” said Alex Lyons, technology team leader, The Duck Store.

Eager to best service its shoppers, whether they shop in-store or online, The Duck Store needed a new platform that could ensure shoppers and team members could the find products they need. That’s when the retailer transitioned to a cloud-based platform from NetSuite, which is integrated with ERP, order and e-commerce inventory management, POS and the Bronto Marketing Platform. The Duck Store is using NetSuite across all 13 of its locations and online.

Since going live in 2016, the platform has come in extremely handy when supporting game-day sales. “The store can see upwards of $100,000 on a game day,” explained Arlyn Schaufler, The Duck Store’s general manager.

“Midway through the day we can have our warehouse poll our inventory and see in real-time what our needs are,” he said. “We can also pull re-placement merchandise from other locations if needed,” to save the sale.

The platform also unifies its omnichannel operation. Inventory and pur-chasing managers have real-time visibility into 50,000 SKUs, from books to bumper stickers and sweatshirts, providing visibility into what is available and where it resides. From a digital perspective, The Duck Store has reduced its single-page bounce rate by 25%, increased pages viewed per session by almost 40%, and increased time on site by close to 60%.

The platform also enhances its mobile initiatives, as new filtering capabil-ities allow shoppers to conduct product searches by color, size and other variations. It also provide rich, seamless online experiences on any de-vice.

The Duck Store also now has up-to-date status on the fulfillment of any order in the works, whether it is being picked, packed, or shipped. “We love the transparency,” Lyons added.

Meanwhile, in-store pickups and returns of online orders has also been streamlined. In-store personnel now sees real-time inventory, helping the team better fulfill customer requests.

“As a unified solution, NetSuite has enabled us to make the leap towards 360-degree, customer-centric omnichannel commerce,” Lyons said. “We’re able to see customers who shop online and in stores and build loyalty in a broader sense.”

Positioning itself for the future, The Duck Store is currently customizing the platform to manage its complex textbook category. Upgrades will help the retailer optimize inventory and sales across hardcover and digital titles, rentals and buybacks, and new and used volumes.

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