The smartphone is responsible for the emergence of omnichannel marketing. In fact, the smartphone has become the centre of most of our lives, with over three-quarters of the entire UK population now owning one - and most using it as though it were an extension of our own bodies.
It has also intrinsically changed the way that we shop. A report from Think with Google recently reported that 71% of shoppers who use their smartphone for product research and price comparison whilst in-store say that their phone has become an integral part of their shopping experience.
The same study also found that consumers want more information and - crucially - customisation of their experiences during their shopping journey. Visiting a store is not just to buy something anymore; it is a holistic experience, an experience for which a strong sense that the brand knows and wants to meet their individual needs is paramount.
85% of shoppers responded to the Think with Google study saying that they would be more inclined to shop with a brand that offered personalised coupons and exclusive in-store offers.
Not only do shoppers hanker after a discount, however. 64% would be more likely to shop with a store that provided recommendations specifically for them, and 54% would like to know what their friends and family have purchased there.
Many retailers already use social media to promote their in-store products. But the customer doesn’t just want to know what’s on the shelves at their local store. They want to be able to click through from their social media feed to access the promotion, buy the item, and either have it delivered or made available for them to pick up in store… all from their mobile.
Facebook, being - as always - ahead of the game, knows this. And so, it has launched Facebook Dynamic Ads, which level the playing field for smaller brands to customise shopping experiences at a level previously only available to the big brands.
Facebook Dynamic Ads allow brands to showcase the products available in the shop closest to the person who is seeing the ad on social. If there’s a big nationwide sale happening, the Dynamic Ads functionality will present social media shoppers with only sales products that are in stock at their local branch. As the products sell out, the Dynamic Ads are automatically updated and people in that location will no longer see the out-of-stock product advertised.
What’s more, by analysing previous shopping behaviour, the ads each individual sees will be optimised so that they only see products they are likely to be genuinely interested in.
In the past, straight up demographic targeting was the tool of the digital retail marketing trade. Just targeting potential customers based on their age group, income, gender, race, or interests is simply not enough. It never was, and it certainly isn’t now.
Customers are diverse, regardless of your product offering. They each have their own individual needs, and follow different purchase journeys. Whilst mobile is becoming increasingly the norm, for example, some still prefer a purely in-store experience or to do all their shopping direct from their desktop.
It is therefore important for brands to take into account these differences in behaviour and to be flexible to the myriad ways these customers reach the ultimate end-point. With the technology now to hand, we have the power of machine learning to help us gather data and offer increasingly customised experiences to engage and guide customers at each stage of their journey.
The use of lean manufacturing to offer customised products that correlate directly with a customer’s omnichannel experience is the Holy Grail for retail brands.
Take, for an example, a customer who we can ascertain is interested in a polka dot skirt, but has browsed several different skirts featuring stripes. We know she is most interested in the polka dot skirt because she has either viewed it multiple times, liked it on social media, clicked through on it through social media, or added it to a ‘wishlist’ on your website. However, she has been using search engines for striped skirts, has maybe created a Pinterest board about striped skirts, or searched ‘striped skirts’ directly on your website.
You could either present her with your range of striped skirts, albeit in a different style to the polka dot one she has singled out, or you could offer to tailor the polka dot skirt she likes in any of the stripes available in other styles. You have the fabric in your factory warehouse, after all.
If you can do this, you are offering that customer something that is specific to her needs. She knows you care about what she wants. You are making a profoundly generous offer to go out of your way to present what she wants.
Where this scenario is remotely viable within your production setup, it should be implemented. It is, admittedly, an offering that could involve massive overhaul for a lot of brands. Nonetheless, as we move to an increasingly omnichannel retail world, it is an overhaul that has the potential for strong brand differentiation.
Data is at the heart of providing a truly customised shopping experience. We have more tools than ever to help us understand our customers and target them on an individual basis. The key is both in the collecting of data and knowing how to structure and read that data. Only then can we give each customer what they really desire.
The use of machine learning algorithms to create recommendation engines is something that global monolith, Amazon, has been doing for years. It is an effective strategy for aiding the customisation of online retail experience that works across all channels. However, it only works when a customer is signed into their account. Therefore, central to building a strong omnichannel strategy is getting a customer to sign into a personal account for your brand. This should be a quick and straightforward process, involving hardly any data collection at point of signup. A lengthy sign-up process is what will drive customers away.
There must also be an incentive to have an account. Discount codes and exclusive offers are the bread-and-butter of this. Once they have an account, you can build a relationship with them, get to know their search and purchasing habits across all their devices, and serve them content and products that meet their specific needs.
The deeper you can customise a customer’s shopping experience, the more chance you stand of repeat custom. Not only this, but you are also future-proofing your brand against ever-more sophisticated developments in the omnichannel customisation race. It is a time of sink-or-swim for retailers, and without customisation firmly in mind, the brands that do not swim with the omnichannel tide will certainly sink.