Attract and connect: How to engage customers in retail
The best way to determine how to engage customers in retail is to understand them on an individual level. While this may seem like an impossible task, big data and machine learning are making it easier to discover what drives consumers to buy and stay loyal to a brand. Individuals freely provide data brands can use to better understand consumer buying behavior. Marketers just need to know where to look for this information. By engaging with consumers in the places they congregate online, and using that information to heighten the in-store experience, brands can improve sales and increase market share.
When attempting to compete with digital shopping, retailers look to digitally enhancing the brick-and-mortar experience rather than pouring all of their resources into eCommerce. Brick-and-mortar shopping still offers many benefits to consumers that online-only options can’t compete with, like the ability to physically interact with products and take immediate delivery. Using mobile options can improve the ability to connect with consumers in the store and target them with personalized offers.
Understanding the Needs of Customers Through Big Data
Social media mining is one of the main tactics brands and retailers leverage to gain information about consumers without invading their privacy. This strategy makes use of public text posts to discover trends and determine which types of marketing provide the highest ROI. Brands may target one particular platform when mining this information, or they may use an aggregation of data based on brand name mentions.
Unilever—a company that boasts over 500 brands in its portfolio—has an active data analyses program which helps them gain insight on consumer perception and how it impacts sales across their categories of products. The company uses their own proprietary process for acquiring this data and uses it to make informed marketing decisions. Unilever underlined the power of this strategy in an evaluation that disproved all the assumptions made regarding one of their most popular brands: Ben & Jerry’s.
Ice cream as a product has a few typical assumptions made about it which would impact marketing. Most individuals consider it a summer treat, designed to cool people down in hot weather. They may also think of it as an impulse buy, rather than a product consumers plan to purchase. These assumptions impacted ice cream marketing industry-wide for decades.
However, in 2015, Unilever’s data showed that ice cream is not an impulse buy. They noted individuals tended to talk about it on social media from Wednesday to Friday but saved their purchasing for Saturdays. Also, those same posts showed Unilever that consumers didn’t typically care about the weather when it came to buying ice cream, choosing the treat on rainy days as often as sunny ones.
This data was used in the planning of Unilever’s programmatic and organic content marketing. The company knew that banner ads for Ben & Jerry’s, for example, wouldn’t perform well on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, as social media showed individuals spoke about the product later in the week. This allowed the company to time their ads more appropriately. They avoided wasting PPC funds on advertising on low-interest days and were able to put those funds towards increased ad purchases on higher-interest days. Through data, the company was able to gain insight into consumer behavior.
Brands should consider how they may have allowed assumptions regarding certain products to color their marketing. Then, they should use the data that’s already available to prove or disprove those existing theories. This strategy helps brands target advertising more effectively and discover new markets. It can even assist in guiding consumers through the purchase journey in the shopping aisle.
Using Mobile Apps to Guide Consumers in the Store
Mobile apps can enhance the customer shopping experience by helping to guide them to products which may interest them. Consumers download mobile apps and agree to receive advertisements and other information from them, which eliminates the often disruptive aspect of marketing. These apps deliver a level of personalization which other advertisements can’t. There are several reasons for this, including:
Access to user details:
Retailer rewards programs have access to more information which offers a way to customize a message based on an individual's specific details. Consider a virtual video greeting that pops up when a consumer enters a store and greets them by name. This app-based program establishes a dialog with the consumer and gets them more invested in their shopping experience. It also reduces the need for a physical greeter in the entry-way, allowing stores to better allocate personnel.
Messages based on a consumer’s location offer heightened impact as they display when a consumer is near a specific product. This proximity marketing piques interest and can drive sales by making consumers aware of a product which they weren’t before receiving the message. It also allows places like restaurants and service-based businesses to offer limited-time deals during high traffic hours.
Branded interaction and priming:
Mobile app advertising helps brands guide consumers to products in the aisle. This strategy is one Shopkick implements to improve purchase conversion. The consumer receives a listing of participating products which they can seek out and scan with their phone’s camera. Through this, the consumer is encouraged to pick up the product. The simple act of physically handling the product builds awareness, drives consideration, and primes the consumer for purchase.
Consumers receive perks such as deals and rewards points when participating in a mobile app program like Shopkick. These incentives don’t just encourage the use of the app. They also build brand affinity, as the consumer attributes the rewards to the brand they used to get them. These incentives often have a higher value to the consumer than their simple dollar value, due to the emotional return of receiving them. Rewards points can provide multiple opportunities for brands to interact with consumers, while coupons and deals are more of a one-time interaction.
Mobile apps offer brands the opportunity to connect with consumers as they travel. Through these apps, brands can help build customer engagement with products and improve sales. As these programs are scalable, they often offer a higher ROI than other traditional methods like television advertising or non-targeted banner ads.
Creating Digital Events for Boosting Sales and Driving Product Interest
Digital events offer retailers a way to improve sales during slow periods and heighten awareness of products. In some cases, retailer-specific events can even become national. This phenomenon can be seen through Amazon’s Prime Day, initially established in 2015 to celebrate Amazon’s 20th birthday. After its early success, many other retailers chose to piggyback on the idea to the point where it’s now a recognized shopping day for most big companies.
Target is one such retailer that used Amazon’s Prime Day to bolster its online sales in 2018. The retailer reported its best online traffic increase ever thanks to the event. To compete with Amazon and its massive shipping network, Target used 1,800 stores as mini-distribution centers for customer pickup and local shipments. The event didn’t just improve sales. It got consumers to view Target as a channel for online shopping while tying in the brick-and-mortar experience.
The strategy allowed consumers to engage with Target in digital and physical spaces. Having consumers pick up items in-store presented the opportunity for them to view other products and potentially purchase even more. Through this strategy, Target leveraged their competitor's advertising, as they recognized how Prime Day impacts overall online shopping.
How to Engage Customers in Retail With Unique Digital Features
Newer digital features intrigue customers and improve their experience both online and in the store. These features can remove common purchase barriers as well, such as long lines or difficulty gaining in-store assistance. Here are just a few examples of how brands and retailers are enhancing the customer experience with digital features.
L’Oréal has updated its makeup sampling experience with an AR platform which allows users to virtually try on products and gain more information. AR is a particularly potent strategy for cosmetics brands, as it’s tricky for consumers to gauge which color or shade to purchase online or even in the store, without sampling them. Through AR, the brand saves money on real-world samples and improves the customer experience in the digital space.
Starbucks offers an extensive mobile platform for consumers who want to skip the wait and streamline their coffee stop. With the mobile pay option, consumers can pay for their drink before they even get to the location, to ensure it’s waiting for them. Long lines are a typical complaint of consumers industry-wide. Mobile ordering and payment apps eliminate lines and make in-store customer service more efficient.
In-store info apps:
IKEA offers an in-store app for consumers which can help guide them to products and find deals. Such apps are an ideal strategy for mapping large retail locations, where consumers may find themselves frustrated if they can’t locate an associate. These apps can replace the need for a sales assistant by allowing consumers to search for the items they want at locations near them, without the need to wait for an associate to call around.
AI behind the scenes:
Walmart is enhancing its supply chain by using artificial intelligence to help drivers plan routes and stores stock shelves. This strategy streamlines supply management to ensure stores always have needed items. It improves the customer experience by making it easier for them to locate the things they need and receive delivery quickly.
Whole Foods delivers groceries to consumers locally through its Prime Now app which allows customers to place and track same-day orders. App-driven delivery programs like these help retailers provide local delivery of groceries to consumers without taking on liability themselves. Consumer demand is high as these apps streamline shopping and save them time.
Emerging digital features in retail are increasingly app-based, as these offer the most scalability and ease of use. Also, as smartphone penetration is at about 70% in the U.S., brands can connect with the vast majority of household decision makers. A strategy which leverages a variety of apps and mobile features will help brands gain the attention of consumers in the shopping aisle.
When considering how to engage customers in retail, brands should look to technology to help them better understand what these individuals want. Big data provides a way to offer a personalized message in mass markets. Meanwhile, mobile apps and other unique digital features engage consumers as they shop. In-store events enhanced with digital aspects also boost sales by intriguing consumers. As brands and retailers work to engage customers and heighten their experiences, marketing innovations driven by mobile can provide a path to success.