It’s no secret that ecommerce has disrupted traditional retailing. Online sales have been growing much to the chagrin of many retailers, large and small. Even large businesses with a presence online and offline have been struggling with the conflict between these two channels.
Typically retailers with a physical presence have felt the online channel has a cost advantage and therefore they have understandably resisted by doing their best to discourage consumers by tactics like blocking Internet access.
Showrooming, a practice where consumers simply use a retail location to view and try a product then purchase it online, have given retailers good reason to be concerned.
As the mobile channel has matured, so has consumer behavior and perceptions. For example, consumers are increasingly comfortable accessing multiple channels prior to and often during the purchase process. More importantly, they are viewing the buying experience as a single experience–not as an online or offline experience.
Emerging economic research seems to indicate that there is no independent online channel. Apparently physical context does matter, it shapes our choices and affects what we buy online.
The role of mobile suggests that local effects matter even more. In order to capitalize on changing behaviors, Google and Amazon have been increasingly focused on delivering local content in an effort to be more relevant to their customers. Mobile strengthens the connection between online and offline experiences.
Recent research by Avi Goldfarb, a professor of marketing at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, reveals some fascinating insights. For starters, a consumer’s physical environment shapes their online behavior.
Avi and a couple of his peers studied Amazon book sales in over one thousand locations where Walmart or Barnes & Noble opened a retail store and found that consumers living in close proximity to these new stores bought less best-sellers from Amazon.
Location affects ones social networks, which tend to be local. In another study, ads for stores in close proximity to consumer’s homes had higher click rates that were almost double when viewed on a smartphone vs a PC.
Interestingly enough, this emerging research would suggest there are implications for offline and online marketers, especially those who have both channels. Without question, an integrated marketing effort is going to be far more productive than selectively targeting offers without context.
Here are a few suggestions.
- Create a journey map of the typical buying process for your product or service. Identify every possible touch point with your brand. Make sure you enlist the help of every consumer-facing group within your organization. You want to understand all possible considerations and choices; this includes identifying friction in within the process.
- Think of the entire ecosystem. As an example an ereader, like Kindle, requires content. Knowing the larger context of your consumer’s experience can be invaluable in providing relevant content and resources.
- Empower your frontline colleagues; especially those in physical locations. Make sure you are listening to their feedback and providing the resources to enable them to deliver the kind of experience that consumers will enjoy and want to share. Provide sufficient training and incentives to ensure positive experiences for all stakeholders. Speaking of sharing, Raymond Morin, my fellow contributor has written a series of posts detailing how to identify ambassadors. Start with How to Recognize Ambassadors in Social Media.
- After you identify your ambassadors be sure you make it easy for them to share your content; equally important, pay attention to the conversation by listening to the conversation in the social space. There are plenty of free tools available. Ambassadors can serve as an early warning alerting you to potential service or product issues, so take full advantage of any feedback from this group, or from other consumers.
- Find ways to make the multi-channel experience as seamless as possible. Instead of building roadblocks, find ways to allow consumers to choose the channel preferences that are convenient for them. First, make sure offerings are as consistent as possible; consumers in your locations will undoubtedly search your online site for information or pricing. Make sure content that will assist in any way is easy to find. Think about ways to encourage consumers to start to use your products or services.
- Don’t ignore pricing. Best Buy is experiencing a resurgence because management recognized a combination of pricing and in-store experience issues had to be addressed. Significantly reducing costs, relaunching their rewards program with a focus on the mobile experience and empowering colleagues with a price matching strategy were among their approaches. You don’t have to be the lowest cost provider; however, being one of the more expensive options can hurt you all other factors being equal.
- Know the media habits and needs of your target audience segments. Knowing their preferences will allow you to tailor the experience in a manner they will find relevant and compelling. Fortunately there are tools and techniques that don’t require a Fortune 500 budget.
While it’s too early to understand the full impact mobile will have on the retail experience, one thing is quite certain, retailing has been fundamentally changed. We can choose to ignore it or understand it and influence it for the good of all.
How have you seen retailers adapt to the Social, Local, Mobile experience?