Women shopping with mobile device in retail store
December 6, 2019

How to deliver a personalized, multichannel experience to your customers

Article originally published on AdAge.com. Image credit: Getty.

Imagine you walk into a store with an interactive touchscreen experience where you build exactly the product you want. You hand over your credit card, only to find the fancy app isn’t integrated with the store’s other systems. And if you’re not ready to buy, there’s no way to save your configuration for later. Worse still, you drove to the store in the first place because you started that product configuration online, but when you got there, you (once again) had to start over from scratch.

As shoppers’ buying habits shift between brick-and-mortar stores and digital, this situation becomes more common. Note that it’s not a shift from stores to digital, but rather between the two. According to Pew Research, 79 percent of adults shop online, and 51 percent use their mobile phones to do it. Yet, while e-commerce continues its steady growth, the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that it still comprises only 10.7 percent of total sales. So, it isn’t either online or in-store; customers want to do both.

Since 2001, my company has delivered digital experiences that reduce customer friction and generate stronger customer loyalty, and we’ve had to ensure those experiences bridge the gap between the physical and online stores. Because therein lies both the challenge and opportunity for retailers: to provide a seamless, personalized experience across every channel and encourage shoppers to buy.

Shoppers’ expectations of brand engagement have changed

The availability of unlimited, near-instantaneous information has given rise to a new expectation of customer experience. Once customers know what they want, they expect to find, examine, experience and buy it right then. A successful retailer, then, has to be present and proficient in whatever channel the customer wants, whenever they’re ready to take the next step.

Retail has become an intricate blend of the digital and the physical, where the roles of the two are blurring. Shoppers used to visit well-stocked showrooms to touch, try and select a product — even if they eventually bought the product online. Today, more customers are researching online before going in to experience and buy products in person. In fact, a recent study shows that 45 percent of in-store purchases were preceded by reading research and online reviews. Obviously, consumers still see the value of going into a store, even if the same items can be quickly delivered to their door.

The challenge (and opportunity) of creating a seamless multichannel experience

For big retailers, upgrading the plumbing — legacy infrastructure — is one of the biggest roadblocks to providing their customers with a more seamless experience. Every retailer plans to do it (someday), but most information technology teams are too overloaded maintaining existing systems to tackle the job.

But time and budget to upgrade legacy systems are only part of the challenge. Besides being unable to upgrade the system themselves, leveraging data from a multitude of sources to provide a single, shared view of customers — both in aggregate and individually — can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. This makes it that much more difficult to create a coherent, multichannel experience for their customers.

Yet, if they don’t, will those other initiatives matter so much? Even huge brands can be wounded by upstart brands not saddled with heavy legacy baggage. These agile players can disrupt retail shopping and steal share from slow-moving incumbents by building a better customer experience.

It’s all about delivering a seamless, personalized experience

I believe building a seamless multichannel experience is more than a nice-to-have; it is vital to a retailer’s survival. Seventy percent of shoppers say connected experiences can determine whether a retailer wins (or loses) their business, and two-thirds expect retailers to recognize them wherever they shop — online or in-store. That recognition is key to creating the experience they crave.

That doesn’t mean you have to start with big data analytics and machine learning to infer what customers want to see in-store based on their online history, nor do you need mobile apps, geo-tracking and artificial intelligence to know what to offer shoppers next based on where they happen to be (or have been).

Instead, just start by making better connection points between digital and in-store.

For example, if your brand provides rich interactive experiences for exploring your products online, your customers will likely enjoy similar experiences in your store. If the customer has an account online, the in-store experience should honor that information in a frictionless and personalized manner. The integrated experience should honor discounts along with loyalty and rewards points regardless of which channel the shopper uses to make a purchase. And it should acknowledge the customer’s purchase history — both digital and in-store — in case they have questions or need to make a return. In short, the multichannel experience should be as seamless as possible.

Starting a multichannel transformation of your shopping experience

While each retailer is unique, the key to transformation is an implementation plan that includes the following basic, but critical, steps:

1. Identify your customers’ desires and pain points. Ask them, and listen to them. For example, all the above suggestions address the painful disconnect shoppers experience between in-store and digital shopping.

2. Define the strategy for how you will accommodate your customers’ needs while driving toward a well-known business objective.

3. Define success and how it will be measured. To fund the endeavor, you’ll need to show how it will achieve a positive return on investment.

4. Find the right partners to help you manage IT, manage and integrate customer data, execute digital initiatives and so on.

5. Deploy, measure and optimize. This is where you continuously refine the experience and show ongoing ROI.

In the end, it’s not a matter of either online or brick-and-mortar shopping. Retail shoppers use both. Identifying and eliminating the frustrations that mar your multichannel shopping experience is crucial to staying competitive. Only then can you take deliberate steps to give customers the seamless experience they want, regardless of which channels and touch points they choose.