The Secret to Increasing Sales and Retention

Blending online and offline marketing delivers a better customer experience-and more.

There are many marketing tools and strategies you can use to attract and retain customers, enhance service to your existing customers, and improve your brand visibility and credibility. These tools exist in both the digital (online) and physical (offline) worlds. Unfortunately, many businesses today perform offline and online activities completely separate from one another. Yet combining online and in-store efforts delivers much more value in increasing sales and customer retention than each channel can provide alone.

Blurring the lines between online and offline

While businesses may be treating online and offline separately, they seem to understand the importance the digital world brings to brick-and-mortar sales. Research shows that in 2011 and beyond, most retail businesses will invest more in Internet and mobile technologies to drive both offline and online sales-and with good reason. Forrester Research found that in 2009, 42 percent of all retail purchases,worth$917 billion,were influenced by the Web in some way. That figure is expected to increase to 53 percent by 2014.

Whether or not you're thinking about blending your digital and offline marketing efforts, now's the time to get started-and here's how.

Blend the searching and shopping experience

First, you need to offer consumers an effective way to search for and find products and information no matter where they're shopping: from their computer, mobile device or catalog, or in the physical store. Customers increasingly want the flexibility to shop anywhere, and expect a consistent experience across all channels. They also expect to be able to quickly conduct product research and price comparisons before buying, whether on the Web or in a store. Effective site search is critical to making this happen, especially if your search is also tailored for mobile devices.

Some brick-and-mortar retailers are bringing the online shopping experience into their stores, by adding in-store kiosks that shoppers can use to search for product information and availability in real time. Many multichannel retailers are also making it easier for customers to search via mobile device while they're in a store; they can make price comparisons and read consumer reviews to help inform their purchases. Still others allow customers to submit orders via a mobile device for products they'll purchase in the store. For example, Walgreens' new mobile app allows consumers to scan their prescriptions for refills or order photos from their smartphone and then pick them up at the store later.

Make mobile easy for customers

Not surprisingly, it's no secret that the influence of mobile on the retail market will increase dramatically this year, and businesses that are slow in optimizing their online and offline businessfor mobile visitors risk damaging customer relationships and missing significant sales opportunities.

To get started with mobile you need to understand how customers interact with m-commerce sites. For example, consumers "hunt" for products on mobile devices and browse for products on websites-meaning they want to quickly home in on a specific product on a mobile device, whereas on the Web they're more likely to browse a variety of products. In both cases search plays a critical role because it's what guides consumers to the items they're looking for. Mobile device users often research products while in a physical store, and given the limited screen real estate and typing functionality of mobile devices, search must contain relevant information and it must be extremely quick and streamlined.

Share data for greater marketing success

By sharing data across your Web applications you provide customers a richer, more satisfying experience. For example, you can integrate user reviews with site search and allow visitors to search for products by how they are rated and reviewed. You can also use data from site search to create more successful paid advertising, SEO, and promotional campaigns, by leveraging the language of your customers and driving visitors towards products that are popular items in searches conducted on your site. You can also incorporate site search data into email marketing-highlighting popular sellers for customers' individual brand or category preferences-and offering promotional offers that can be redeemed in a brick-and-mortar store.

Another way you can share data is by adding content from your social media campaigns to your site search results. While many businesses index only their product pages, by adding all of your content to site search-from your site (products, videos, blog posts, helpdesk information, etc.) and from external sites (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)-you drive more visibility to social media and other educational content, and arm your customers with the information they need to feel confident to make a purchase.

Some businesses are getting creative with integrating online and offline by enabling people to make purchases online and redeem them offline. Groupon and Living Social are great examples; people buy coupons online and then use them to make in-store purchases. This trend gives marketers the ability to track what drives offline sales, and how these drivers are tied to online campaigns.

As you seek out new ways to capture greater customer attention, consider blending your online and offline marketing efforts to provide a consistent, convenient experience to your customers. Addressing this now can help you compete more effectively, extend your brand, and solidify even greater customer loyalty.

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About the Author: Thierry Costa is vice president of marketing for SLI Systems. Contact him at