Retailers Look to "Mobilize" Their Efforts in 2013

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
By integrating social and mobile technologies, retailers aim to blend brick-and-mortar experiences with the ease of online shopping. Here are five trends to look for this year.

Retail has become an integral staple in our society. We all need to shop now and then, even if we loathe the task. But, with the new year upon us, retailers hope to make shopping easier and more exciting for everyone involved. With many people flocking to their computers instead of brick-and-mortar stores, brands are looking to bring every communication channel together to create a seamless experience that transcends the online and offline worlds of retail.

While social and mobile gain in popularity year after year, retailers must look to these budding channels as opportunities to enhance in-store interactions, redefining the brick-and-mortar experience in a way that brings the physical world and the virtual together as one unified entity. The following five trends explore what we can expect to see in the retail space in 2013 and what retailers must do to successfully embrace customers across channels:

1. An "omnichannel" approach will break down silos and reduce showrooming.

Gone are the days of the multichannel experience. Marketers throughout the retail space will be moving from a multichannel strategy to an omnichannel approach in 2013, blending existing channels into one seamless experience. By working to tie each channel together, retailers will be able to incorporate the online and in-store experience, blurring the line between each avenue of communication.

As Kristin Hambelton, vice president of marketing at Neolane, says, "Whether commerce or marketing, the experience needs to be seamless across all channels and devices. Retailers should be focused on knocking down silos and implementing the right tools to make this a reality."

Hambelton also highlights the need to integrate the in-store experience and mobile technology in order to prevent showrooming. Brick-and-mortar retailers will need to leverage SoLoMo (social, local, and mobile) capabilities to enhance and redefine the in-store experience to ensure that customers are not just researching items and pricing, but also following through on their desire to purchase. Mobile applications and location-based engagement will become the tools of the trade in the coming year.

2. Retailers must connect with customers on their own terms.

Consumers are increasingly active, both online and off. When they aren't in-store, they interact with brands online via both their website and social media. These customers have set the stage for the next step in retail. Retailers will need to take cues from customer actions, connecting via social and mobile to facilitate dialogue with customers where they live, for they simply want to be heard and understood.

"Most marketers should be thinking about how to communicate with their customers on their terms," says Carrie Scott, director of product and direct marketing at Message Systems. "That means identifying their target audience trends and putting wheels into motion to follow them, not the other way around."

Alain Paquin, president and CEO of Whatsnexx, adds that customer service will play a major role in this cross-channel approach in terms of retention, as companies will no longer be able to hide behind the brand. "A great brand will mean a great product or service," Paquin notes. "Those who try to fool customers will pay the price. Therefore, customer service can't stay a simple business function, but need to integrate deeply into the company's DNA."

3. Mobile integration builds upon the customer's emotional investment.

Now that smartphones are commonplace, not merely a luxury, retailers must tap into this rapidly expanding channel in a way that embraces the customer's emotional attachment to such gadgets. Smartphones are not just useful tools, but extensions of the customer, allowing retailers the chance to get inside the customer's mood and mind.

"The smartphone has become the command center," says Wendy Burden, executive vice president of brand and business development at iViu Technologies. "These devices act as personal assistants in the retail shopping space, building tremendous emotional connections with users, not just intellectual connections. However, these personal assistants need to be predictive and customized. Scanning barcodes is antiquated. Customers need a phone that knows where they are and what's relevant."

Retailers must look toward integrating social data to understand customer preferences better, while also using location- and behavior-based technologies in order to better cater to the customer's interests through relevant notifications and alerts. Brands may also look to technologies that help them capture the mobile users' current moods based on phone settings, such as whether they have their devices set to vibrate or have geo-location capabilities turned off. This way, brands can better detect and assess what customers may or may not want delivered to their mobile devices at that given time.

4. The e-receipt will bring new cross-channel marketing opportunities.

When customers purchase items in-store, cashiers frequently ask if they would prefer a print receipt, or if they'd like to have the receipt emailed. This approach conveniently marries service messaging with marketing, bridging the in-store and online experience while cleaning up the clutter that comes along with collecting physical receipts.

Hambelton says, "This ties into the broader value of marketing owning transactional messaging to ensure consistent branding, while also taking advantage of the most widely opened and read messages to deliver relevant marketing offers. For example, an order confirmation email sent to a customer will not only provide applicable information, but include suggestions on other products they may also enjoy."

Because receipts and order confirmations contain important information, retailers now have an opportunity to connect with current customers via email. Including relevant suggestions or pertinent offers as part of the process may spark their interest in another product, thereby triggering increased engagement and encouraging repeat patronage.

5. But don't count out print media just yet

Though social and mobile will garner the brunt of every retailer's attention, print will still have its place in the retail space, for nearly every brand requires some sort of print media to sell their products and services.

"They say print promotions don't stand a chance, but that's not true," says Frank Defino, Jr., vice president and managing director at Tukaiz. "Each day, we get bombarded by emails. Depending on our mood and the amount of time we have, we often look at the header and hit delete. But when tangible, physical mail comes to your mailbox, you have to take action-touch it, decide if you're going to open, and read it, investigate it further for yourself."

Whether you're looking at displays, signs, posters, or packaging, all forms of print advertising and media impact the resulting sale. Promotional signs have the potential to draw customers into the brand's brick-and-mortar location, while direct mail may drive consumers to the company's website. Even coupons at the grocery store checkout encourage repeat patronage through print. Retailers must simply look to this media as an integral tool, not an antiquated channel.