Wrapping the Multichannel Customer Holiday Experience with a Bow
With consumer holiday spending projected to be flat compared to last year, it's become ever-more important for retailers to deliver memorable, consistent experiences to customers across all of the channels they use, whether it's for product research, purchases, or support.
According to a recent Gallup holiday spending survey for the 2011 season, Americans expect to spend an average of $712 on holiday gifts this year, which is essentially flat compared to the $715 estimated last year. Consumer spending over the holidays has continued to tumble since the recession that began in 2008. According to Gallup, U.S. consumers expected to spend $909 per person on holiday gifts in 2007. In 2008, that figure dropped to $801. By 2009, it plunged to $740.
Not only are most consumers frugal with their spending, they're also much more selective about which retailers they choose to do business with and they want the convenience of using the channel of their choice. In addition, they're not afraid to share their experiences with thousands or even millions of potential viewers on social channels such as Facebook or Twitter. Add it up, and retailers are under the gun to provide holiday shoppers with channel experiences that will not only satisfy and delight but keep them coming back for more.
As a starting point, it's critical for retailers to make use of available customer information that can be gathered across all touchpoints, including information about previous channel interactions, customer lifecycle information, and purchasing histories. But because holiday sales are also driven, in part, by trendy products, retailers can also use this information to arm sales associates and customer support agents with insights that can help fuel cross-sell or upsell opportunities (e.g. a particular customer segment that purchased Kindles also typically purchased these three additional electronic products).
That's powerful information for a salesperson to have, particularly for retailers that hire temporary help over the holidays and are looking to bring those salespeople up to speed quickly, says Ann Marie O'Connor, Director, Industry Marketing at RedPrairie.
Because shoppers are so price-sensitive, it's also important for retailers to factor this into the multichannel customer experience. "One thing I'm seeing a lot of with retail clients is this trend around free shipping" or discounted shipping, says Loren McDonald, Vice President of Industry Relations at Silverpop. McDonald says a growing number of retailers are analyzing customer information across various touchpoints in order to deliver more targeted messaging and personalized emails based on customer channel usage, behaviors, and preferences.
Even though personalized messaging across different communications channels is a valuable way to help make customers feel connected to a brand, there's still value in sending out broadcast emails to both existing and prospective customers, adds McDonald. "There's some element of chance and spontaneity because you may not know everything that a customer is interested in purchasing" and some messaging may gain traction with customers who happen to be interested in particular items listed, says McDonald.
Customize to the channel
It's also important for retailers to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of various channels and how customers use them. For instance, consumers often use smartphones for simple tasks that are easy to follow on a small screen, including looking up a store location, hours, and the availability of certain items, says Hung Vu, Group Creative Director at Acquity Group, a digital agency. "Retailers need to make it easy for customers to find what they're looking for in their channel of choice," says Vu.
Because customers often use multiple channels for product research and support, it's critical for retailers to identify and act on customer preferences for using different channels for certain types of support (e.g. item exchanges, clothing sizes and availability), says Ted Hartley, Chief Channel Officer at Sword Ciboodle.USA.
Retailers also need to be able to follow the thread of a customer's interactions from one channel to the next so that the customer doesn't have to start each channel interaction from the beginning. "There's nothing worse than going through a really great Web experience and then speaking to a customer agent who doesn't know that you just visited their website or what your needs are," says Vu. "Customers feel insulted if they have to repeat themselves."
Another way for retailers to make the customer experience easier is by offering them assistance through their channel of choice. Let's say a customer is visiting a retailer's website and has spent a period of time viewing web pages about cameras. Instead of simply sending out a pop-up "Can I help you?" chat request, a retailer can provide more personalized messaging by asking about the type of camera they might be looking for or the kind of functionality they're seeking, says Vu.
In the end, retailers need to examine their multichannel customer experience strategies not solely to achieve holiday sales targets but to engage and satisfy customers in order to develop loyalty for the long run, says RedPrairie's O'Connor.
For more on how to excel with multichannel, check out these articles from the 1to1 Media team:
Konica Minolta Gets Personal with Potential Customers
AMF's Four-Fold Increase in Customer Engagement
The Multichannel Service Imperative
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