The Digital Store: Technology Is Enabling the Human Connection
In this article, Apparel Magazine discusses how retailers must look to “future-forward” technology to enhance, but not replace, the human touch in the store experience to be successful with the modern customer.
Q&A WITH MICHELE SALERNO, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING, ASST. VP OF CELERANT TECHNOLOGY CORP.
APPAREL: Bringing a seamless digital experience into the brick-and-mortar store is a must, given that your consumers are all armed with their own digital devices. Where do you see the greatest breakdown today between store offerings and consumer expectations?
SALERNO: Inconsistencies between brick-and-mortar and online experiences can have a much more significant impact than retailers realize. Lack of cross-channel pricing, promotions, coupons, loyalty programs, gift cards, etc., mostly due to a lack of modern technology, can cause customer frustration, ultimately decreasing loyalty significantly. If you sell gift cards in store, they need to be supported by your e-commerce website; if you offer loyalty programs in store, your website needs to be capable of redeeming the loyalty points or promotions, and so on.
A seamless experience between in-store and online needs to be exactly that: seamless. Meaning not only consistent pricing and promotions, but inventory and fulfillment consistency across all channels can be even more important. By centrally managing inventory for all channels with one database, online orders can be automatically sent to the ‘best store’ for fulfillment or can be picked up and/or returned in-store by the consumer. In today’s world, consumers expect immediate results and in order to meet these expectations, retailers need to provide a truly flawless in-store and online cross-channel shopping experience.
APPAREL: When it comes to inventory, your salespeople require a single view across channels, and consumers really want that, too. How can apparel retailers best equip their stores and salespeople with an “endless aisle” and present it effectively so that the consumer always gets what he/she wants?
SALERNO: Retailers can achieve a single view by managing their entire business with a central database for their store’s point of sale software, e-commerce, and online marketplace sales. Monitoring inventory can be especially challenging when integrating with leading marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart and more; but with the right technology, marketplace orders can flow directly into the retailer’s system just as their own e-commerce orders do. With tools such as ”best store” fulfillment, online orders can be automatically fulfilled from the retailer’s optimal store location, turning brick-and-mortar into mini-warehouses, making fulfillment to the consumer faster and more effective.
Vendor integrations can also help retailers achieve the “endless aisle.” The savviest retailers are taking advantage of the enormous number of resources made available to them by their distributors. With the right technology and partner, online vendor integrations allow merchants to pull real-time available inventory feeds on their websites, showing products, descriptions and 360-degree product images directly from their distributors. The merchant’s online orders can then be drop shipped directly to their customers from their vendors. Through these integrations, retailers can sell many more products, and much wider product lines on their websites, without ever having to stock inventory or even fulfill the orders.
APPAREL: What are some of the more effective digital marketing strategies/technologies you’ve seen for driving consumers into the physical store? What advantage does this buyer have over an online-only shopper?
SALERNO: One of the most influential marketing strategies (and most cost effective!) is email automation. Proper email automation doesn’t mean sending blind emails to a mass list, but segmenting the email lists based on specific data collected from all your retail channels, such as prior purchases and individual preferences, so that retailers can send the right message, at the right time, for potential upsells, cross sells and more. By integrating these email workflows with your CRM and POS or online sales data, and creating custom templates and segments based on specific behaviors or actions, these campaigns can be automated to run without any intervention on the retailer’s part.
The workflow opportunities are endless and the increased ROI can very quickly and immediately be tracked back to the specific email campaign. While typically these email efforts are intended to drive customers to online stores, retailers can also add coupon codes for in-store use. This will encourage customers, especially those likely to make larger purchases, to purchase in-store, where there is an even higher chance for upsell opportunities.
The most innovative retailers are also starting to implement geo-tracking via smartphones and apps. These days all consumers carry their smartphone at all times, so why not take advantage of that and send push notifications once they are in the vicinity of the store? Send out promotional text messages or app alerts so that shoppers remember to stop into the store and use a new promo, or even remind them of a coupon they might have already saved within their app or smart wallet. If/when customers are near the store location, a push notification is sent to their phone, encouraging them to come in. This can even be taken a step further, by tracking where they are within the store and sending notifications based on those movements. While this cutting-edge technology is available, it’s important to implement it in a way that won’t cause privacy concerns. While geotracking can be a great way to market to consumers at exactly the right time, it can also be perceived at times as a privacy invasion. By implementing subtle aspects of this new technology, you can minimize that risk and truly maximize your marketing potential.