Bridging the gap between online and offline

In the visual world of today, the success of a campaign can increasingly be measured against a brand’s capacity to create a meaningful and long lasting experience. That being so, bespoke campaigns have been springing up at a fast pace on the UK high streets and which are taking a myriad of forms, from immersive VR powered live events, to more traditional of pop-up stalls. Interacting with everyday people and providing them with these kind of experiences has been the point of focus so far in 2018 for retail companies as well those in the food and drink industry as companies seek to reposition themselves as relatable, fun and most importantly trustworthy in a society where intolerance towards advertising is understandably rife. Yet, while experiential is certainly a hot territory in marketing, e-commerce remains the most important channel for the conversion of sales. Thus, creating integrated experiences within stores in the physical world as well as in the digital arena has become a recipe for success.

When it launched in 1994, Amazon pioneered a new landscape in the world of retail, connecting effectively with its users by providing a seamless online shopping experience with an unparalleled sense of simplicity. Commonly referred to as ‘the ultimate disruptor’, it introduced some decisive features such as 1-click shopping, enabling purchases with a single click as well as implementing purchase based recommendations. In doing so, they created a successful blueprint for brands to improve their own conversion rate online. Crucial to it’s unprecedented success since the moment of its conception has been its unwavering commitment to placing customers at the heart of its platform. The company’s tight grip on the market looks set only to increase following the successful launch in January of the first ‘Amazon Go’ store in Seattle, which offers a glimpse into a cashless future in retail stores. While emulating the success of Amazon is in all likelihood out of the question for retailers, the practices it has applied which are centred on improving customer experience, can serve as guiding principles for others.

experiential

In an age where customers seek ultra convenience in practically every walk of life, companies are being encouraged to follow suit and implement a multichannel approach that tightly fuses the in-store, offline and mobile visits into one easy and integrated experience. “There is no such thing as a typical customer journey any more,” said Jill Ross, director of Accenture’s when she spoke to Campaign last week. She stressed that moving forward, effectively engaging the modern consumer will only be achieved when the lines between in-store ad online shopping are blurred and when customer service continues beyond the point at which an individual departs the physical space. 

John Lewis illustrated how this sort of approach can work in practice last month when they announced its “We are partners” scheme, which assigns people with a personal shop assistant that specialises in a specific area of fashion, with whom communication carries on well after the shopper has left the store, for example to inform them that new stock is in is welcome and offer personalised rewards. Craig Inglis, Managing Director at John Lewis discussed how implementing this scheme will enable consumers to “hear a really personal story from the partners who run the business” and redress the perception of the retail behemoth as a corporate beast. While some will conceivably render such methods as invasive, it does show some of the ways in which offline and online can work in conjunction.

ecom

Given that a significant chunk of traffic to retailers today comes from mobile, there is an obvious imperative for companies to create an accessible website or app through which to sell their products. Amazon honed in on mobile from the outset, realising its immense potential and set up various different versions of its app and making it available to its users. Key to the leveraging on mobile is the development of a real-time messaging platform, which represents a desired feature of the frictionless customer experience clamoured for by the modern consumer. In China, WeChat is the facilitator of convenient online shopping shared by over 1 billion Chinese citizens and is arguably the greatest success story of the digital age. The advanced nature of its messenger setting is one of a plethora of features that separates it from its competitors in the West, enabling a robust and conversational relationship between businesses and consumers through a daily transmission of broadcast messages directly to subscribers in a manner comparable to the aforementioned scheme adopted by John Lewis in the UK. Brands in Britain can leverage on these tactics locally by creating their own similar channels of communication with their own customers and in doing so personalising the nature of the offline experience. 

We stand currently in the midst of a sea change in how business and consumers communicate, in which thinking about offline and online in black and white terms is now a precarious position to take up. Discussing how the two experiences should be integrated, Paresh Patel, CEO of PayRange emphasised that it is “all about the journey, not about the machine. Mobile is the gateway to improving the customer’s journey.” Moreover, in an integrated system, an intricate balance between targeting and intrusion must be struck.  On the one hand, the procurement and harnessing of the vast amounts of customer data available to tailor products to people based on their search history and interests is crucial. Yet, companies must be careful not to border on intrusion and ensure the protection of data, especially in the hostile climate of today.

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