Retailers are amassing a wealth of shopper data online, but are missing a trick if they’re not doing the same in store
The last few months have seen Marks & Spencer and Harvey Nichols relaunch their online propositions to provide customers with a seamless digital experience. However, retailers must also look at their in-store technology to ensure all of their channels are connected and conversion is maximised.
Darryl Adie, managing director of ecommerce agency Ampersand, who worked with Harvey Nichols on its relaunch, says the store group is using data that has been captured online to engage customers in store: “Harvey Nichols is using brand preference data to drive better shopping experiences, with its personal shoppers using this data to help recommend products to customers.”
Mobile often plays a big part in bridging the GAP between online and bricks-and-mortar. Paula Hassett, customer experience and ecommerce development director at Debenhams, says mobile has enabled retailers to bring their full catalogue of product into their stores, allowing customers to quickly assess stock availability using their smartphones: “Customers who need advice can check full product details, share products with friends via email or social networks, and check customer reviews. It’s also a way for customers to look for further items in the same range. Those who are still deciding can add items to their wish list, where they will be alerted if stock runs low or the price is reduced.”
Martin Newman, founder and chief executive of ecommerce consultancy Practicology, says getting store staff to use the mobile channel in store can help capture data: “By checking the customer in, a retailer can engage directly with them by offering promotions that may require the customer to provide data in order to redeem these offers. Retailers that have implemented mobile tills in store, where the staff can take the till to the customer, also have the opportunity to engage with customers on data-capture opportunities. These can be part of an in-store ‘clienteling’ approach.”
Retailers such as Schuh and John Lewis have also used QR codes on the shop floor or in shop windows, which customers can scan for more product information, while the retailer also captures data.
However, Newman is unconvinced by QR codes, and believes image recognition technology will have more impact: “Technology such as mobile augmented-reality app Blippar will improve the customer experience for those who want to find out more about different products.”
Ross Bailey, founder of pop-up space booking platform Appear Here, thinks it is more about how retailers use technology: “I haven’t seen many brands using QR codes effectively, but the ones who have, have nailed it. I still love how Tesco Homeplus created its virtual subway store in South Korea. However, it wasn’t genius because it used QR codes, it was genius because it took a customer insight and created something that offered value built around an existing behaviour.”
Many retailers are now choosing to launch a digital proposition with a mobile-first approach, and Rosanna Falconer, head of digital at Matthew Williamson, says this was the case for the designer label at the end of last year: “The site was relaunched with a mobile-first approach in September. Online shares stock with our main London store to make things seamless - plus, our technology means any stock changes or sales automate across the systems.”
The fact that consumers nearly always have their mobiles with them offers promotional advantages, Hassett says: “Push notifications alert customers to offers in store, and geo-targeting means these can be tailored to the customer.”
However, Bailey warns that retailers must walk a fine line and avoid becoming intrusive: “When I get a self-generated SMS, you’ve invaded my space. Although a sales assistant that I have built a relationship with, who sends me a message to let me know there’s an item in stock they thought I might like - I would see that as unbelievable customer service.”
Paul Bolton, director of multichannel specialist IVIS Group, thinks it is about asking the customer what they want and not crossing that boundary: “Metrics should be in place to limit the amount of communication to each customer. They should be given frequency preference options. The more a retailer knows about its customer, the more refined they can be with their personalisation.”
One technology that is building traction in the industry - but needs to be carefully communicated to the customer - is the Apple-owned iBeacons, a system whereby retailers can use low-cost transmitters to send notifications to those with compatible devices. Chris Thomas, managing director of footwear etailer Cloggs, says: “In-store technologies such as iBeacon are best deployed at the moment with a ‘service’ message to help create customer retention rather than upfront promotional messaging.”
While there are certainly new technologies that can help build a fuller customer profile, Thomas advises caution: “The rate of innovation in retailing is very exciting - but if deployed in the wrong way, it can turn off potential customers.”