by Nancy Klaiman Prentice

With so many available platforms to engage today’s shoppers (social media, mobile apps, online websites, catalogs, the store, dare I say the telephone?), how can retailers bundle them together to create the biggest shopping bag? What follows, some insights from the experts and from retailers doing it right!

As we’ve all learned, today’s customers might be walking your selling floor on Saturday afternoon, researching brand reviews at the office on Monday, and eventually buying from the comfort of their Eames lounge chair upon learning the Dow has bounced back. Customers now transact in any channel they prefer, and retailers need to encourage this to remain competitive. Omni channel promises to increase foot traffic and cross-sales, transform bespoke, anticipate trends and inventory, streamline supply chain and even personalize engagement while casting the widest retail net for the complex combo of generations who currently shop. While Millennials (current age between 24-38) have stolen the spotlight, Boomers and Gen X (39-74) are readily adapting to technology. But look out for Gen Z (3-23) who enjoy all things digital but demand the experience of shopping as much as the purchase. They’re on track to become the largest generation of consumers–and they don’t even drive yet! With the retail market is in a state of “Disruptive Innovation,” omni channel technology is the dapper white knight. 

Tuning into Touch Points

Overwhelming evidence shows that consumers are engaged across a multitude of shifting touch points. Some social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the like), previously thought of as pre-purchase touch points, have embedded global shopping features that can now take viewers from image to investment in one click. Instagram users can bypass the laborious obstacle of leaving the Instagram page, going to another retail site and then possibly another to complete the purchase.

While e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon, Alibaba, Etsy and Gilt have digitized personal shopping to facilitate service with a smile, brands are now launching dedicated apps to cultivate loyalty.  These stealth mobile platforms offer insider access, exclusive content and curated rewards that drive higher emotional engagement while gathering rich data to ultimately enhance the next brand interaction. Other channels that run the gamut for experiences and touchpoint opportunities include promotional events, call centers, advertisements, catalogs, websites and questionnaires. Combined, the “customer journey” takes consumers from awareness to loyalty (with consideration, purchase and service in between). Omni channel technology allows us to track every touch point, creating a personal contact at each one. According to McKinsey, a deeper understanding of the customer journey can lead to insights that are 30 to 40 percent more predictive of customer satisfaction.

Stitch Fix

Be Direct

Another fast-growing trend in the marketplace is the direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy that uses mobile, social and cloud technologies to deliver the ultimate curated direct-to-consumer experience through digital e-commerce, including the ever-popular subscription box.  Grabbing the attention and wallets of those who hate to shop but want to stay trendy, retailers are leaving no money on the table with online experts and tailors who deliver (with free shipping). TAYLRD, ShopStyle, StitchFix and Nordstrom’s Trunk Club are just a few of digital retail’s faceless fashion stylists that have carved out a new, personalized niche and touch point for omni channel, using AI based algorithms based on customer preference. Surprisingly, many who have commenced on-line, now continue in brick and mortar (Bonobos, Warby Parker). The D-T-C model allows a brand to control engagement and learn behavior to then exceed expectations of quality and convenience. To compete with DTC, retailers need to create engaging touch points and invest in the data to deliver exceptional customer experience. Bonding with consumers with subscription services cultivates loyalty along with a supplemental revenue stream. 

Who Wears it Best

Rebecca Minkoff and Farfetch are millennial-favorites that have succeeded as early adopters and set the retail rack high for the future. Whether using technology that merges online and offline to create a ‘connected store’, or using data mined from cyberspace to find new customers, these retailers are maximizing margins with innovation. 

Walk into Rebecca Minkoff’s New York store and you can experience a livestream of the runway show in 360-degree virtual reality. See how the styles compliment your shape via augmented reality app Zeekit, while sipping champagne and selecting a wardrobe using connected, interactive walls – a system of screens where you can browse items and have them sent to a fitting room. Allow the RFID-fortified smart mirrors to recognize items in the room and suggest additional outfits based on your selections. Be sure to alter the lighting accordingly to best suit your preferred environment. 

In an interview on Today, Minkoff said customers buy three times more clothing when they interact with the mirror. Typically, her customer will browse several dresses on the web – try some on at the store – and save the smart fitting room session to her phone where she will buy later from a gizmo or maybe call in to the store for that personal connection. “The new definition of luxury,” says Emily Culp, SVP of Commerce and Omni-Channel Marketing at Rebecca Minkoff, “is empowering the customer to select the service level she wants, when she wants, on the device she wants.” 

There’s no need to stretch the truth about Farfetch, the U.K.-based, online-only, luxury clothing marketplace, that’s redefining how fashion is bought and sold. According to the public company’s prospectus (the initial IPO raised $884 million), “Farfetch exists for the love of fashion,” with a mission to “be the global technology platform for luxury fashion, connecting creators, curators and consumers.”  [Think Etsyon luxury steroids.]

Recognizing the futuristic fact that the global market for personal luxury goods will be worth about $446 billion by 2025 (according to Bain Co.), Farfetch is positioned for expansion. With millennials expected to be key drivers of the trend, the brand’s luxury ‘mall’ allows sellers to connect to consumers from 190 countries via the Farfetch Marketplace, part of an operating system that combines apps, services and data.  Dubbed the “Store of the Future” platform, their operating system captures online and offline data across devices that is then shared with partners and sales associates to elevate the shopping experience. For shoppers, In-store features include a universal login that integrates a customer’s online and offline activity. RFID-enabled clothing racks track in-store browsing behavior, and smart mirrors allow the customer to view existing wish lists and order items in different sizes and colors without leaving a dressing room. This data is collected and used to guide shoppers to the ecommerce platforms of 300 independent member boutiques. For partners, this works by providing economies of exposure for those who cannot match the bigger department stores and digitally-native outlets. Farfetch does not hold inventory, provides a global platform (only 30 percent of sales are to U.S. customers), handles customer service, order tracking and leverages delivery costs for its client boutiques. Ultimately, Farfetch outperforms traditional multi-brand luxury retailers with its vast assortment of carefully curated products from boutiques worldwide and stellar service. With enhanced pricing transparency for consumers, fast delivery and free global returns that include click-and-collect and drop-off in-store options, they remain ahead of the affluent curve.

Even some of the most traditional retailers among us have reaped rewards from reinvention. The North Face, entering its fifth decade, is living up to its mantra “Never Stop Exploring” with a native app that suggests looks and product pairings for upsell, cross-sell, sizing and color options, locating inventory by store. With the brand’s integrated store and online experience, getting gear into the hands of their adventuresome shoppers faster than the competition is no problem. Easier still, with the assistance of EasyAsk (voice-enabled natural language search), customers can find products by speaking into their mobile device as they would speak to a human sales associate.  This service has been proven to increase conversion and interaction. And thanks to a well-executed AI experience, visitors to North Face stores can virtually tour Yosemite National Park and the Moab desert alongside climbing celebrities. According to Eric Searles, VP to Direct Consumer at The North Face, “The marketplace requires our company and brand to be nimble, and as a leader in the industry, we have to maintain constant evolution in our consumer relationships and engagements.”

Never too old to learn new tricks, 114-year-old retailer JC Penney has learned that mobile is the single greatest touch point for their customers in-store and online. Adopting an omni channel strategy to leverage assets, stores, associates, inventory, their digital platform and supply chain, they’ve managed to reduce costs and retain loyal and valued customers. Customers can locate items, apply coupons and access their JCPenney Rewards so easily, the app has earned a 4.5-star rating on the Appstore. Once heavily reliant on the ‘Big Book’, they’ve refreshed to include new strategies and consumer channels. With aggressive digital enhancements, they’re on a clear mission to convert store-only customers to omni channel. So far so good, as cross-channel is contributing. Roughly 80 percent of the store’s existing inventory is eligible for free same-day pickup, and 100 percent of the brick and mortar store network is fulfilling online orders (roughly 40% of the business) which also drives foot traffic. What’s more, nearly one third of customers who BOPIS, will make an additional item purchase of $50.

Living up to their mission of offering customers the best possible service, selection, quality and value, Nordstrom has forged into the future with minimal square footage that is maximizing delivery, customer service and brand engagement. As part of their local market strategy combining national infrastructure with local people, product and place, Nordstrom’s store of the future features three highly-customized “hubs” in one of their most highly-engaged markets. With roughly four million active customers in LA, they’re combining next-gen services within reimagined brick-and-mortar settings. These Nordstrom Local hotspots offer pretty much everything but inventory, providing consultations with personal stylists, alterations, curbside pickup, refreshments and the now requisite BOPIS. Giving new meaning to one-stop shopping, extended partnerships with Paper Source, Anthropologie Home, local cobblers and dry cleaners combine complementary services with neighborhood appeal. The 1,200 square foot Brentwood location focuses on styling and alterations and the 2,200 square foot downtown store offers onsite concierge, barber services and food-to-go. Shopping is done in real-time with “Get-it-Fast” on and the mobile app, or on iPads available at the stores. A zip-code eligible service provides a current status of readily available inventory that customers can either pick up at any Nordstrom location or have shipped to their home for free the next day. Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores, is listening: “Our customers have told us they want to shop where, how and when they choose.”

Nordstrom Local Brentwood
Nordstrom Local Brentwood

Mercurial Market

Like the industry itself, by the time you’ve finished reading this there will be new technology in use. And as with any seismic industry shift, it’s vital to stay informed if you want to ride the wave. So how does your business stand to gain from retail technology? 

  • You might take advantage of shopping apps (Red Laser, ShopSavvy …) that arm the user with a store price comparison feature, to stay ahead of competitors.   
  • Mine data to offer highly personalized recommendations for promotion or upselling – or to predict trends and customer behavior.
  • Keep brick-and-mortar costs under control by offering endless aisle capabilities and service-oriented experiences with a smaller footprint. 
  • Launch an app, curate your own subscription box, or use Instagram’s global shopping features to sell your story.
  • Bring the runway to your retail store with AI – or virtually invite your customers ‘backstage’ to buy.

If the average consumer is using six or more connected devices daily, omni channel marketing is essential if you want to follow the customer journey.  On average, companies with omni channel engagement retain 89% of their customers

The takeaway:  Know your target, their favorite podcasts and shopping channels, online communities, and influencers. You should be selling everywhere your customers are buying. 


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