Loyalty is moving on from discounts and points to services that create value for retailer and customer alike. Glenn Shoosmith, CEO and founder of BookingBug explains further.
The online and offline worlds are finally reaching a new equilibrium. It’s crystal clear now that online shopping hasn’t come to eradicate our high streets, it has simply created an ultra efficient environment for when people want to save money and time. And that has exposed opportunities for offline retail to adapt and develop in ways that simply can’t be achieved online.
Technology has been core to this on all fronts. Mobile, cloud, SaaS, search, social, iBeacons, tablets, new POS systems, big data – the rush of innovations that can now complement the average shopping experience shows no sign of slowing. The perennial challenge remains: how do you use these tools to simplify and enhance shoppers’ experience rather than just add more barriers?
We spoke to some of the UK’s leading retailers (some we work with, some we don’t) about key areas of omnichannel innovation and their motivations and experience pursuing such strategies. Here’s what we found.
CONTENT BRIDGES ONLINE AND OFFLINE
The world is besotted with the idea of using content online to capture and hold customer interest and, in many ways, rightly so. By generating articles and videos that help people get to grips with your subject area, you make them interested in your business by creating genuine value for them. This is at stark contrast to more traditional methods like online advertising, which can feel intrusive, interruptive and a burden to the web user.
Attracting customers in the offline world has most closely resembled that old-fashioned, interruptive advertising approach. However, by using technology to help create new added value experiences and services in store, you can start to generate similar benefits to an online content strategy in the offline world and reap similar benefits in areas from loyalty to increasing footfall, more conversions and growing lifetime value.
For example, Pets At Home now offers free consultation sessions where anyone can book a free appointment to bring in their pet, with experts using details provided in the booking notes to give advice on nutrition and care. The offer here, publicised everywhere from TV ads to the Pets At Home website, promises real value for pet-owners whether they buy or not -- and puts them in a position where they can make better informed purchases.
Similarly, Debenhams goes a step further with its #knowyoursize bra-fitting campaign, naturally providing the opportunity to book this service in stores but extending the conversation to online chats, Facebook content and more. It’s an interaction that goes beyond the simple transactional level, and as a result can generate a new and more valuable kind of loyalty that’s rooted in the store experience itself.
Technology is the workhorse of this strategy behind the scenes, making it easy to book an appointment whether they’re on their mobile in store, catching the ad at home on the sofa with a tablet or searching for more information on Facebook and other channels. In every case, there has to be a single persistent platform in tying everything together - with many windows into the same world - and accompanied by a consistent authentic message across channels.
A 2013 Accenture report revealed 54% of shoppers admitted to Webrooming (previewing products online before buying them in store) and 48% to showrooming (previewing in store before buying online). These trends that blur the lines between online and offline are only accelerating, especially given the sophistication of the smartphones we now carry and their ability to bridge the two worlds.
At the same time, it raises questions about how to design a shopping experience that matches and complements this human behaviour. Is the traditional browsing setup really the best way to wow a showrooming customer? Meanwhile, webrooming demonstrates consumers’ growing investment in learning as much as possible to make the right buying decision. How can you use technology and in-store resources to help achieve these goals?
What if the in-store experience was designed more and more around the opportunity to educate customers in store about your products, regardless of where they make the final purchase? What if you match that with a transaction experience that’s as effortless as online shopping.
Examples such as Apple Stores have shown glimpses of a future where you pick up a product, scan it with your smartphone and pay directly in the app. Everyone in retail is now aware of the success from these shrines to the showroom of ‘the Apple experience’. It’s often forgotten though that the services on offer go far beyond being able to check your Facebook on a spare machine.
The Apple showroom experience includes lessons on using your devices properly, Q&A sessions with movie directors or authors and the Genius Bar, which shows off more than just any one product: it creates a sensation of buyer confidence. It’s not just for technology companies. Even heritage brands like Hobbycraft are capably exploring how to engage with the community that surrounds their products.
Using technology strategically to rethink these opportunities is a crystal clear opportunity -- but it takes an open mind and an appetite for risk to really embrace it successfully.
The origins of loyalty between retailers and customers has traditionally been organic. In the old days, the retailer’s growing personal familiarity with their customer allowed them to identify the most important and treat them accordingly. Indeed, there was as much impetus on the retailer to recognise their customer’s loyalty, or risk them heading elsewhere.
This started to disappear as businesses scaled up and retailers could no longer have the same level of understanding about their customers. Gradually, technology has made it possible again to learn from the data around your shoppers and not only restore this feeling of rewarding loyalty – but go beyond it. The whole customer experience can now be rooted in an incredibly strong understanding of who your audience is and what makes them tick.
It also raises questions about the nature of what a reward is to your customer. Is a small discount really meaningful? Does it achieve true increasing loyalty or is there something more you can provide your most important customers? What’s the source of real growing loyalty today?
American Golf has recently placed its bet on using customer loyalty to not just offer discounts but give both participants a reason to come together and spend more time together. Its relaunched AG Club loyalty scheme now offers over one million members the opportunity to come in store and receive a free PGA lesson. Or an “MOT” for all their golfing equipment. It’s bringing customers in to experience the quality of the store first hand and planting the seeds for more meaningful relationships.
This, of course, requires a confidence in the quality, knowledge and passion of your staff. It requires real dedication to establishing a high water mark for every element of what happens when they walk through your doors. These things have often been too easy to ignore and neglect over the years. A whole swathe of long-established businesses have suffered the consequences of not being sensitive enough to the changing market, new technologies and changing requirements of customers.
It doesn’t have to be like that. If you consider your customers more than just revenue in the spreadsheet, if you start to seriously think about how technology cannot just increase efficiency but add value to the customer journey, you can start taking steps toward real and increasing value. You can start to develop customer loyalty that’s rooted firmly in the real world, in familiarity, in gratitude, and you can start to gain an asset that gives you a real edge on the competition.