In today's always-connected world, many turn to yoga or meditation to find balance, but for those in the retail industry, finding harmony between shoppers' growing demands and what's immediately possible seems more out-of-sync than ever.
This year, brands must become—or continue to be, depending on their digital business maturity—consumer-obsessed and make data-driven decisions to comply with shoppers' preferences, but there's no one size fits all strategy.
Retailers need to learn to juggle engagement, innovation, and loyalty initiatives to power omnichannel experiences that drive conversions, and though it may be too late for some, there is hope for retailers seeking balance in 2017.
The answer? Mobile apps.
Engagement: Be social, not creepy
Brands should personalize user experiences that build trust without being creepy or invasive. For example, no one enjoys being bombarded with targeted ads minutes after completing an online search. However, when using retailer apps, it’s expected that they remember details, such as nearest physical store and payment information.
Salesforce reports that 64% of shoppers enjoy looking at recommended products based on their pageviews, while 79% like to receive product offerings from retailers based on purchase history. There’s clearly a consumer demand for personalization but with limits.
Shoppers expect brands to understand what’s important to them. They want and demand trust; if they have a problem, they expect answers. Connecting with today’s shopper implies understanding the fierce urgency of now that prevails in their lives.
This year, retailers must make connections and establish trust with consumers through social commerce by joining in on the conversation. This past holiday, 1 in 3 shoppers said they used Facebook for gifting inspiration. In 2016, 20% of total time spent online across devices was on social networks.
Instagram’s recent shoppable photo announcement, advertisements that target consumers based on emoji use, and the current chatbot craze all build the case for social commerce in 2017. To succeed at social, brands must find a happy medium between creating organic, helpful interactions without seeming pushy or forced.
Chubbies uses an in-app messages to send entertaining social content to users from their Facebook and Instagram pages (left) and takes advantage of the live chat feature to build relationships with users (right).
With apps, retailers can engage with their customers through tools, like push notifications, in-app messaging, and live chat. 92% of app shoppers are willing to let retailers use their location, providing the perfect starting point to start personalizing the experience.
Innovation: Create for humans, not for data points
Your customers are individuals, not analytics. Brands that wield new technology without a consumer-focused approach will miss the mark in 2017.
Parham Aarabi of ModiFace, a beauty-focused augmented reality company, said, "Technology for technology’s sake rarely works. Make sure technology is actually solving a problem. Avoid things that are gimmicky, and aim for things that feel authentic and real.”
Retailers need to find a middleground between using flashy, new technology and meeting consumer demands. In other words, this means designing integrated technological experiences with a human touch.
Here are a few examples of retailers who are embracing this:
One of the pioneers of fitting room magic mirrors, tech-savvy designer Rebecca Minkoff, partnered with Samsung to broadcast a 360 virtual reality livestream of her New York Fashion show. She also partnered with Zeekit, an app that uses augmented reality to allow shoppers to virtually try on clothes.
Google and H&M recently debuted a new app that designs users a personalized “Data Dress” based on their daily activities.
With AR and VR still in its infancy, it's unclear if or how this technology will make its mark in the retail industry. Does an immersive AR app or 360 VR livestream meet a specific consumer need, or does it only prove the brand is cutting edge? Regardless, we’ll see more tech partnerships as retailers seek to provide exclusive user experiences that match their brand.
Loyalty: Refine omnichannel, not only in-store experiences
Although reports continue to cite declining in-store sales, half of holiday shoppers purchased gifts in-store over last year’s Cyber Five. Retailers are responding to this by designing experiences that engage consumers throughout the nonlinear buyer’s journey.
Rose Hamilton, chief digital officer at Vitamin Shoppe, explains the company’s shift to a mobile-first strategy and how the company uses its shopping app to bring value to its customers:
“The new customer journey is not linear. They go all over the place, try different stores, try different products and places. We need to be present at every step, ready to accept them when they come back.”
Retailers must adjust their omnichannel strategy to keep up with cutting edge technology while balancing the erratic buyer’s journey. Consumers want in-store and online options, which is why omnichannel will continue to be important this year. Physical stores won’t disappear altogether, but will become more experimental—think Amazon’s line-less grocery store, which uses an app to streamline the shopping and checkout processes.
Mobile app users expect individualized experiences, which is why they’re more likely to share information with trusted brands. Half of consumers download shopping apps at least once a month, while 66% turn to their phone to shop weekly, making them the ideal way to connect the online and in-store experiences while maintaining an ongoing relationship with shoppers.
Meet your most loyal customers where they are by providing them an in-app experience that merges the online and in-store.
Apps are the complete package: they allow retailers to converse, customize, and experiment with new technology. In fact, 66% of companies that don’t have a mobile app saw customer loyalty decrease significantly over the past year.
Embracing new technology is crucial to remaining relevant, but the experiences must be effortless, straightforward, and tailored to the target audience. There’s unlimited potential for retailers to experiment with targeted immersive technology on mobile.
Check out our webinar recap from "Retailers: Are You on the Road(map) to Success?" to learn more about how mobile-first thinking will help your brand find zen in 2017.