Bridging the Omnichannel Experience Through Personalization

In recent years, the retail industry has fought to adapt to the rising expectations and needs of today's digital consumer. The most innovative and demanding business cases are evolving from the apparel and fashion verticals. Apparel shoppers love to stay on trend and curate their individual styles while creating the right look. Given their cult-like affinity toward brands and styles, fashionistas require relevant and cohesive experiences across different touch points.

New technologies provide apparel consumers the constant connection they desire, but they also create the new challenge of expectation – the expectation of a seamless individualized experience across all channels when researching and buying products. As a result, a consistent and optimal customer experience requires that order and product information systems align at all times. Ensuring this functionality, as challenging as it may be, is essential. It establishes a single version of the truth for product attributes and descriptions, regardless of channels.

A single truth guarantees that a retailer's customers always receive the most up-to-date product information. For example, maintaining a single version of the truth allows a customer to walk into a brick-and-mortar store and find the product she just researched online. To take it a step further, integrating with personalization will ensure customers see products that are available and content that is relevant in real time.

The underlying promise of omnichannel is that a consistent brand presence and experience will be delivered across all platforms. Personalization is the glue that binds together all channels within an omnichannel environment; without useful data and the right actions to leverage the information to best target shoppers with relevant, contextual information, disparate channel strategies lack the cohesion needed to help a retailer to improve business and gain market share. In the end, a retailer can promote personalization without an omnichannel strategy but won't have a successful omnichannel strategy without personalization.

This notion is supported by an IT manager at a tier-one fashion retailer in the United Kingdom, in Aberdeen Group's report "Omni-Channel Retailing 2013: The Quest for the Holy Grail," who said, "Exceeding the customer expectation and always delivering on the customer promise can drive brand loyalty, and personalizing the customer experience enhances both. Omnichannel allows retailers to bring it all together in one or many, or any channel… When well executed, this can increase customer satisfaction and sales. Retailers cannot however lose sight of the basics of operational efficiency and product availability."

Simply put, to achieve omnichannel success, retailers must deliver a consistent brand experience by pulling all customer interactions into a central focus and connecting a shopper's behavior to their respective profile.

Next, consider the entire supply chain. When putting together a cohesive brand strategy, pricing, inventory management, product distribution, workforce optimization, returns and more are key areas of interest. Shoppers are channel-agnostic and don't care where the information comes from. Shoppers want what they want, at their convenience. If retailers do not deliver, shoppers will go somewhere else.

For example, showrooming has become a common and disturbing term for many retail companies because it describes the trend of shoppers entering a store to browse but not to buy. Competitors down the street that offer lower prices, and online giants such as Amazon, are the primary beneficiaries of the showrooming phenomenon.

According to mobile marketing technology company Vibes, the consumer tendency to engage in showrooming increased 156 percent from 20121. The same report also found that 89 percent of consumers would sign up for personalized mobile messages. Yet, only 18 percent of consumers reported seeing personalization from retailers2.

Another recent report from BI Intelligence suggests that consumers may prefer engaging in reverse showrooming or "webrooming." The report references a Harris poll that claims 69 percent of people webroom, while 46 percent showroom3. Whether addressing the showrooming or webrooming conundrum, retailers must connect with consumers through relevant and timely mobile content to encourage in-store or in-app purchasing directly from the retailer.

Social channels also provide an opportunity for personalized interaction with shoppers. An increasing number of people access their social networks from their smartphones. This confluence of channels provides an ideal opportunity to personalize the customer experience. Retailers that do not have mobile-friendly social capabilities — the ability to share, like, tweet and pin— are losing out on connecting with consumers.

Boston Retail Partners' 13th Annual POS Benchmarking Study found that 52 percent of retailers intended to install mobile POS (mPOS) by 20144. This shift toward arming sales staff with tablets and other mPOS systems enables another touch point through which retailers can build customer loyalty through personalized relationships. With just a few finger strokes, employees can access a shopper's transaction history and profile and identify relevant product recommendations.

Forrester Research says the value of a multichannel customer is often five or six times greater than that of a single-channel customer5.  Adding a personalization strategy enhances customer experiences, bolsters loyalty and drives revenue. Through a consistent brand experience that encourages engagement and adds actionable intelligence, any retailer is bound to turn customer insights into bottom-line success.

Meyar Sheik is CEO of Certona, a technology provider specializing in omnichannel personalization.

1"Mobile Consumer Report: Combat showrooming with personalization". Vibes .Oct. 2013.
2"Mobile Consumer Report: Combat showrooming with personalization". Vibes .Oct. 2013.
3"'Reverse Showrooming': Bricks-And-Mortar Retailers Fight Back". February 13, 2014
4"13th Annual POS Benchmarking Survey". Boston Retail Partners. January 2012.
5Developing an Agile Commerce Business". Forrester Research. Sept. 19, 2012.
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