The 2014 holiday shopping season brought online commerce to new heights, with double-digit growth in US online sales on both on desktops and mobile devices. Remember that shopping behavior tends to encompass more than one channel -- consumers usually hop between brand touch points before they push the buy button. Consider a shopper who adds a product to her shopping cart while browsing on her desktop, then abandons the purchase only to pick up her mobile phone. Retailers must offer a seamless and consistent shopping experience across desktops and mobile devices in order to set their brand apart.
From the conversations at NRF 2015, it’s clear that retailers are thinking about how to differentiate as digital experiences proliferate. Consider two leading brands: Apple and Amazon. Apple bridges the physical and virtual experiences of the Apple Store by installing beacons to deliver relevant messages to customers’ smartphones. Amazon consistently delivers highly personalized shopping experiences across digital touch points to encourage mobile shopping -- in fact, this holiday season, nearly 60 percent of Amazon customers shopped for gifts on a mobile device.
Personalization at the individual level, across channels, is no longer limited to tech giants with deep pockets. All brands must -- and can -- deliver exceptional experiences that win new customers and retain existing ones. Here are five must-haves and five differentiators for retailers in 2015.
Must-Haves: Table stakes for retailers
Discoverability of Value Add -- High quality content that highlights unique value-added services is increasingly the reason consumers prefer one retailer to another.
Public SEO -- Google, Bing, Yahoo and their regional counterparts still represent the primary point of entry for many consumers. Brands should constantly refine and test SEO.
Private SEO -- Once on a retailer’s site, customers primarily use search to find products. Having a fast, accurate, faceted search that users can easily refine based on product attributes, price and availability can make a dramatic increase in online transactions.
Consistent Experiences Across Devices -- Commerce experiences must be personalized and responsive, including features such as personal preference, browser history and wish lists.
Consistent Experiences Across Channels, Including Customer Service -- Call centers should be fully integrated into the customer experience. Employees should have full visibility into customer history and the capability to make changes across all channels.
Differentiators: The experiences that set winners apart
Trusted Convenience -- Many people make purchase decisions based on availability. Accurate inventory information and the ability to connect customers with the products they seek can be a huge win. Consumers now expect to buy online and pick-up in store, or have an out-of-stock item delivered at no cost. In some cases, consumers are willing to pay more for trusted availability -- just think about the millions of Amazon Prime subscribers.
Individual Personalization -- Retailers can leverage past purchase history, online carts and clickstream data to drive more engagement and conversions while turning retargeting into an upsell opportunity.
World Class E-Service -- In-store service distinguishes some retailers -- like Nordstrom -- against competitors. The same is true across call centers, email support, live chat and social media. Winning retailers ensure that the conversation continues, even if the channel switches.
Loyalty Programs -- Offering incentives for increased engagement and conversions is crucial. Integrate these incentives across channels and market loyalty rewards to consumers, based on their personal preferences and/or purchase history.
Innovative Technology -- Consumers are anxious to try out their latest device features. Use technologies like beacons, near field communication (NFC) and mobile payments to lure tech-savvy consumers into your stores.
Creating a top-notch customer experience across all channels may sound daunting, but it’s possible. It requires three things: integration of CMS, commerce platform and point of sale systems; ongoing optimization of digital experiences as devices evolve; and the collection of deep, actionable insights into customer behavior. Retailers who do all three will set themselves up for success in the must-haves and the differentiators, and will win in 2015 and beyond.