When Online and Real World Shopping Cross Paths.jpg

Online content, in store: TigerLogic's Postano on a screen at Nine West.

Consumers now have access to the Net wherever they go, and their customer experience extends from everywhere to almost everywhere. With online shopping blending into offline, CMSWire.com pinged customer experience management provider Empathica and enterprise data management/app development provider TigerLogic for their insights. 

At Empathica, Chief Customer Office Dr. Gary Edwards oversees customer and employee research projects as well as technology solutions. He points to the twin trends of “showrooming” – researching online, then checking out the product at a brick-and-mortar store – and “webrooming” – the complementary trend, where a customer researches and possibly purchases a product online, after or while seeing it in a real store.

Regardless of Channel

“Consumers are in charge,” he pointed out, which is the central change in the balance-of-power that is causing the upheaval in retailing. Edwards noted that, increasingly, consumers are making their choices by “touch and feel” in the physical store, before, after, or even while they are surfing their choices online.

This is “something to be encouraged,” not resisted, he said, because seeing and touching, and the related in-store customer experience, is essential to keeping physical retailers relevant. The best way for retailers to respond to the ever-present option of Net researching and shopping, Edwards said, is “by offering a fairly seamless experience” that easily transitions back and forth, Net to physical and back.

For the modern retailer, this means managing the experience from end to end, making it easy and consistent to do business regardless of the channel, and potentially offering such incentives as price match guarantees for the same product found on the Net, as Target is doing.

Know Thy Customer

Even if price is the number one driver, Edwards said, it’s important to remember that consumers aren’t always single-product hunters. A store offers an opportunity for upselling that is different, if not more conducive, than an online environment. And mobile, location-based coupons, delivered to you in store, provide a tempting offer to buy.

Measuring and managing customer experience is what Empathica does, in part by pushing the increasingly popular idea of the Omnichannel.

But what’s beyond that merged paradise of Omnichannel? Edwards sees the next phase as being when “they know me” as I walk into the door of a physical store, just as an online store knows me by cookies or registration. Barnes & Noble and top-end hotels are beginning to point toward the day when you’re as well known in a store as you would be if you were a regular at the Cheers pub, in the TV series of the same name.

“Knowing you” includes not only location- and person-sensing, but apps that act as store salespeople. Let’s suppose Google Glass headgear is a hit. Wouldn’t it have an app that can guide you right to the product you want in the store – the same item you got last time you were here?

In other words, the emerging phase is not online versus physical store, but online as part of the physical, in-store experience. TigerLogic, for instance, has a product to merge social media with the store experience.

Point of Sale Displays

One of TigerLogic’s products, Postano, is a social visualization and content distribution platform that provides the ability to curate fan content in real-time, such as combining brand-related photos from Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, for display as part of a Web site, or on large screens in a physical store.

There are “two ways to touch consumers in a physical store” via information streams, said Tom O’Keefe, VP of Services and Sales at TigerLogic. One is through “the device they have on them.”

The other way is through “displays at the point of sale,” such as in-store large screen displays that Postano utilizes in Nine West clothing stores. Store personnel can, using a computer or a mobile device, use Postano to quickly curate fan-generated photos and comments about the brand on the large screens.

Stores’ Trump Card?

The idea, said O’Keefe, is to “influence consumers’ decisions,” to excite them about the brand while they are in the store. Social media-derived content offers an immediacy and enthusiasm about the product, plus it provides an in-store visualization of what O'Keefe described as “how I would actually use an experience, like a shoe,” because I see others using it in a stream of images and postings on the in-store screens.

He pointed out that this new take on in-store marketing builds on the fact that retailers “have always put content into stores, but it grows stale very quickly,” while social content “is totally dynamic and always changing.” The large screens capture consumer-generated content, blend it with brand content, and capture “the vibe” that you can’t get on a small screen smartphone. In-store consumers can also post to, say, a hashtag while they’re standing there, potentially seeing their own additions selected and eventually added to the mix on the large screen.

Does this kind of bi-directional display of brand content move the needle, making consumers feel better about the brand, the physical store, or about buying the products? O’Keefe acknowledged that, at this point, the “positive feedback” from employees, store leadership and consumers is still largely anecdotal, although the company is compiling data.

Such online-content-in-stores points to physical stores serving a comparable purpose in commercial retailing that movie theaters do in the movie release food chain – a public space for experiencing the product with other real people. No matter how much online blends with offline, actual people still provide an irreplaceable customer experience.