A mobile phone in our pockets, a Fitbit on our wrists, in-car nav and digital radio options, OpenTable reservations, showrooming in-store, Apple Pay at checkout and Netflix on our TVs: we are truly online all the time.
The division between online and offline worlds doesn’t really exist anymore — which means that as customers, we don’t think in terms of channels. Instead, we think of online interactions with brands in the same way we think about the technologies we surround ourselves with: just a part of our lives.
Companies shouldn’t think in terms of channels either. Today’s brands face the pressure of measuring up to the best of these experiences and competing for customer attention across channels. Companies traditionally manage in-person customer interactions in bricks-and-mortar stores separately from the online brand experience, but this creates a challenge when it comes to creating consistency.
e-Commerce Makes Big Strides
For the majority of retail organizations, online is now a standard channel. However, companies often undervalue the influence their online presence has on offline sales. According to Forrester, 45 percent of offline retail sales will be web-influenced by 2020.
This necessitates a cohesive connection between bricks-and-mortar and digital. With customers moving so fluidly between online and offline, these channels must be merged for a consistent brand experience. This includes tactics like e-commerce promotions and downloadable coupons, in-store pickup and email promotions that give online browsers incentive to go to physical shops. Digital customer data presents great opportunity to geolocate in-the-moment promotions: coupons for shovels after a blizzard or air conditioners during a heat wave.
Online to Offline (O2O) strategies aim to find customers online, engage them through social and email contact and bring them into offline experiences to increase foot traffic and in-store sales. An example of this type of O2O promotion is Groupon promotions that bring customers to spas, events and restaurants.
Directories like Yelp serve a similar purpose and target local audiences while at the same time reinforcing the need for consistency between online and offline, since a damning review can have serious consequences. The Starbucks app even lets you order and pay for your coffee before you’ve stepped foot in the door, relieving you from having to stand in line.
Offline Living Up to Online Promises
Businesses selling higher-value goods like larger furniture purchases, electronics or other goods that customers want to see and try also need to prioritize consistency. If that beautiful couch featured on the website is unavailable to sit on in the showroom, the customer may well be disappointed and move on to another brand. In cases like this, even simple features that enable the shopper to find the closest showroom with that item go a long way towards securing the sale.
For businesses, this means integrating geo-location, inventory and web experiences to facilitate the move from online to offline. With such high demand for immediate order fulfillment, frazzled-looking sales clerks looking up inventory numbers in-showroom no longer cut it.
Showrooms: Both Online and Offline
Car purchases are a great example of the need for consistency in online and offline experiences. It used to be that these customers went straight to dealerships to view their options, but today they go online first. Online research takes place on brand websites, dealership websites, review sites and social networks. While the actual purchase will almost always take place offline, car purchasers build their impressions and go a long way in making their final purchase decision online.
To hone in on this online audience, many automotive manufacturers prioritize a single global web platform that can handle content management for websites, integrations with dealer systems, flashy configurators resplendent with color and option selections and lease and finance calculators. Post-purchase, email reminders about upcoming servicing, online scheduling and quick and easy logins keep customers engaged with the same brand and dealership.
Automotive manufacturers have also embraced the internet of things (IoT), which by nature is the merger of online and offline. Luxury brands now offer in-vehicle wireless connectivity, infotainment systems, interactive displays and more.
Finance Gets in on Digital Transformation
One of the verticals under the most pressure to keep up with the times is financial services. Greater acceptance of online banking and its partner, mobile banking, have created new pressures for this industry to meet customer expectations, and break barriers between the online and offline experience.
The marketing side of financial services is looking to create greater unity between not only the different products offered, but between a branch visit and what a customer does online. This means that if a customer showed interest in a change to their insurance policy, the bank manager is well-equipped to provide them with options even before they step into the bricks-and-mortar branch.
Many brands spend a lot of time and money on ensuring they have a translated website. They may also staff their stores to ensure that the language needs of their in-store audience are met.
Issues emerge, however, when a customer’s language preference does not follow the journey across channels. If the customer has selected a language preference on a website, it would seem to naturally follow that this preference is sustained across the journey, but for many brands, this is often not the case.
No Vertical is Immune
From airlines to hotels, automotive to car rentals, consumer goods to financial services, today’s business must create consistency between online and offline to compete. In fact, online to offline doesn’t really exist anymore. The challenge is creating a consistent, one-brand experience that meets customer expectations.