Many independent retailers become misty-eyed remembering the days when they controlled every aspect of the customer’s journey, from parking lot to purchase. There are still cases when this occurs, however today the customer experience that retailers work so hard to create is under siege, thanks to hyper-connected consumers with smartphones, barcode scanning apps and comparison shopping tools. The balance of power has shifted to consumers, and retailers are scrambling to fend off competition in every aisle of their stores. As Jerry Storch, CEO of Target, recently said, “The future belongs to brands that create the best customer facing experience, across all channels.” Retail brands that can best leverage their consumer touch points to build, nurture and grow their audiences won’t just have direct lines of communication to potential customers, they’ll have a distinct advantage over competitors who fail to build such audiences.
It begins with in-store optimization. As retailers, you are in charge of the store frontage, window displays, door decals, in-store signage, employee training, customer service and the checkout process. Yes, consumers may have smartphones in their hands, but smart retailers have ample opportunities to develop a deeper level of engagement once consumers step into the store. In ExactTarget’s research report, Subscribers, Fans, and Followers, Retail Touchpoints Exposed, the company tracked and analyzed the marketing techniques of the 100 fastest growing retail chains in the U.S. It began its examination on retailers’ home turf, their brick and mortar stores. Based on this research, ExactTarget found three points of interest that retailers should focus on in order to optimize their in-store environment, and the consumer experience. These are signage, employee interaction and sales receipt.
A number of the retailers surveyed put forth efforts to turn consumers into subscribers, fans and followers; however a surprising number are underutilizing their home-field advantage. Signage serves many purposes in the physical retail environment. It directs consumers where to go, informs them of the latest sales, and ultimately, conveys key elements of current marketing initiatives and the brand itself. These channels remain open for direct communication after the consumer leaves the store. ExactTarget found that 39 of the Hot 100 Retailers sought any sort of digital engagement from in-store consumers. That means that over 60 percent of the retailers surveyed made zero effort to convert in-store visitors to subscribers, fans or followers. Missed opportunities with in-store signage are staggering. Google’s recent report, The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smart Phone Users, found that over 70 percent of shoppers use their cell phones in-store while shopping. Yet only two percent of the Hot 100 retailers sought in-store engagement through SMS, and only five percent promoted a proprietary mobile application. Instead of combating the in-store plague of smartphone enabled comparison shoppers with mobile calls-to-action, retailers studied are currently ceding that ground to third-party apps and competitors.
If it is the job of the retailer to create and enhance the customer experience, employees are fundamental to that experience. ExactTarget documented employee behaviors both in-aisle and during checkout, and found that of the Hot 100 Retailers with physical stores, 62 percent had employees trained to seek data from consumers at point of sale. However, only 44 percent of the retailers with stores asked for a customer’s email address at point of sale. In many ways, the best store associates help create an environment in which consumers not only want to purchase, but also want to engage with the brand in a deeper and more meaningful way, granting permission for ongoing communications.
The sales receipt presents two distinct opportunities for marketers. First, it is a face-to-face opportunity to secure permission to send a post-sale communication in the form of a digital receipt via email. When purchased items are expensive, under warranty, or have a possibility of return or exchange, consumers view the email receipt as a customer service engagement. Nevertheless, ExactTarget found that only two of the Hot 100 Retailers with physical stores offered digital copies of receipts via email. Retailers who offer email receipts create an immediate and permission based opportunity to communicate with each customer. While each receipt is a one-off communication, the retailer can also include a call-to-action to subscribe to ongoing email communications, engage via Facebook or Twitter, and even rate products online.
As ExactTarget’s anonymous shopping efforts revealed, even the fastest growing retailers have ample room to improve their in-store audience building efforts. Just capturing the attention of 10 percent more of a store’s foot traffic could translate into thousands more subscribers, fans and followers with whom the retailer could communicate directly. Therefore, brick and mortar retailers must:
• Be Bold and Strategic with Signage. The mere fact that a consumer walks through your doors indicates some level of interest in your brand. Put calls-to-action along their in-store path that conveys how, where and why to engage with you via email, SMS, Facebook or other digital channels.
• Get Creative with SMS. A majority of cell phones these days have low-cost or no-cost text messaging capabilities. Test in-store SMS calls-to-action that encourage customers to try new products, shop clearance items, and purchase your overstocked items.
• Optimize Email Receipts. As the tangible evidence of a sale, receipts are something consumers have a tendency to review and keep. Leverage that behavior to your advantage by offering digital copies via email, and by promoting your preferred channels for feedback and social engagement.
Remember, your stores provide you with a distinct home-field advantage. Put it to good use and build your in-store audience, and business can’t help but boom.
As Principal of Marketing Research and Education at ExactTarget, Kyle Lacy leads an effort to build and distribute an ongoing research series that sets aside theories and assumptions about consumer online preferences, and focuses instead on solid data collected through a combination of focus groups, experiential research, and online surveys. He is the author of three books: Twitter Marketing for Dummies (2009), Branding Yourself (2010), and Social CRM for Dummies (2012). Prior to joining ExactTarget, Lacy co-founded a marketing technology company, helping over 350 clients build and deliver digital marketing experiences. Follow him on Twitter at @kyleplacy or visit his blog at KyleLacy.com.