Merging Digital and Physical Experiences with Holiday Marketing Campaigns

by Michael Klein

posted on 12-21-2016

The 2016 holiday marketing season is well underway, and it’s slated to be the biggest revenue-generator yet. Consumers are shopping 24/7, discovering and buying products — both online and off — and demanding customized experiences wherever they are. Forrester predicts that cross-channel retail sales will reach $1.8 trillion in the US by 2017, and brands are responding by merging physical and digital systems to serve today’s consumers. For most, the goal is to use technology to improve customer experiences at every touchpoint — online or offline.

The holiday season is the busiest time of year for retail. In fact, revenue earned during the holidays can make or break a retailer, setting the pace for strategic goals throughout the rest of the year. The number of customers who are interacting with brands during the holidays is intense, and smart companies will gather insights to identify what works and what doesn’t. Big Data and marketing technologies are making this transition easier, and companies are enhancing experiences at every phase of the customer journey. So, what can we learn from holiday marketing campaigns?

With In-Store Optimization, Convenience Is Everything.
More consumers are on the go this holiday season, and retailers are leveraging the power of mobile to reach their customers both inside stores and out. For brands that are looking to optimize, mobile payments are a big hit. Apple Pay is embedded directly within Safari — and consumers love it. Mobile payments reduce checkout time and move people through the queue more efficiently. Credit card-chip technology is painfully slow; thus, mobile payment will continue to grow as more consumers learn how easy it is to use.

Technology Needs to Add Value to Be Useful.
This holiday season, brands are turning to innovative technology to reinvent the in-store experience. In fact, by the end of 2018, a study conducted by Business Insider predicts 3.5 billion active beacons will be installed in stores, targeting customers as they shop. And, a myriad of other interesting things are going on with interactive digital displays, magic mirrors, virtual dressing rooms, and in-store kiosks.

If you are a Kroger customer who is tired of pushing around heavy carts filled with groceries and standing in long holiday lines, consider purchasing online and picking up your order in-store. Kroger’s order-selectors will shop for you, using handheld wrist computers that display your digital shopping list. When you’re ready to pick up your order, they’ll roll your cart out the front door and place your items in your car — all you have to do is pop the trunk.

If you’re a Nordstrom credit-card holder who is shopping in-store, watch for sales associates wearing green shirts. They will allow you to pay with your mobile device instead of standing in the long holiday lines. Some retailers are experimenting with reserve-online and try-on-in-store options. Technology that truly improves the customer experience — creating frictionless experiences — makes sense. However, if the technology doesn’t add value for your customers, it’s wasted. Savvy brands must leverage opportunities that deliver value — not just bells and whistles.

Promoting Commerce Through Conversation Is More Difficult Than It Looks.
Messaging apps are grabbing attention this holiday season, and brands are exploring opportunities to enable commerce around chat. Imagine customers engaging with your brand through Facebook Messenger before making a purchase. Of course, the success or failure of commerce through conversation hinges on a variety of external factors, including customer loyalty and the number of users who have your app installed. Nevertheless, retailers are experimenting — and many are succeeding.

High-end, luxury-type brands are typically the first to push the envelope. But, as we’ve seen with Kroger, there are future opportunities for all. Messaging apps, chatbots, and even artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to handle a variety of customer service needs, so brands are deflecting high-traffic consumer requests — tracking inquiries and communicating about recent orders, for instance.

Personalization Only Wins if It’s Delivered Properly.
It’s important to unify offline and online data-point collections. No one disagrees that connecting all the different customer touchpoints is the Holy Grail of digital-marketing success. Do it properly, and you’ll deliver a better, more personalized experience. But, how you deliver that personalization matters. The customers in a Neiman Marcus dressing room are likely to be searching for customer experiences that are much different from what they’d expect while browsing through Walgreens.

Connecting Social Media to Commerce Isn’t Intuitive.
Integrating social-media marketing with in-store strategies can be profitable. But, brands need to be skeptical of social selling. Several years ago, Facebook tested integration in commerce on a fan page, and it didn’t work. Why? The social space may not be the right place to inject commerce, as people are looking to have conversations with your brand — not buy products. Nevertheless, as visual tools like Instagram and Pinterest gain popularity, connecting commerce to social media will be more natural. Social media can drive in-store traffic through local-based marketing, raising awareness for local businesses and driving more traffic to stores.

User-generated content creates opportunities for brands to integrate social with their in-store marketing strategy. Digital displays in physical brick-and-mortar stores can post user-generated content drawn from the web that highlights a brand’s most popular items. Imagine a virtual community board within a store. Understanding how to connect the dots — while ensuring consumers benefit — isn’t intuitive and will likely take time.

There Is a Place for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in Retail.
Both virtual and augmented realities will have bigger pieces of the puzzle in the future of retail. The idea that customers can use a tablet or mobile phone to envision what their next living room could look like is promising. Brands like Ikea and Lowes are already experimenting with augmented reality in that fashion. The in-store experience stands to gain the most — the idea that a customer can try on a jacket once and see what it looks like in 20 different colors is hopeful. Will shoppers be comfortable standing in public spaces with VR headsets on? There is room for VR in retail but only for certain audiences and populations. Macy’s tested a VR app this past Singles’ Day that enabled consumers in China to shop the Macy’s Herald Square store in New York City.

As the busiest time of year for retail, the holiday season is an opportunity for brands to use data and insights to streamline customer experiences both in store and out. Consumers today expect convenient, personalized shopping experiences wherever they are — and brands that take the time to consider how shopping trends can impact their businesses are likely to prosper in the future.

Topics: Campaign Management, Corporate Marketer, Retail, Social

Products: Experience Cloud