CETW12: Using digital engagements to connect with today's shoppers (Commentary)

Nov. 8, 2012

By Andy Austin

President, Digital Engagements, EWI Worldwide

Retail has forever changed due to technology's impact on the shopping process. It's no longer about the in-person experience — it's about the total experience, from consideration through the point of purchase. Shoppers require more control of the sales process, and brands have a responsibility to respond. Due to the emergence of this new paradigm, retail brands are required to think more strategically about the in-person retail experience and its role in the continuum of brand consideration — especially with less and less control over the message that consumers hear.

At Customer Engagement Technology World 2012, I had the opportunity to co-present alongside Bryan Meszaros, managing partner, OpenEye Global, in a panel session chaired by Stuart Armstrong, president of the Americas, ComQi. Our mission? To discuss how to carry digital out-of-home messaging through the retail purchase process. After all, if a marketing message drives specific traffic to a retail location, the brand has a responsibility to love that shopper for wanting to know more about that message and to customize the rest of the path-to-purchase around it.

Meszaros defines retail's new reality as a world in which technology must be combined with the brand and the branded environment to ensure the "multiplier effect." This effect can deliver 15 percent improvement to pre-sales and 12 percent improvement in purchase decisions.

But, technology's role in this new reality can only come after proper consideration of the traditional retail paradigm consisting of five key factors:

  1. merchandise authority/brand perception;
  2. price and value of the products or services;
  3. convenience;
  4. store environment and design; and
  5. customer engagement and service.

To be successful in today's crowded marketplace, retailers should seek to excel in two of these key areas — and to achieve parity in the rest. Technology doesn't alleviate our responsibility to abide by this time-tested process. Only when we know why shoppers visit stores can we properly address their needs with the right messaging at the right time.

As said by Armstrong, "We often refer to content as being 'king' but don't attribute principles that define effective content. The five key factors within the retail paradigm guide retailers on the overarching theme of their in-venue content."

This paradigm also reinforces the decline of the "sofa-to-store" purchase process — and the need for retailers to shift their thinking in kind. According to Meszaros, this method has been replaced by the digitally powered consumer, who is conscious of brand competition, wants personalized information that is always accessible and convenient, and is easily frustrated when these needs are not delivered.

Furthermore, the "Zero Moment of Truth's" role in the path to purchase has grown significantly. Coined by Google, ZMOT shoppers are "pre-shopping" online — researching products and brands by reading reviews, watching videos, asking questions and otherwise engaging with the brand outside of the store, according to a Bazaar Voice blog post. This scenario presents an ideal opportunity in which retailers can leverage digital engagements — bridging the gap between ZMOT and store shelves, according to Meszaros.

One question asked during the session was about why brands seem to be slow to adopt some of these tools. One possible roadblock is confusion about measurement, and how to apply it. One way to help simplify the measurement question is for retail brands to evaluate their technology investments based on their effectiveness in relating to the shopper, the salesperson and the experience. How did the shopper respond? Capturing moments of commitment increases shopping cart size. Elements of anticipation, inserting a learning component and providing visual and hands-on product experiences will all help shape a memorable interaction that lends itself to brand advocacy.

From an in-store sales perspective, the technology should aid in shaping the individual salesperson's role as trusted advisor and expert while giving them full access to inventory, pricing and any other relevant information that shoppers may need them to call up on the spot — helping cut off any frustration trigger points at the start for customers in the store.

Finally, the environment is a key factor in the success of DOOH messaging as a digital engagement. How is it used? Does it blend with existing brand efforts, such as the advertising and in-store visual merchandising? Is it serving as a bridge from ZMOT to shelf, or interrupting it?

Consider the following example of an integrated experience that carried DOOH through the purchase process. When HTC and AT&T were preparing to develop a showroom to feature the power of ATT's 4G LTE network, they looked to completely transform an existing store outside Chicago into a totally new kind of space. While consumers were made aware of the technology through advertising, and had full access to information online, HTC and AT&T went one step further by designing and building an integrated digital retail experience in which customers could imagine the power of the network in their daily lives.

Within the showroom, digital signage was used to create giant, fully-functional touchscreen phones, which formed "Super Demos" that enabled shoppers to interact with the phone's features. One of the interactives was a large-scale version of the Photoplay App, which allowed visitors to take high-res photos of themselves with fun backdrops and easily share them on Facebook. As a result, the space — dubbed the AT&T 4G LTE Lab — has attracted national press and is being used for larger marketing events by both companies. The success of this "experiment" is based on AT&T's ability to personify the network. Their external marketing message is that the AT&T network connects you to everyone with whom you wish to communicate, anyplace you live or work. The lab reinforces that message in an "infotainment" environment without the overarching burden of the hard sell.

Although the retail industry is changing before our eyes, Meszaros has identified five key elements of the evolving retail experience:

  1. a connected journey;
  2. information access;
  3. a shrinking gap between consumer expectation and retail reality;
  4. an optimized path to purchase; and
  5. a seamless multichannel experience.

While technology will continue to change the path to purchase, retailers are uniquely positioned to lead the digital engagements industry and create a more rewarding, memorable experience for shoppers and brands.

Austin has a decade of brand-side sales, marketing and operations experience in the wireless and consumer electronics industries, and has spearheaded next-generation initiatives through the development of smart customer-facing technologies, including the first worldwide launch of the award-winning Microsoft Surface within AT&T stores.

Read more about digital signage and the customer experience.

Topics: Customer Experience , Digital Merchandising , DOOH Advertising , Installation / Integration , Retail

Companies: Customer Engagement World , ComQi, Inc.

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