When Digital Meets Physical in Retail

By Paul Murphy, EMEA Commercial Director, OpenMarket for Digital Marketing Magazine

The UK retail environment is as fiercely competitive as ever; with sales growth slowing in the last month, it’s important that retailers do what they can to win over customers and set themselves apart from their peers. In an effort to do just that, retailers are putting greater emphasis on the customer experience and investing accordingly. At the heart of the customer experience is ‘the brand’ and by extension how that brand interacts with us.

Omni-channel retailing is fast becoming the norm and as such retailers must look at what this means for their customer communications and what opportunities it opens up for them. Brands are rapidly and aggressively expanding their presence into the online, social and mobile spheres in an effort to win consumer mindshare and eyeballs. While a companion app and a witty Twitter handle will help, real success will depend on a cohesive strategy that weaves together the strands of each channel to create an altogether much improved customer experience.

Consumers are more tech-savvy than ever and are comfortable enough to engage with retailers in a variety of ways. Forward-thinking brands should be using this to their advantage. With virtually every shopper carrying at least one smart device, in-store communications and marketing can be made more targeted and relevant than ever before.

A number of retailers are using near field communication (NFC) tags in store to share offers and detailed product information such as stock levels or washing instructions. Shoppers need only tap their phones on the tag and the information will pop on their device. Not only does this enable a degree of self-service for the consumer but also enable the delivery of much richer information such as videos. What’s more retailers can share targeted offers via SMS; for instance, if a customer has tapped on two similar items, a ‘2 for £40’ coupon could be sent direct to their phone, encouraging the sale.

This idea is being developed further through in-store public Wi-Fi. Brands offering free Wi-Fi to customers secure a vital data point: knowing when a customer is actually in-store. Using data from public Wi-Fi or ‘beacons’ it’s possible to map the shopper journey and all-important dwell time. This paves the way for highly-personalised, context-relevant marketing offers direct to a shopper’s phone. For example, if a customer dwells in the drinks aisle, sending a 2-for-1 offer might encourage the sale. With 76% of purchase decisions made at point of purchase, this could convert a browser to a paying customer. The same approach can be used to send shoppers customer satisfaction surveys via text message as they leave the store, encouraging quick, real-time feedback at the point of experience.

As the line between online and in-store is blurred further and further, making this type of targeted marketing possible, retailers need to ensure they use the right channel for their in-store communication. Our research has shown that there isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ solution and that when it comes to time sensitive applications and those when the consumer is ‘on the move’, SMS is the best choice. Not only does it boast open rates of over 95% – something which email and push notifications could only dream of – but it is prioritised by 83% of consumers. When sharing offers in-store it’s vital that they are received and viewed as quickly as possible – in this case text messaging stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Research from Deloitte claims 50% of all in-store sales will be influenced by mobile over the next decade. Mobile has given brands a direct line to each and every consumer, and a means of creating much closer brand/consumer relationships than we have seen before. By building on those relationships and bringing the digital realm in-store, truly targeted marketing and value-added customer experiences can be created.