By Mario Toneguzzi
The growth in online shopping presents an opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers, not a threat, and digitalization can foster more meaningful customer connections, boost loyalty and increase sales, both online and offline.
That’s the key message of the new book Omnichannel Retail: How to build winning stores in a digital world, which was co-authored by Tim Mason, CEO of digital marketing technology company Eagle Eye Solutions and retail technology expert Miya Knights, Head of Industry Insight at Eagle Eye.
The book is written specifically for consumer-facing businesses and offers practical recommendations for harnessing the value of digitally connecting with customers wherever they are to drive loyalty and sales.
Mason, who has more than 30 years of retail industry experience and was previously CMO and deputy CEO of Tesco, the largest multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer in the UK, said it’s a "digital imperative" that retail brands connect with customers today through relevant and timely engagement.
“Retail is clearly under significant pressure pretty much all over the world. When I say retail, I mean I guess traditional retail in the sense that what you have is discounters emerging in most markets on the one hand and you have ecommerce emerging in many markets on the other,” said Mason, who with Eagle Eye helped Loblaw launch its PC Optimum program, Canada's largest loyalty initiative, combining the Shopper's Optimum and PC Plus programs into a single cross-banner initiative.
“The main issue that I’m trying to bring out within the book is that in this modern and connected world you ultimately will not be able to do business satisfactorily without having customers’ identities, understanding their shopping behaviour through data analytics and personalizing your response to them. That is the world that ecommerce is leading and that they are used to, and bricks and mortar retailers will follow as they bring digital tools into their physical spaces. And if you don’t do that, you are going to look very flat-footed as if you don’t care about me. And I think ultimately the people who don’t embrace digital and bring it into the bricks and mortar world will be the losers.”
The first thing retailers have to do is find a way to get as many customer identities as they possibly can. That could be through a loyalty program. In this modern digital world, you can also get identities through promotions as well as many other different ways.
Then retailers need to be able to match that identity with shopping baskets so they know what consumers are doing, explained Mason. Then retailers need to have a significant data analytics capability to understand what those customers are doing and increasingly with the use of artificial intelligence to predict what they’re doing.
“Finally, what you need is the digital connection so that you can basically speak to them directly and personally ideally through their phone,” said Mason.
He said brand affinity and lifetime value is being extended by people who have access to the app as well as the website. The lesson here is about multiple touch points for the consumer. And there’s a lesson about the complete convenience of the mobile phone.
“Mobile is extremely important and my message to all retailers is that what you want to do is you want to turn shopping into an activity where the phone is no longer in the pocket or the purse but it’s in the hand. And the reason it’s in the hand is because it is enriching the physical shopping experience,” said Mason.
With 90 per cent of shopping transactions still completed in a physical store, the physical retail space is far from dead, said Mason, but traditional sales outlets need reimagining to re-establish their place in a digital world, as well as their ability to both compete with and enhance online shopping experiences.
The book shows retailers how to give their stores a 'mobile makeover' to maintain their relevance and connection to today's customers in order to drive growth. Rather than discouraging digital interactions in-store for fear of driving customers to online rivals, retailers need to digitally augment their physical advantages – of expert customer service, sensory selection, "try before you buy," and instant gratification and fulfilment. Delivering personalized experiences that resonate with consumers and challenge digitally enabled and data-driven competitors like Amazon, Alibaba and Jet.com mandates that retailers transform their businesses – today.
Mason said the consumer of today wants to shop in many different ways and retailers must be available for the customer through the channel they want to use.
“I think the Canadian market has been a little slow to get into ecommerce because there hasn’t been the same competitive pressure. The competitive pressure in the UK to get into it was caused by Tesco. The brand leader decided to do it very early and clearly when a brand leader does something people make competitive responses,” he said.
Mason said so many first experiences of a retailer’s brand, their offer, are digital. That could initially be through research and browsing online even though a customer’s intention is to fulfill that shopping trip in a store. When a customer comes into a store after researching online, a retailer can’t align their physical store identity with their digital identity not realizing it can be the same person.
“In an omnichannel world, you do. That person who was researching this product online came into that store on that day with a basket that had these other things in it. What is the next best message for the next best offer we should send that person to encourage them to shop with us again or to buy another product the next time they shop? That is the cycle that is the way in my view that successful retailing will be done going forward,” added Mason.
Co-author Knights has spent 20 years as an enterprise technology journalist, analyst and research director, studying the demands and challenges faced by retailers and the technology-based best practices that can best support their needs.
Eagle Eye is a leading SaaS technology company transforming marketing by creating digital connections that enable personalized performance marketing in real time through coupons, loyalty, apps, subscriptions and gift services.
The company's current customer base comprises leading names in UK Grocery, Retail and Food & Beverage sectors, including Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose and John Lewis & Partners, JD Sports, Burger King, Greggs, Mitchells & Butlers, Pizza Express and in Canada, Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart and Esso.
Eagle Eye is headquartered in Guildford, United Kingdom and has offices in Manchester, Toronto, and Melbourne, Australia.
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Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: email@example.com.