How to bridge the online and offline consumer experience

Brands must figure out better ways to bridge the offline and online customer experience.

The customer journey is only becoming more complicated with hundreds of potential touch points for a transaction as simple as buying a pair of shoes. So what are brands and marketers to do?

Per Gwen Morrison, CEO of The Store at WPP, at ad:tech on Wednesday, brands should look at the online customer journey because consumers can search for whatever they want and customize their experiences and everything is contextually relevant because they’re driving it. That’s versus in-store, where consumers have to see things they don’t want to find what they do.

“In my world, channels are an antiquated notion,” said Lori Tauber Marcus, former global CMO of Peloton. “Channels are not important to a consumer.”

When a consumer wants a product, they expect it to be the way they want and where they want it to be, she added. That means the notion of omnichannel is antiquated because it assumes those channels are in place and rigid.

Another problem is attribution, said Thoryn Stephens, CDO of American Apparel. In other words, if a push notification drives a consumer into a store and they ultimately make a purchase, where does attribution go? Digital? Retail? Both?

“What’s interesting is businesspeople almost tolerate it. We know we can’t attribute perfectly,” Marcus said. “I wish we would stop tolerating it and embrace it.”

In addition, retail locations need more customer data so salespeople can make better recommendations based on previous purchases, but a huge disconnect remains, Stephens said. Oak Labs has touchscreen mirrors that can pull in CRM data, but adoption overall remains low.

What’s more, Stephens said American Apparel does not have an app yet because the brand wants to wait until it has a “rock-solid mobile experience.”

“I think apps are outdated, [which you can] already see with bots – it’s a more contemporary conversation.”

And that’s particularly true when it comes to younger consumers.

And, according to Graham Harris, VP of brand partnerships at Bazaarvoice, one of the biggest challenges facing marketers in this arena is getting data and making that data portable to get a more holistic view.

And while Marcus conceded technology is an issue, she said marketers can’t blame it all on IT and data. In other words, part of the problem is also the incentive structure among retailers in which stores are rewarded for store sales and e-commerce is rewarded for e-commerce sales.

“But…as a company, we aren’t thinking about selling to a consumer – we’re thinking about channels and what we’re financially motivated to do,” Marcus said. “It’s not an individual sport, it’s a team sport.”

In other words, retailers need to figure out how to reward more broadly for closing sales, she added.

Furthermore, Stephens said we simply don’t have the data, systems and technology in place for attribution and, as a result, not many companies are doing it well yet.

“As consumers have changed how they buy, we change how we sell,” Morrison said.

And that means taking a step back to determine different ways to sell and intercepting the consumer on their terms across the path to purchase.

And sometimes that’s a remarkably low-tech solution, like Rent the Runway’s customer reviews, which helps consumers better determine which dress is right based on photos from fellow customers, Marcus said.

“That’s about as low tech of a solution as you can get, but find myself relating [to some consumers],” Marcus added. “Sometimes the answer is right there in plain sight.”

For its part, American Apparel has experimented with RFID to enhance the consumer experience with data about what products are nearby and it has also partnered with Postmates to deliver goods within an hour, Stephens said.

Per Anne Marie Stephen, CEO of Kwolia, beacons are still trying to find their way in the market, but brands like Rite Aid, Barneys and Heineken are experimenting with them.

Marcus, however, warned not to get distracted by bright, shiny objects when there’s so much basic blocking and tackling that brands don’t always do well.

That being said, brands like Sephora, Rent the Runway and Dove are successfully bridging the online/offline gap, panelists said.

That includes the latter’s #RealBeauty campaign, in which Dove “[stands] for something consumers can get behind,” Morrison said. That, in turn, gives the brand traction because consumers are touched by the narrative and want to participate, she added.

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