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Showrooming – how brands can look to bridge the online / offline gap

A selection of Experian experts give their views on all things marketing and big data. From data strategy to sophisticated segmentation. Follow them on @ExperianMkt_UK

Many marketers that I meet mistakenly assume that the customer journey starts and finishes in the same channel.

We’re all consumers. Yes, even us marketers. We make purchases, interact with brands and make decisions on a daily basis.

Think about it, how many times do you ‘touch’ brands in your day-to-day life? On social media, via email because you’ve signed up to a newsletter, advertising (online and offline), how about the shops you walk past on your way to work or when you pop out for lunch? All of these are interactions with a brand and are part of the customer journey.

Because of the way lifestyles and technology has evolved, consumers are more empowered and are taking control of how they shop. Brands cannot contain them in one channel — customers are completing their purchases at a time and place that suits them – jumping between channels at will – and brands that try to restrict this movement will frustrate, annoy and confuse.

This ability and tendency of customers to move between channels creates some serious challenges for marketers in terms of attribution, and there’s no greater example than the gap between online and offline retail.

‘Showrooming’ is just another term that has come about based on trends stemming from the fragmentation of the standard customer path to purchase. ‘Showrooming’ is when customers head into a store to see a physical product and try it out – a huge step in the decision process – but then make the purchase online.

This causes a couple of challenges for marketers:

  • Many see this as a huge threat to physical stores – who end up playing a large role in the path to purchase but don’t get credited with the final sale.
  • Showrooming causes a gap in the customer journey. If the customer has decided on a product in store their decision may well be affected by an offer or a lower price when they go online.

However, all it really means is that the customer journey has to be utterly seamless across devices and between online and offline. Retailers have to provide a seamless experience and learn how to recognise what specific people are interested in and translate that understanding to other channels. The overall aim has to be that customer checking out with them.

Success is about bridging that gap to provide a better and more effective and efficient service increase consideration. We have to make sure that our brand is at the cutting edge – we owe it to our customers.

Using channels and technology to bridge the gap

Once marketers fully understand the need for a seamless online and offline experience it’s time to consider the tactics to achieve it.

A key breakthrough will come when a brand is able to unite its channels to the extent that in-store staff are able to identify customers in real-time and use the information they have to improve that customer’s experience.

Retailers can mirror the speed and ease of online shopping in store by utilising new technologies, such as on-site tablets providing the ability to read customer reviews, order products that aren’t available and check out wish lists created by friends and family. This also provides stores with the increased capability to capture data in store to further optimise follow up communications.

Of course, this relies on a high level of consumer insight and audience understanding – and retailers’ data will have to be up to scratch. Understanding customers and building that single customer view (across mobile, email, SMS, browsing and physical) is critical and should be a top priority.

Maintaining a cohesive brand and experience across channels

Bridging the gap between online and offline will be a key differentiator for retailers in the coming years. Customers are looking for seamless, serendipitous shopping experiences – adding complexity and hurdles to the consumer’s shopping experience is counter-productive to the retailer’s bottom line.

But essentially it all boils down to understanding that the customer sees a single brand rather than individual channels and taking steps to not only embrace this but encourage it.

The key to success in retail today is removing friction from the shopping by adopting techniques that are relevant across both channels. Making shopping feel seamless not only encourages individual purchases but builds brands loyalty, which ultimately helps to drive sales – online and offline.

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