Connecting the Online and In-store Shopping Experience

The technology to connect your site to your stores has rapidly evolved and is now accessible to most marketers. Adding a store locator, in-store pick-up and perhaps the capability of checking a store’s inventory are all based off of fundamental data points that your customer can easily navigate.

Flip that coin over and connecting your store to your site is not so straightforward. One of the most complex and unpredictable data points is introduced – consumer behavior.Today’s plugged-in, tablet and smartphone-wielding consumers are constantly discovering and using new technologies and digital shopping tools to connect with your brand (and to your competitors) at every point of the purchase path. This creates opportunities and challenges for marketers – opportunities to engage with shoppers both online and in store, but also the challenge of determining the right tools and technologies your customers value, trust and use consistently.

As a result, marketers today are striving to better understand the right mix of tools and technologies that will be the best fit for their customers. According to RSR Research’s “The Relevant Store in the Digital Age,” 48% of marketers cited bringing a digital, online experience into stores as one of their top three priorities. Luckily there are ways that you can begin to bridge this gap to increase customer engagement and increase sales without blowing your budget.

Set Expectations
Connecting the dots between your store and your site will increase engagement, customer satisfaction and result in sales but these efforts will not become a primary revenue source for your brand.

Launching advanced consumer engagement solutions in store without careful planning and testing can be costly, time consuming and risky.Your customers will help you identify the tools and tactics they are most interested in using while in your store.

Create opportunities for your customers to become part of the process as you test and try out new in-store engagement tools. Even if the in-store engagement programs you start with aren’t mind-blowingly flashy, inviting your customers to try fun new ways to shop your stores and then gather their feedback will provide you with more opportunities to engage them on many different levels while also finding out what works.

With this approach, you avoid wasting time, money and resources on in-store engagement tools that don’t work for your particular audience.

Define Boundaries
There are three connection areas that you and your team should discuss: site-to-store, in-store and store-to-site. It may seem counterintuitive to silo your efforts to connect your site and stores, but these distinctions will fuel the discussion and identify key areas that should receive priority.

Your current technology ecosystem may have more tools available to connect your site to your store, but that doesn’t mean it should necessarily be your first choice. A totally unexplored environment like connecting the in-store customer to online content may help you discover new ways to engage with customers and nurture them more easily from intent to buy to making a purchase.

Take the First Step
Getting started can be a struggle especially when we’re used to having robust marketing platforms at our fingertips. Luckily there are a few ways for you to test the waters before doling out major dollars.

These recommendations may seem too basic, but gaining insight into adoption, usage, retention and abandonment will help you make a more informed decision about how to build stronger and more profitable connections between the online and in-store shopping experience.

One of the easiest ways to get started is to leverage existing content on your website. While your site may not be fully optimized for viewing on a mobile device, there may be specific content pieces that you can use. Use short URLs or QR codes paired with a strong call to action for your in-store customer to read product reviews for products featured in your store displays. Include product numbers on signage to help the in-store customer search for a specific item on your site without having to guess keywords.

If your product pages and related content like ratings are reviews are not optimized for mobile viewing, build a mobile version of a curated collection like your “Top 10 Best Selling Products” products or your “Designer’s Picks” for the season. Remember, this is a test of adoption and engagement. If you focus the call to action and set the expectation correctly, the customer will be more be engaged during the shopping experience, excited to find what they want, and more likely to buy from you.

How many of your customers would like to ship products seen in your stores to their home? Many brands would like to provide that option to their store customers but are not able to determine if it’s worth it. Keep it simple and pilot a program where customers are able to share the products they are interested in purchasing with your staff who can fulfill the order for them at the register or on a tablet.

Most retailers today are aware that their customers are essentially “always on” and ready to shop, whether they’re walking through the aisles of one of your store locations, searching on your web site, or sitting home watching TV and browsing on their tablets. Consumers themselves are the drivers behind this connected shopping experience between online and offline, and most likely this trend will continue and grow in popularity. That means that now is the time to begin experimenting with new approaches, tools and technologies to engage your customers every step along the path to purchase.

Jim Davidson is Manager of Marketing Research for Bronto Software ( Jim can be contacted at [email protected].