Tailored customer engagement is on the rise and, increasingly, brands are getting smarter and more sophisticated, providing customers with more engaging in-store experiences, according to James Deeley, director of creative strategy for Amaze, who here examines what tailored engagement is all about, and why it's no longer optional.
For example, Amaze has seen, while working with global sportswear brand ASICS, that there is a clear blurring of lines between on and off line having recently developed a new product advisor, initially launched in the brand's flagship store in Hamburg and since rolled out through key European stores. This advisor offers a fresh, personal and highly immersive approach to a digital user experience and these blended digital and physical experiences are only set to increase with brands more and more.
Consumers are also getting savvier in terms of how they use the Internet for shopping. For example, 'Web-rooming' (where consumers research purchases online before visiting the store for a real-life look at products) is now becoming increasingly prominent compared to 'Show-rooming' (where consumers view items in store, then purchase later online), which was previously predicted to increase.
It will come as no surprise then when Amazon recently opened its first, fully-staffed retail environment called Amazon@Perdue. It's unlikely that this will be the only online retailer to move to a physical from an online environment. The thinking behind Amazon's physical store is to deepen customer engagement and lock in loyalty from the outset; offering a joined-up approach to its customer services, linking up with services like Prime too.
Brands like Amazon recognise is that there is now a real need for brands to have physical interaction with customers, by returning to the 'physical retail experience'. If this change happens, as anticipated, there is a risk that purely digital retailers will be easily usurped by other brands that have realised this change earlier on. Intelligence in technology and the customer experience will increasingly be a defining business advantage.
So how can retailers leverage technology to meet demand for tailored, relevant experiences? In the years to come, 2015 could be seen as the year that retailers began to fight back and start to create digitally-enabled destination places that give more to consumers than any pure eCommerce solution could ever do.
To fully leverage these technologies, retailers must concentrate on the context. Smart devices such as phones, watches etc. are clever enough to deliver relevant content for a user, and for them to work most effectively for retailers, all available devices need to communicate with each other, i.e. each can not perform the same function. The recent partnership between Spotify and Starbucks for example, is a synergy which will see music lovers earn 'stars' to put toward coffee and snacks at the chain, when they listen to playlists accessible via their Starbucks coffee apps. This collaboration is the first time Starbucks has linked its loyalty scheme to a third party but is one that will bring valuable benefits and connections to its customer base.
Brands must go beyond mobile apps and sites, for things like retail wearable apps, augmentation will be key and the potential for this is also set to grow. Microsoft's HoloLens for example, has been hailed as the first augmented reality device 'done right', while the relatively unknown but still eagerly anticipated Magic Leap game is set to offer brands the ability to truly change the way consumers perceive the world around them.
Devices such as Google Glass have demonstrated how wearable technology can extend a wearer's senses in a variety of ways, and while much of this technology is still in the testing and research stage, we are in no doubt that these technologies are maturing fast, and these will continue to naturally evolve.
The important thing for brands to note is the need to tread carefully with these technologies and ensure any interjection is of value to the consumer. Non-beneficial, or worse still, non-consensual interruptions will be the equivalent of wearable spam and will provoke negative responses.
But what role does a website play in creating these tailored experiences? If retailers want to succeed in developing a more tailored experience for their customers, more focus needs to be given to ambient technologies, personal devices and wearable smart technology, rather than solely on a brand web or eCommerce site. That said, websites will increasingly need to fulfil a specific role, acting as a the centre of our personal 'eco-system'; collecting data and supplying our own network of devices and points of digital direction. This will allow for a much wider understanding of existing customer behaviour.
The website could also increasingly take the place of managing, inspiring and summarising customer behaviour, targeting media messages and brand interactions (i.e. If a customer spends one hour in a branded retailer, at a specific product area but does not purchase, there would be a need to follow up to establish why they did not buy). Using technologies that increase the ability to offer dynamic pricing is also another way brands can offer a more tailored approach.
Wearable technology is also an interesting aspect to consider as an extension to the process of contextualisation, specifically intelligent fabric, where smart thinking technology is literally weaved into the very threads of the device. If used correctly, this data will allow brands to effectively 'talk' to the displays and systems in-store.
If done right, truly effective contextualisation will be subtle and ambient, focusing primarily on the integration with personal devices such as mobile phones, to monitor specific behaviours and data.
Technology, as a result, will start to 'personalise' physical spaces in shops; starting with screens and messaging, but then quickly moving to product display and floor layouts too. For instance, it is easy to imagine shop carousels displaying units and products appropriate to the customers approaching, based on data drawn from their smart devices.
"There is no doubt that tailored engagement is becoming of increasing importance however that will be a risk to brands who decide to contextualise all messaging," concluded Deeley. "If brands do not tread carefully, it could be considered unsettling for customers and if used incorrectly, it could have lasting damage. Nevertheless, if handled in the right way, the possibilities could be endless."