By Gavin Masters, Head of eCommerce Consulting, Maginus Software Solutions.
The cross-channel shopping experience is ever evolving with new trends such as social commerce adding to the mix. But how do these many channels add or detract from customer experience and what are the challenges and opportunities for online retailers? Here, Gavin Masters, Head of eCommerce Consultancy at Maginus discusses how to blend the various touchpoints into a coherent and compelling proposition.
Consumers have always used a large number of reference points to make a purchasing decision, but often the effort required to obtain the information for an informed decision would only be relevant when a 'large' purchase was made (a new TV, car, house, financial product, etc) and the time investment was justifiable. However, as more and more people become connected through online social channels, this is no longer the case.
The advent of social commerce brings a lot of the traditional decision channels closer together and extends their range to incorporate opinions and information from a global pool of people, not just someone's traditional social circle.
The move to a more social method of selling increases the necessity for a brand to gain trust within its customer base. Consumers have always looked to their peers for trends and opinions, but this can now be done on a global, and instant, scale - meaning that strong feeling towards a brand (negative or positive) can be amplified extremely quickly.
Brands need to have a way of handling (and mitigating) this, and consumers will need to become more and more adept at tailoring this sea of information to help them make the right decision. For example, as soon as a source of information (a brand Twitter feed, an 'independent' review site, an industry expert, etc) becomes untrusted or discredited, users will move onto a new one and the old one may struggle to regain credibility.
Huge opportunities exist for companies now to treat individual customers as multi-channel, multi-identity entities – people can behave (and interact with a brand) very differently across different channels (Tweeting to a brand as opposed to speaking to a sales rep in a store, for example) – and react accordingly.
To be able to view the whole of a customer's interactions with your brand, not just their purchases but who they have recommended you to, what they have said about your product to friends, what other brands and culture points they are interacting with, all provides invaluable information to allow you to tailor content, marketing and product to their specific interest and the context in which they are currently interacting with you – and also gives a far more detailed insight into your customer demographic and trends within that demographic.
Social media is an important focus for retailers because it provides another touchpoint for them to communicate with customers. In this case it is important that such communications reflect core brands values and those interactions which customers have already had via other channels.
Indeed, the reality is that customers don't think in terms of channels, they think in terms of buying a product via whatever means (whether in store, online or mobile) and receiving it promptly complemented by a consistent experience.
It will be those brands and retailers that embrace this approach to retail regardless of channel that will win out.
The five key rules to help your business start getting the most out of its cross-channel opportunities are:
- Understand your customer. Any insight, even at a very high level, is valuable and can allow you to make informed decisions on areas of opportunity. Start small and react accordingly – don't wait until you know everything before you begin!
- Treat online with the respect it deserves. It is no longer a channel that your business should treat as less valuable or important than traditional channels. The longer your business is stuck in this mindset, the further behind your competitors you will fall.
- Don't assume that every social channel is appropriate for your brand. Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter have very different demographics and treating them all equally will not work unless you have a large, varied customer base.
- Set yourself a clear strategy and a goal. But don't be afraid to switch them if the landscape changes, or a new opportunity arises. Social is an emerging market and things can change very quickly, so be prepared to react.
- Do it now! Making the first steps and seeing the results is often very simple. Don't wait for the magic opportunity that may never arrive, and don't think you need huge investment to start seeing a return on your activities.