The key to a successful cross-channel strategy relies on retailers’ ability to “connect the dots” between online initiatives and physical stores. However, many retailers are struggling to optimize this vital area of engagement, according to new research from Bronto Software.
The report, titled “Continuing the In-Store Conversation Online,” spotlighted the importance of creating a seamless experience across channels throughout the customer lifecycle. To investigate how merchants were promoting online initiatives in brick-and-mortar locations, Bronto executives visited 131 retail locations across industry categories, including apparel and accessories, department stores, electronics, health and beauty, jewelry, and specialty.
“We always try to look at cross-channel strategy and investigate how merchants can leverage email, mobile and social to work with each other,” Jim Davidson, Manager of Marketing Research for Bronto, told Retail TouchPoints. “I wanted to take a step back and see how brick-and-mortar retailers are encouraging their consumers to go across these channels. When we looked at customer acquisition and engagement, people who are in stores are fully engaged and ready to buy, so we wanted to see how retailers tapped into this audience.”
Marketing methods utilized to promote cross-channel promotions, including email programs, SMS, QR codes, social networks and web sites, were evaluated. Locations of promotions and overall messaging strategies used in-store also were considered during the study. Retailers’ web sites were the most promoted online channel (58%), with the storefront window being the most popular area to spotlight advertising. QR codes came in second, with 21% of retailers utilizing this method to provide shoppers immediate access to content, including videos, subscription forms and in-depth product information. Overall, 37% of all QR codes were placed in store windows, creating a more strategic approach to piquing interest among visitors and passersby.
“When QR codes first came out, merchants started throwing them out everywhere,” Davidson said. “At first, retailers would just link these codes to their homepages, which doesn't create value for the merchant nor the customer for scanning. If marketers can find ways to link codes to different scannable content, adoption rate will go up, especially if companies communicate the value of scanning. Then, we’ll be able to learn how QR codes can impact revenue as well as customer acquisition.”
Social networking accounts and initiatives were spotlighted in 16% of retail locations, according to the Bronto study. However, most retailers lacked compelling calls-to-action with their in-store promotions, creating a missed opportunity for engagement and intimate communication, according to Davidson.
“Most retail locations failed to explain the value [of social] to customers,” Davidson explained. “Although social was promoted in some stores, advertisement methods mainly consisted of just posting Facebook logos. Retailers must look at their in-store messaging strategies and see if they make the value of participating clear. Then, customers will be more willing to engage and learn more about a retailer, and, most importantly, decide whether or not they want to purchase a product.”
Driving Email Opt-Ins And Engagement Across Channels Industry analysts point to email as one of the “stickiest” forms of customer engagement; however, only 11% of stores promoted their email programs in brick-and-mortar locations, according to the study. Although merchants make it mandatory for associates to tell customers about email programs and ask customers for information at the point of sale, most employees found this strategy “awkward” and “intrusive,” the report indicated. Some brands have avoided this issue by inserting a prompt in credit card scanners that will display a few key bullet points about the email program and ask if they would like to join, Davidson said. Merchants also can promote initiatives throughout the store via QR codes and SMS campaigns.
“Retailers must utilize new methods to expand the acquisition efforts of their email programs,” Davidson reported. “Isolating this process to the register is really restrictive and takes up too much time. Moreover, customers usually write their email addresses down, or verbally share it with a cashier, which may lead to mistakes and overall poor data quality, leading to increased bounces. Opening up alternative means of acquisition definitely will cut down those issues.” For example, retailers can implement an SMS or QR code campaign that provides shoppers with easy access to enter their email information and join the program.
Among all cross-channel marketing tactics, SMS initiatives were endorsed the least, garnering 8% of all stores. Fifty-five percent (55%) of all SMS promotions were found at registers and 27% were found in store windows. Despite low implementation, SMS is an optimal channel to establish trust among consumers, by providing instant and seamless access to purchase confirmations, receipts and order alerts, Davidson explained.
Regardless of marketing methods or messaging strategies, it is imperative for retailers to have a firm understanding of their target audiences and the channels they utilize most frequently, according to Davidson. From there, merchants will have a better grasp of how to establish an integrated cross-channel strategy.
“If you’re really looking to have an effective cross-channel marketing strategy, and you want to incorporate it in stores, it’s important to be where your customers are, as well as what kinds of technologies to which your target audience is gravitating. Then, you can better determine how to really maximize a specific channel to boost revenue and engagement.”