I remember when the first wave of corporate web sites hit the Internet. Designers at the time were thrilled to play with a brand new platform, and before long it felt like every site was competing to see which could have the most bells and whistles packed onto a single page.
Granted, web design as a discipline was still in its infancy and people were literally learning as they went. But for a long time most pages were designed with creators, not the end users, in mind.
We may have come a long way since then, but that “me first” thinking hasn’t entirely disappeared. In fact, it lurks behind the ongoing inability of many retailers to seamlessly synch up their in-store, mobile and e-Commerce experiences with the expectations of their consumers. Technology may be deeply intertwined with their lives. But the bottom line is this — if a consumer can feel something is being forced upon them for reasons that are unclear, it creates a level of distrust that no amount of marketing can overcome.
Do it right, however, and the opportunities for brands are endless. For proof of this, look no further than the travel and hospitality industry. If anyone has mastered the art of sophisticated, effective omnichannel strategy, it’s them.
Case in point: I recently stayed at the Even Hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y. I’m an avid runner, so I made sure the hotel had solid health and wellness facilities and was run-route friendly. What impressed me was just how well the hotel tried to get to know me and cater my experience in a way that was intuitive and over and above. After my first night the hotel app began to suggest additional run routes throughout the city. Each room had a small workout space, which was a selling point for me. But guests could also access in-room exercise routines available on the television with the touch of a button. Lobby staff were not only courteous, they were clearly well-informed. One even offered me an unsolicited, useful post-run recommendation in a friendly, non-off-putting way.
All of it was helpful, and none of it felt forced or so over the top as to be uncomfortable. It made for a fantastic experience, and the hotel became the center of the experience, enhanced by digital and online technology that made sense.
By contrast, think of the controversies that continue to haunt the retail sector. On one hand we see campaigns like Tesco’s facial recognition scanners to serve up personalized ads, but that wasn’t presented in a way that was seamless to their experience nor communicated in a way that’s beneficial to the shopper. All shoppers saw was a “Big Brother”-style attempt to capture their data with no obvious upside.
Then there’s the push among many retailers to appear innovative at all costs. It’s why we see so many of them adopting cutting-edge storefront initiatives like virtual mirrors or virtual reality-powered furniture design that look and sound impressive. On paper, that is. Problem is, when they are viewed in isolation — which they often are — they come across as solutions in search of a problem, disconnected from the brand that implemented them.
The lesson for retailers goes well beyond the need to be transparent with customers when it comes to introducing anything new to their experience (although they absolutely should be). Rather, it’s that anything done in-store has to feel part of a connected, holistic experience. The flow between the web site, the app, the online shopping and the feeling a customer has when they walk though the front door of the store must all feel like part of one experience.
Brands that strike this balance will eventually strike gold. Shopify, for example, recently opened its first retail store in Los Angeles, where aspiring entrepreneurs can “purchase” advice and inspiration for their own fledgling retail business ideas. Shopify’s long and focused effort to position itself as a champion for small businesses and e-Commerce makes the move feel like a natural evolution for the brand, and one that has generated excitement among potential customers.
Frank and Oak is a great example of an e-Commerce site that has successfully launched a physical storefront by emphasizing personalization. The company had already earned a reputation for providing personalized service through its monthly style box program, through which shoppers receive products curated just for them based on their tastes and previous purchases, all supported by artificial intelligence. The store takes that a step further, offering shoppers a unique in-store experience based on the urban location of each outlet, further emphasizing the personalized feel.
A few years ago my company worked with a major bank to better understand the customer journey, online and in-branch. While senior executives hypothesized over aspects of the omnichannel experience, using geofencing — which is essentially a short mobile survey or poll served up to people within a defined set of location parameters — we found parking to be one of the main pain points when it came to branch visits. As a result, the bank piloted adding branch parking info within their mobile app to enhance the customer experience.
In many ways we’re still in the early days of the new retail industry, and the pain from old to new is still being felt. But we’re far enough along that brands should no longer be making the mistake of not taking a true omnichannel approach.
The call to action is clear. Step back, analyze, test and be willing to take risks. Eventually, you’ll find a winning recipe. And it’s one your customers will thank you for.
Steve Mast is the President and Chief Innovation Officer of Delvinia, a data collection firm that has captured more than 180 million opinions and created the automated market research platform Methodify, recognized as one of the GRIT top 50 most innovative companies in the world.