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Executive ViewPoints

The retail industry is fortunate to include numerous executives with extensive experience — and they are willing to share their insights in the Retail TouchPoints ViewPoints section. These byline pieces focus on industry trends and do not include solution provider sales pitches. Many of the byline pieces receive the greatest number of clicks on the RTP site each year.

Beyond The ‘Batch And Blast’

I recently heard someone say “batch and blast is dead” — which made me think, is it really? I’ll go out on a limb and say that every retailer is doing some blasting; and I have proof given all the “batch” emails currently in my personal inbox from a multitude of retailers telling me about deals, new products, and special offers. And there’s one reason why too- they still work and continue to impact revenue for retailers. What has changed is that batch emails are becoming a smaller percentage of total email volume. Email marketing continues to evolve as technology becomes more and more advanced and marketers have more data than before. Marketers are also finding new ways to leverage email to their advantage, allowing them to go beyond the traditional batch emails, to create unique experiences that build relationships with their customers and deliver ROI.

The Steps To Global E-Commerce Success

Best-in-class retailers are considering the benefits of expanding their brand and inventory to international shoppers. While some merchants have opened brick-and-mortar locations overseas, others have begun their strategy by enabling e-Commerce purchasing and shipping to shoppers worldwide. In this Q&A, Kris Green, Chief Strategy Officer for FiftyOne, an international e-Commerce solution provider, offers detailed insights into how retailers can plan and roll out an optimal shopping experience across international borders. Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How can retailers decide whether going global is the most advantageous decision for them? When deciding to go global, it’s important for retailers to understand how unique their product assortment is in key markets. Merchants also must consider how much of assortment can be availed, sold, and delivered for a fair and competitive price. Having that knowledge will allow retailers to create the right customer experience when they first turn the lights on in new markets, creating positive first impressions with new customers as well as customer acquisition teams for success.

Bonobos and Warby Parker Use Social Media Analytics To Increase Engagement, Enrich Curation

This is Part III of Retail TouchPoints’ multi-part feature investigating trends and developments in social media analytics and the business intelligence the technique provides. This segment focuses on insights from two leading retailers, based on their current, real-world social media analytics applications. RTP’s June 19 newsletter will reveal similar insights from other retail leaders. The series will conclude in the July 10 newsletter with “Advice For Retailers,” offered by several of the analysts, vendors and retailers participating in this update. If retailers want the consumer-to-brand relationship to be as strong as possible, it’s no wonder they’re intensifying their social media efforts, and the use of analytics that gauge their programs’ success. In fact, social media sites generate the most consumer traffic outside of advertising for Bonobos, an online-only retailer of men’s apparel, according to Craig Elbert, VP of Analytics for the eTailer. “Our social outlets are the second-largest traffic drivers to our web site, so clearly we know there is significant success being generated by the social communities we are building, and our consumer-to-brand relationships are being strengthened by this traffic.” But unlike many retailers that analyze social efforts to pinpoint straight ROI of one program, channel or content campaign…

Unlocking the Secrets of Connected, Continuous Planning

Retailers and brands today face a double-edged sword. On one side, omni-channel retailing and proliferating customer touch points provide more opportunities than ever to engage with and sell to customers. On the other side, to meet customer expectations, companies must manage their business processes and decisions in a way that is consistent and tightly connected. This is especially true for merchandise planning, and the changes have left some retailers scrambling to meet a customer demand that is more fluid than ever. Traditionally, wholesalers and merchants have done their seasonal planning many months in advance, beginning with sales, margin and inventory productivity targets, then developing assortment plans and seeing them through the design and product development process. Once the merchandise arrived (and either sold or didn’t sell), the plan was never revisited. This is how things have been done for decades, and it worked well enough – until recently. Today, with the explosion of customer touch points and channels across the retail landscape, merchants must be able to anticipate where their customers will want to shop with them and have the proper inventory available and in stock at that point. Since consumers are inundated with choices for where to shop, even…

Video Analytics Debate: From Mission Impossible to the Mall

Retailers use video surveillance cameras for a host of reasons — everything from loss prevention to customer safety to liability protection. But with the rise of IP-based video surveillance accompanied by the advent of intelligent retail analytics, video can now be tapped as an amazing source for timely business intelligence. Still, retailers and their integrator partners need to cut through the CSI-type hype and choose reliable analytics that will work for their business. Bartol and Andersen share their perspectives in the article below.

Is Traditional Retail Dying?

As CEO of a company that is working to level the playing field between online and physical retailers, I take special notice when established brands like Sears and Best Buy announce widespread store closings. Contrary to seemingly popular opinion, I don't see announcements like these as proof that retail stores are dying. I believe, in fact, we are in a cultural and economic shift that will make physical retail stronger than ever — even as it forever changes how we discover, compare and purchase products. There is no doubt that social and mobile technologies are profoundly changing consumers' shopping habits and expectations, and the pace of this change is startling. Even in our sluggish economy, online shopping in 2011 grew 15% over the previous year. Retail giant Amazon sold $1B through its m-commerce site and mobile applications in 2010, and that figure was forecast to double in 2011.

Combat The Amazon Price Check App With Effective Multichannel Retailing

The Amazon Price Check app was an inevitability for the industry — smartphones eliminate information asymmetries on pricing and do so while the customer is in the store at the moment of the purchase decision. Fighting it won't help, just like fighting digital downloading of music didn’t help the record labels. If it wasn’t Amazon, it would have been another business, so retailers need to best Amazon’s price advantage by adding more value to the customers’ overall shopping experience. What retailers should know is that they have the advantage in this fight.

Adding Value To The Shopper Experience With Big Data

You may not have directly felt the impact of big data, but make no mistake, it’s already having an effect on your daily life. Big data is the term assigned to the gathering, management and mining of the ever-expanding store of data we create. Data overall is doubling every two years according to some estimates. As we use data, we create more of it, producing a cycle that feeds on itself and learns as it grows. One example: the New York Police Department monitors Google searches, paydays, sporting events, arrest records and even weather patterns to predict where trouble spots might erupt, and routes officers accordingly. This sounds like the premise for a television show about the future — but it’s happening today through the use of “big data.” Most of what we think of as big data fits into what’s known in data circles as “unstructured,” meaning it overwhelms typical database formats, and is much more challenging to mine and catalog. Advances in technology are improving our ability to manage and manipulate these data stores, and the algorithms designed to find patterns are learning from what they study. Artificial intelligence is not far off.

Who Owns Profitability in Retail?

It is not uncommon for success to be shared in retail when times are good, especially when profitability has increased for the organization. However, when profitability drops, fingers are always pointing, but who gets the blame? When trying to understand who owns the problem and ultimately the blame, the answer is usually “no one.” Over the last couple of years, when meeting with CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and various operational managers, I was shocked to discover that in each of their organizations there was no one department or individual that owned profitability. Retailers are able to collaborate when it comes to managing topline growth, merchandising and even supply chain efficiency. But no one is responsible when it comes to the bottom line. While the industry is constantly changing, one thing remains consistent: retailers focus on making money. The industry is always seeking new ways to make money, serve different service lines, increase assortments, or optimize and localize for local markets. While they’ve put systems in place to manage across the different silos of their organization, there is nothing that manages shrink, waste, damage, and margin loss.

Social Experience Retailing And The 4C’s

Conventional wisdom suggests that retail environments be updated every three to five years to remain “fresh” and plugged into the consumer’s mindset. Today that cycle is more of an ongoing process. Social experience retailing (SER), where virtual and real-world strategies converge, is pivotal to how retailers can keep today’s customers engaged. The trend responds to the growing group of global consumers armed with technology that allows them to connect in real-time to socialize, shop, “like” and “share,” resulting in what is referred to as social commerce. On the flip side of SER, convenience transactional retailing (CTR) provides the continuous streamlining of basic cost-sensitive, commodity/neighborhood retailing with a strategy based on proximity and/or convenience. The movement toward SER and CTR is being driven by four underlying forces: convergence, convenience, connection and cost. Empowered by technology, these “4C’s” ultimately are reflections of our own hardwired nature as social beings. Retailers that can adapt to this new world will flourish and prosper; others, stuck in an “old-school” mindset, will perish and be remembered as great, lumbering beasts of another age (such as Virgin Megastores replaced by online music stores and internet sharing sites, for example).

Impact Of Customer Engagement On Network Design

Today’s retailer is challenged not only by competition from other stores, but by a growing number of consumers whose preference is to shop online from home or work. Retailers need to lure these consumers back into the store by creating an engaging customer experience that far exceeds the online experience. Solutions such as in-store mobile marketing and digital signage combined with targeted loyalty programs can enhance both acquisition and retention of customers to positively impact in-store purchasing decisions. However, there are many possible pitfalls associated with these solutions. Store networks have evolved dramatically over the past decade. What was once a simple private network designed to handle credit card transactions and support basic back office applications has transformed into a complex, open network required to support guest Wi-Fi and multi-vendor access, network security services, and distribution of many forms of multimedia content. This expansion in scope has challenged many retailers to redesign their store networks to satisfy new business requirements to increase customer engagement in the store.

Combining Predictive Analytics And Digital Signage To Boost Retail Performance

In today’s hyper-competitive market, it is not enough for retailers to understand customer behavior — to be successful, retailers also must develop the ability to predict upcoming consumer actions. Gaining this insight can help companies improve their customer offers and conversations for increased sales and loyalty. This retail imperative has spawned the growing use of predictive analytics technology, which analyzes patterns in historical and transactional data to help retailers make predictions about future consumer behavior. Examining customer spending and other behavior patterns to improve retention strategies, and cross-selling of products to boost profitability per customer are just two examples of how predictive analytics can impact the retail environment. In addition, predictive analytics also can be used to identify staffing needs and trends; having a better understanding of which shopping days are busiest can help stores staff appropriately to improve customer service and the bottom line.

The Root Of 2012 Trends For Retailers

Now that Q1 2012 is just about behind us, I’d like to review where I see marketers evolving their direct digital marketing strategies during the remainder of this year to make the most of the opportunities that are opening up. The Customer As Royalty Step aside, Kate: The customer is the new royalty, at least as far as marketers should be concerned. A cataclysmic shift is taking place, one that puts the customer (not the brand) at the core of the messaging and strategic approach. This moves the idea of “How do we reach the customer?” to “How do we serve ― and honor ― the customer?” From our lowly station as mere marketers, we must ask: How do we best serve our queen? How do we best anticipate her every desire before she asks? How do we become both steady companion and an essential part of her court?

Tailor Site Search To Deliver More Personal Experiences, Regardless Of Device Being Used

Research shows that visitors to your site who use the search box will convert at two to three times the rate of those who don’t. To get an even greater boost from search users, you can take several extra steps to deliver a more personalized experience tailored to a visitor’s device of choice. By doing so, not only may performance metrics go higher, but a more personalized experience usually leads to greater engagement. This increases the likelihood that customers will become repeat buyers, recommend your site to their friends, and even post items about you on social networks.

Focus On Relationships And “Word Of Mouse,” Not Transactions

I was recently in India presenting and meeting customers at IDC’s Smarter Commerce event. While there, I had a chance to catch up on some reading, including the Altimeter Group’s report, “Make an App for That: Mobile Strategies for Retailers.” Chris Silva, the analyst who wrote the report, sent us an advance copy because IBM provided some of the data around mobile shopping trends during the holiday season. If you’re a marketing professional working in the retail business, Silva’s report should be considered required reading. It offers the kind of insights about rapidly changing customer engagement models that some mistakenly ignore to the certain detriment of their careers and businesses. Silva makes very clear that out of all industries, retail has experienced one of the largest disruptions to its traditional business models, thanks in large part to the explosion of mobile devices, which now have become an instrument for the masses. I’d add a qualifier to that sentence: to date. That is to say that the same trends that we are experiencing, witnessing, driving and exploring both as marketers and as consumers — the rise of the empowered customer, ubiquity of mobile devices, increased focus on hyper-local offers — are…
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