As the 2012 holiday season approaches, retailers are striving to determine the most effective ways to engage consumers across channels. While mobile and social will drive holiday success, e-Commerce will take the lead in overall investment among retailers, according to EPiServer, a multichannel digital marketing and e-Commerce software provider.
In a recent EPiServer survey, 52% of retailers indicated that as much as 60% of their sales currently derive from their web sites. As a result, 59% of respondents reported that their largest retail technology investments through 2017 will be in e-Commerce. However, more retailers also are recognizing the benefits of utilizing mobile and social tools to increase conversions.
Retail TouchPoints spoke with Bob Egner, VP of Product Management and Global Marketing for EPiServer, to learn more about leading trends from the survey and his opinion about these developments, including best practices for engaging shoppers across channels.
Retail TouchPoints: Based on EPiServer research and experience, in what e-Commerce areas are retailers currently investing?
Bob Egner: Apart from creating a compelling customer experience that is seamless and convenient for consumers shopping online and in stores, retailers are focused on couponing, promotions and mobile technology to bolster their e-Commerce site strategies.
Staying competitive in an increasingly connected world means retailers need to combine traditional marketing strategies with technological advancements. That’s a trend we’ve been seeing over the last year and will continue to see this holiday season.
RTP: How will overall investments increase as we approach the 2012 holiday shopping season?
Egner: Earlier in 2012, we took a survey at the Internet Retailer Conference to determine where retailers will make their largest investments in the coming years. While e-Commerce sites topped the list, nearly half of respondents also planned to make significant investments in mobile and social.
As a result, I believe we’ll see organizations invest more in price comparison tools and technologies that enhance mobile and social experiences, especially in preparation for the holiday season. Target, for instance, is installing Wi-Fi in many of its stores to facilitate the price comparison process.
RTP: What other strategies will retailers pursue this holiday season?
Egner: As part of their mobile and social strategies, I think retailers will focus on social gifting, using apps such as Wrapp to send gifts conveniently via mobile.
Additionally, beginning this season and in coming years, we will see retailers striving to create a seamless customer experience by leveraging mobile payment and easier online self-checkout methods. For example, Wal-Mart is piloting a strategy that allows shoppers to complete in-store purchases via their smartphones.
I expect to see more retailers invest in and adopt mobile and social commerce. In addition, I foresee a growth in location-based services, including those that allow retailers to pinpoint a customer’s physical position in the store so that targeted offers can be forwarded to consumers as they browse.
RTP: How can retailers improve their cross-channel strategies?
Egner: While best-in-class merchants have successfully blurred the lines between the in-store and online experience, many other retailers still are not making the customer experience a priority. We are, however, seeing retailers invest more in mobile technology to enable social gifting and access of social check-in apps, such as Shopkick, in stores. Both of these strategies help create a fluid shopping experience across channels.
RTP: Which retailers stand out as doing a top-quality job of engaging consumers?
Egner: Apple and Starbucks come to mind as two companies doing a terrific job of engaging customers in unique and innovative ways. Apple has established an in-store self-checkout method that allows customers to purchase products on their own, without sales assistance or waiting in lines. Similarly, the mobile app from Starbucks makes it convenient for customers to pay with their phones and receive alerts featuring store promotions and updates regarding their loyalty club accounts.
Both companies are empowering customers and accelerating the shopping experience while improving the user journey, which can make all the difference in overall conversion rates.
RTP: What are some best practices for engaging shoppers online and via mobile?
Egner: There are a few things retailers should consider when seeking optimal strategies to engage customers online and via mobile. First, retailers should understand the target consumer’s buying journey. For example, merchants must know when and why a person is buying via a branded mobile app versus an e-Commerce site or physical store.
Some questions to consider include: Are consumers using my site for research only? Do they use my app for impulse buys? Do they come to my store for customer service?
Understanding this user journey ensures that merchants will provide the right information via the right medium.
Retailers also should consider the value and impact of consumer research. Firsthand information regarding how customers want to use a mobile app or e-Commerce site is crucial to a successful engagement strategy. Finally, retailers should use analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to track their mobile apps. Knowing and responding to how customers are using an app can improve marketing effectiveness and overall conversion.
As VP of Product Management and Global Marketing for EPiServer, Bob Egner works closely with retailers such as Hallmark and Ikea to better engage customers with optimized e-Commerce, mobile and social strategies. Egner has appeared on Fox News and been quoted as a retail strategy expert in several publications, including USA Today, Business Week, VentureBeat, and GigaOM, among others.