The Changing Face of Retailer-Customer Engagement

By Patrick Simon Bouaziz, Chief Visionary Officer, ILoveVelvet

In recent years, we’ve seen the Internet move from a communications medium in our side view to the forefront of everyday life, becoming the most heavily used means of information sharing. A recent Forrester report stated that for the first time, time spent on the Internet now equals time spent watching television. As 2010 comes to a close, it is clear that the social web, in particular, has fundamentally changed the way individuals seemingly do everything — from how people talk with their friends and family, to everyday business activities, to buying clothes and music. And now that social outlets have expanded themselves to include mobile-specific elements, consumers are increasingly surrounding their entire days with social connectivity.

The Social Aspects
Retailers have not been blind to these changes, adding embedded sharable elements to their web sites, but does this web site-only functionality lead to true, valuable word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing via the social web? Currently, online consumers are finding products on their own. The impetus to use social media to tell their friends and family about the products is largely contingent upon the product itself, or how active that person is within social channels. So how can retailers keep the conversation moving for more people over these evermore-important social channels? The answer is integration.


The Mobile Aspects
Today’s brick-and-mortar store experience hasn’t changed all that much, but the advent of interactive point-of-sale (POS) tools marks the first occasion where consumers can get a taste of an in-store/online hybrid experience. With the one-on-one interaction built into the in-store experience, it’s easier to fulfill the customer desire that precipitates almost all positive word-of-mouth, online or otherwise — personalization.

Easier said than done right? Most retailers strive for this goal, but either aren’t able to appropriately connect with consumers on a regular basis, or simply don’t feel they have the staff to continuously achieve this level of service. On top of this, a socially-connected consumer base has needs and wants that are changing rapidly. The beautiful thing about interactive POS tools is that through customization and the incorporation of customer loyalty data, a retailer can achieve a markedly higher level of personalization that actually gets noticed and appreciated by the consumer. This data can be used to continually improve the customer experience and, as a result, brand loyalty.

This goes beyond the often web site-incorporated recommendations based upon past purchases or items frequently purchased in tandem with another. As a retailer, how are you rewarding loyalty in store, and does your customer notice? Salespeople need to show their value on top of these useful suggestions, and this necessitates empowerment when it comes to recommending accompaniments that should be supported by old-fashioned product knowledge. Along with this, making loyalty-associated discounts personalized is a tremendous tool. Imagine if instead of a traditional 15% off at the register, the retailer could offer a discounted presale rate for an upcoming product that is in line with the customer’s interests and buying habits. This exclusivity keeps customers talking in the social sphere, and provides business value even on top of word-of-mouth. Keeping customers engaged with a retailer’s product can provide on-the-ground feedback that is much more quickly realized than a focus group or research report.

Make no mistake, the connected world has transformed effective customer service, and its now established place within more people’s daily lives means retailers have to perform to impress in order to cut through the clutter and fully realize this significant word-of-mouth opportunity.

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