Shopper Experience - Retail TouchPoints - Retail TouchPoints Sun, 24 Jun 2018 08:42:56 -0400 RTP en-gb Las Vegas Shopping Complex Debuts Chatbot With Personality Las Vegas Shopping Complex Debuts Chatbot With Personality

Visitors to the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas now can interact with an AI-powered shopping guide through Facebook Messenger whenever they need better information to enhance their shopper journey. The chatbot, “Jules,” showcases a witty and sassy personality designed to reflect the mall’s audience of chic and lively shoppers.

Jules is available 24/7 to address a variety of guest inquiries that pertain to the center’s stores, restaurants and shows, and can provide specific answers based on where users are in the 475,000-square-foot mall.

The chatbot can provide operational information about Miracle Mile Shops such as parking and security; suggestions of where to shop for certain items; food and beverage options nearby; and unique information for upcoming events or shows.

Shoppers can send a message to "Miracle Mile Shops Las Vegas" on Facebook Messenger to activate the chatbot. An example of an exchange would continue with “Hey there, I'm Jules, your Miracle Mile Shops’ expert. I know pretty much everything there is to know about my fave place to shop, so fire away!”

When a shopper asks the chatbot, "What are your hours, Jules?" it replies, "Fashion never takes a vacay. Miracle Mile Shops is open 365 days a year, from 10a-11p Sunday through Thursday, and 10a-midnight Friday and Saturday.”

Miracle Mile Shops developed the AI-powered platform in conjunction with Satisfi Labs. The Miracle Mile Shops team trained the system to be more of an “experience” than a typical information system for consumers, crafting Jules to interact with the consumer the same way a human brand ambassador would.

“We came up with 300 responses that Jules has set right now to different questions,” said Wendy Albert, Senior Director of Marketing at Miracle Mile Shops in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We wanted to make sure that we could at least start off a conversation with her, and she’ll get smarter as she goes. When customers ask questions that she doesn’t know the answer to, Satisfi is monitoring the responses so that we can provide the most information that we can.”

Jules understands approximately 30,000 versions of shopper requests, with the machine learning system updating every 24 hours, according to Don White, CEO and Co-Founder of Satisfi Labs. The machine learning adapts to questions and comments from Miracle Mile consumers, as well as shoppers at other locations within the Satisfi Labs network.

“It really is a constant process of both adding new content and also understanding unique content,” White said. “The experience you have with Jules today could be very different than 30 days from now.”

Satisfi Labs has a history deploying AI platforms for shopping centers, having launched a similar chatbot for the Mall of America ahead of the 2017 holiday season. That chatbot could recommend the mall’s top gift items and brands, direct the user on where to shop the brands, and connect consumers with a human concierge in real time if an ongoing AI conversation required more information.

]]> (Glenn Taylor) Shopper Experience Thu, 21 Jun 2018 14:00:38 -0400
4 Retail Execs Share Data Strategy Tactics: Salesforce Connections Recap 4 Retail Execs Share Data Strategy Tactics: Salesforce Connections Recap

In photo: Bret Taylor, President and Chief Product Officer, Salesforce


During the recent Salesforce Connections event in Chicago, industry experts shared top takeaways and strategies around unlocking customer data to optimize the entire e-Commerce site experience. In this recap, uncover quick quotes and tips from retailers including Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants, Milk Makeup, Ticketmaster and Melissa & Doug, as well as several Salesforce executives:

“80% of consumers are saying they’ll switch brands not based on products or necessarily even services, but based on experience. How will you use data to create experience for someone who’s traversing across all those different channels?” — Shelley Bransten, SVP of Retail and Consumer Goods Industry Solutions, Salesforce

In an interview with Retail TouchPoints, Bransten revealed statistics from a recent study conducted by Salesforce and Deloitte, highlighting the fact that retailers desperately need to integrate their disparate systems if they want to unlock and optimize shopper data. In total, the average brand has 39 front-end, customer-facing systems, according to Bransten. Today’s CMOs must have a better grasp of customer data and think about it as an asset for the retail operation going forward, but Bransten noted that this requirement puts pressure on many companies to restructure their marketing departments.

“We recognize that it’s never ‘set it and forget it.’ We are continuously looking to optimize, update and use the data that we can collect to meaningfully impact our consumers.” – Candice Martinez, Director of Performance Marketing, Melissa & Doug

As a direct-to-consumer brand and B2B wholesaler, toy manufacturer Melissa & Doug operates with a ‘content-first’ strategy. The company has leveraged Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Marketing Cloud to better engage directly with consumers and personalize the online content experience, which can include parenting tips and tricks, updated events, play ideas and promotion-driven emails. Martinez indicated in an interview with Retail TouchPoints that the Melissa & Doug brand thrives off the authenticity this content delivers.

“Less than 15% of companies said they’re ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How do we close this gap, and how do we enable every single one of our customers in the face of these new technologies?” — Bret Taylor, President and Chief Product Officer, Salesforce

In a keynote address, Taylor stated that business and consumers are in the midst of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — the era of disruptive intelligent technologies. But with this influx of connected technologies, including AI, IoT, voice-activation and cybersecurity, retailers still worry that they can’t always keep pace with increasing consumer expectations.

“We’re refreshing our home page constantly so that the shopper has something new to check out when they come back. Being able to schedule content versus doing that in real time has been super helpful.” — Morgan Fleming, Senior Director of E-Commerce, Milk Makeup

Milk Makeup, a New York City-based e-Commerce retailer, has driven revenue growth at an annual rate of more than 100% since February 2016, when it first deployed Salesforce Commerce Cloud. The retailer delivers shoppable videos, product imagery and personalized promotional offers optimized for mobile devices, which drive 60% of online traffic. Fleming noted that establishing the brand mission with more site content was a massive part of the re-platforming process, in that the move enabled more shoppers to gain awareness of the products.

“We see over the next couple years a 3X increase in the demand for data scientists. There is a rush for this pot of gold around resources, but we also discovered that it’s not the panacea. It’s not all about just hiring people and throwing intelligence at it. You need to understand what problem you’re trying to solve.” — Rob Garf, VP of Industry Strategy and Insights, Salesforce

Garf noted that AI deployment is not a “build it, and hope somebody comes” type of situation, one where retailers just focus on building algorithms to power functions across the enterprise. AI algorithms need to be purpose-built and infused within an application. He also noted that retailers must continue improving the mobile experience ahead of the holiday season. On Christmas Day 2017, Salesforce customers generated 50% of their online orders through a mobile device.

“If you’re providing a service to members with their data, I think they’ll be more amicable to let you use it. Facebook’s in trouble because they’re pushing ads with this data, whereas Google is making my life easier.” — Matt Stewart, Director of Wine Club Marketing, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants

Cooper’s Hawk is differentiating with services including a tasting room in the restaurant and a Wine Club tied to its loyalty program online. Serving 300,000 active members, the Cooper’s Hawk loyalty program offers a monthly wine specifically crafted for individual members and access to an online portal to view total points, wine selections, and event tickets for upcoming Wine Club dinners. This online solution offers convenience for consumers, while also providing the company more detailed data on its most loyal consumers. “The key is using data to remove barriers and help improve the experience,” said Stewart.

“7% of visits to e-Commerce sites across 500 brands include a personalized recommendation powered by AI. Those visits are driving 26% of revenue and 24% of orders.” — Heike Young, Manager of Industry Strategy and Insights at Salesforce

Young held a discussion with Kevin Hogan, Managing Director of Deloitte, and Jamie Merrick, Director of Industry Strategy and Insights, EMEA at Salesforce to share results from the Consumer Experience report. Despite the big spike in revenue and orders from these AI-powered visits, most retailers are still struggling to reap these benefits because they jump to AI without having a foundation of data in place, according to Hogan. The panel echoed the theme of Connections with the phrase “Data is the bedrock,” revealing that “elite performers” in retail focus on data at 2X higher rates on average.

“When you think about Ticketmaster as a platform, it’s a half-a-billion tickets that go through that platform — 15 tickets moved per second across 29 countries. The only way to deliver that kind of experience at scale is through data and technology.” — Kathryn Frederick, EVP of Growth and Insights, Ticketmaster

Frederick noted that Ticketmaster is simplifying access to its live events by adopting a “fan-centric” view of the buying experience — getting the right event to the right fan at the right moment with the right message. Ticketmaster leverages the Google Analytics 360 integration to automate emails, access online shopper behavior metrics such as site views and click-throughs, and evaluate content performance.

]]> (Glenn Taylor) Business Intelligence / Data / Analytics Wed, 20 Jun 2018 08:39:44 -0400
Quick Quotes From Retail Execs At IRCE And CRMC Quick Quotes From Retail Execs At IRCE And CRMC

The educational programs at IRCE and CRMC, both held in Chicago the first week of June, provided insights that went far beyond just the shows’ overarching topics of e-Commerce and customer relationship management (CRM). Industry leaders from retail companies including Lovesac, Warby Parker, Oriental Trading, Shoe Carnival, Jack Grace and Hilton Hotels shared tips and tactics covering global commerce, personalization, the move from online to offline retailing, selecting the right solution provider partners, and ways to make returns a strategic part of the business. Following are quick quotes from some of the retail industry experts who spoke at the two events.

“Amazon wants people to shop locally and buy globally.” — Carly McGinnis, General Manager, Exploding Kittens

McGinnis explained that the decision by the humorous card game Exploding Kittens to sell globally with Amazon made sense given the retailer’s reach: It serves customers in 180 countries with 13 global marketplaces and 175+ fulfillment centers. However, Amazon’s “shop locally” directive means that a German customer needs to be able to buy the U.S.-produced game with euros, and get the product shipped to them within one to two days.

“With personalization, some is better than none, but it’s never good enough. That’s because as you start to personalize more, consumers expect more from you.” — Sue Beckett, VP, Digital, Direct & Ecommerce, Lovesac

The executive from the disruptive furniture company Lovesac added that “having infinite data available makes personalization more complicated to get right, especially if you don’t have the right systems in place to utilize it correctly.”

“Our first physical ‘store’ was one of the co-founder’s apartment in Philadelphia.” — Dave Gilboa, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Warby Parker

Warby Parker began as a pure play alternative to brick-and-mortar eyewear retailers, but soon after its web site launched shoppers sought out a physical space to try on the glasses. The company established a showroom in its early office space, but it got so much traffic that the building’s landlord threatened to evict Warby Parker because they were monopolizing the elevators. “We learned so much from these face-to-face conversations, and got feedback that we would not have gotten from a purely digital relationship,” said Gilboa.

“When determining who to work with in changing your IT ecosystem, your new partner can change both your company — and your career.” — Charles Hunsinger, SVP/CIO, Oriental Trading

Discussing the importance of selecting the right solution provider partner for an IT project, Hunsinger said the decision is a serious one: “Who you want to work with really means ‘Who do you want to marry?’” Due diligence is critical, and it’s helpful for IT professionals to use their network not just to talk to those that selected a solution, but those that didn’t — and to find out the reasons why.

“Returns are a multi-step process, and each step is a place where something can go wrong.” — Bradford Smith, COO, Jack Grace

While the ideal for retailers would be for consumers to keep everything they buy, returns are a fact of life, so golf shoe brand Jack Grace tries to turn them from a problem into a strategic advantage. Smith advised retailers that because they can’t fix their returns processes all at once, they should focus on “any step that involves a manual process or a human bridge.”

“Customers want control, so we send a preview email of the clothes we’re going to send them 48 hours before they’re shipped.” — Sandro Roco, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Bombfell

The personal shopping subscription service for men applies machine learning to select items for customers; then a personal stylist applies the “last mile” human touch to finalize the selection. Members’ interactions with these emails are “a great opportunity to learn more about the customer,” said Roco.

“When you move from a mass media strategy, where the executive team can see the ads on TV or in print, to an audience-driven strategy, it becomes a challenge to explain to the C-level execs where the ad spend is going.” — Kent Zimmerman, VP Digital, Shoe Carnival

Because Shoe Carnival wanted to more effectively reach its target shoppers, including those in higher income brackets, the retailer moved to a more targeted strategy for acquisition, retention and reactivating lapsed customers. A key challenge, however, was convincing upper management that ad dollars were being spent effectively, Zimmerman explained: “They would say ‘I don’t see the ads,’ and I would have to say to them ‘You don’t see them because you’re not our target customer.’”

“Purpose is the new currency.” — Marc Kielburger, Co-Founder, is a cause-based retail program that allows consumers to track the impact of their donations via Google Maps, showing them the precise impact of their contributions. According to Kielburger, “without purpose, your business model is incomplete.”

“Loyalty begins with an irrational kind of love.” — Danelle Williams, Senior Director, Global Loyalty Platform, Hilton

According to Williams, retailers need to generate Apple-level loyalty, the “’I’ve got to have it’ type of loyalty that makes people queue up for a product when they don’t even know what it’s going to be.” The Hilton Honors loyalty program has 74 million members and is now growing at a rate of nine to 11 million members per year. The hospitality company’s goal is to reach 100 million members by the company’s 100th anniversary in 2019.

]]> (Adam Blair) Trend Watch Tue, 19 Jun 2018 09:05:07 -0400
47% Of Gen Zers Use Smartphones While Shopping In Stores 47% Of Gen Zers Use Smartphones While Shopping In Stores

Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2015, has never known life before the World Wide Web. Yet across the globe, 98% make purchases in a physical store some or most of the time. Two-thirds of this cohort shop at brick-and-mortar retail (67%) most of the time, while 22% shop online most of the time. Mobile phones or smartphones are the most important device for three-quarters of the Gen Z population worldwide. While less than half (48%) have used a mobile app to shop, one-quarter have used mobile phones to pay for purchases.

These are among the findings of What Do Gen Z Shoppers Really Want?, a report based on a survey of 15,600 individuals between the ages of 13 and 21 in 16 countries, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value in collaboration with the National Retail Federation (NRF). This is the third of three reports NRF and IBM have produced based on a year-long study of the Gen Z consumer.

Time Savings And Choice Outweigh Discounts And Deals

The youngest generation of consumers wants great prices, with “access to the best deals” rated as important by 41% of respondents. However, Gen Zers place even greater value on their time, with 49% indicating thatthe “ability to find what I want quickly” is important and 36% expressing a desire for “speedy shopping and checkout.”

Having choices is also key with Gen Z, with 44% deeming the “ability to decide how and where to shop” as important and 30% wanting multiple ways to pay for their purchases.

Choice emerges as the number-one factor when Gen Zers decide where to shop, with 68% indicating that a wide selection of products is important or highly important. The proximity of the retail store (67%) and product availability (66%) are almost equally critical.

Again, price — defined as discounts, coupons and rewards — ranks among the most important factors in retailer selection, as indicated by 65% of respondents. More than half of young shoppers (56%) said having a fun in-store experience is important.

Mobile Is Used For Comparing And Sharing

Almost half (47%) of Gen Zers use their smartphones while shopping at brick-and-mortar locations. When they do, they deliberately compare that store and its merchandise to the other options they know they have. Respondents said they do the following “all or most of the time”:

  • 53% check online to see if there is anything else they’d prefer to buy that is not available in the store where they are;
  • 52% compare the price of a product they are considering with its price at other retailers; and
  • 51% search the Web for a coupon, discount or promotion.

All or most of the time, Gen Zers will also use their mobile devices to share:

  • 47% let family and friends know in which store they are shopping;
  • 46% send messages and/or pictures to family and friends to ask for feedback on anything they might buy; and
  • 25% connect with a brand or the retailer to contribute, collaborate or complain.

Whether in a store or elsewhere, most Gen Zers (55%) connect with brands on social media, and 39% of respondents said it was important or very important for brands to use social media to engage with them.

As they grow through their teen years, younger people develop brand affinities. While 36% of all survey respondents reported having a strong connection to a brand, among those aged 19 to 21, 46% had developed loyalty to one or more brands.

Personal Data Is A Double-Edged Sword

Having spent much of their lives engaging with social media, sharing personal information is more natural to Gen Z than to older generations. However, they also are aware of data breaches and other downsides to sharing, and they expect to benefit when they allow brands to access their information.

More than half (54%) of survey respondents want control over what information they share with brands and retailers, and 61% said they would feel comfortable sharing more personal information if they knew their data was being protected and stored securely.

Even though they are in their early years as consumers, 65% of Gen Zers indicated that rewards programs already are influencing where they shop, and 64% said it is important to have loyalty rewards personally tailored to them. For 59%, it is important that brands and retailers remember their birthdays.

Brands and retailers are increasingly using AI-powered messaging apps to interact directly with customers. When Gen Zers opt in to such communications, 55% rate relevant promotions as important or very important, while location-based alerts are important or very important to 45% of respondents.

Specific Steps To Engage Gen Z Consumers

The report set out a dozen recommendations for retailers, based on the data the survey yielded about the up-and-coming Gen Z generation around the globe. Here are some key concepts:

  • Enable Gen Zers to check product availability and choices by providing access to accurate inventory information, and demonstrate the value they are receiving for their money through transparency of prices and deals.
  • Interact with Gen Zers on a personal level through the channels they use to relate with their friends. Provide enhanced mobile functionality incorporating AI agents — such as chatbots or virtual assistants — that can dynamically learn from data captured in each interaction.
  • Leverage voice and facial recognition, and AR and VR to knit together digitally integrated shopping experiences, allowing Gen Zers to engage whenever and wherever they want.
  • Protect Gen Zers’ data, be transparent in its usage and give them control of it. Let them choose when, how and what they wish to share. Equip all channels of engagement, particularly mobile, with clearly defined and easily accessible policies on data collection and privacy.
  • Give them the capabilities to satisfy their appetite for individualization. For example, provide 3D printing in-store to let them design and create one-of-a-kind items.
  • Adopt an agile mindset so you can nimbly adjust course, based on data, research, evolving trends and changing priorities, to effectively and efficiently connect with Gen Zers.
]]> (Marie Griffin) Trend Watch Mon, 18 Jun 2018 08:52:21 -0400
Microsoft Enters Cashier-Less Tech Race: Will Checkout Lanes Become Relics? Microsoft Enters Cashier-Less Tech Race: Will Checkout Lanes Become Relics?

The news that technology powerhouse Microsoft is working on cashier-less technology that could help retailers compete with Amazon Go signals a major advance in this area. Still, questions remain about exactly what kind of solution will best solve shoppers’ checkout pain points. While some consumers may welcome a cashier-free environment, others might want more cashiers on duty to provide assistance if needed.

Tech-savvy retailers are still trying to figure out the optimal way forward. Kroger has made major investments in its Scan, Bag, Go technology, which allows shoppers to scan products either with a device provided by the store or with their smartphones. The retailer is in the process of expanding the program to 400 stores, and Kroger CIO Chris Hjelm identified the technology as one of his proudest achievements of the past few years.

In contrast, Walmart abandoned its Scan & Go solution in May 2018, citing a lack of customer usage. Just a few months earlier, the retailer had said it would expand the program to 100 stores. Walmart is reportedly in discussions with Microsoft about a collaboration using its new solution.

Will Checkout Lanes Become The Road Less Traveled?

Retail industry experts are likewise divided about whether Microsoft’s involvement will accelerate the move to a cashier-free future. “Microsoft taking on Amazon with cashier-less checkout demonstrates how close we are to a breakout of alternative ‘checkout and scanning’ processes and applications,” said Michael Jaszczyk, CEO, GK Software USA in comments provided to Retail TouchPoints. “We’re beginning to see more and more companies like Microsoft react to Amazon’s lead, all working to implement this type of technology. As more vendors offer these types of self-scanning solutions and retailers pilot them in their stores, consumer demand will follow as well as increased store revenue. I believe that in three to five years, traditional checkout lanes will become somewhat of a relic and we will have a hard time remembering what it was even like to stand in line at the POS.”

Others doubt that consumers are all that eager to shop in checkout-free stores: “No one should jump to the conclusion that cashier-less checkout is expected by consumers,” said Nikki Baird, VP of Retail Innovation at Aptos. “Retailers, no matter the goods they sell, need to pay attention to pain points in their customers’ journeys, and turn those pain points into opportunities for delight. That might mean cashier-less, or it might even mean more cashiers. Every retailer’s customer expectations will be different — and that’s where the real opportunities lie, in in taking advantage of those differences.”

For Retailers, Data Benefits Could Outweigh Head Count Savings

Retailers may be less interested in using the technology to reduce head counts in stores, and more about the data-gathering capabilities. For example, camera-based systems can reveal details about shopper behavior: “Customers might look at a Coca-Cola bottle before they pick up a Pepsi, or pick up a bottle of Sprite, but 20% of the time put it down and buy Mountain Dew,” said Michael Suswal, Co-Founder and COO of Standard Cognition, which is developing its own version of cashier-less technology. “Operational benefits such as inventory audits and other shelf compliance tasks, and data such as how people’s behavior changes when they are shopping alone versus shopping with friends or family, are valuable learnings for retailers,” said Suswal in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.

Many industry experts believe cashier-less technology actually can enhance the shopper experience. Suswal noted that Uber and Lyft have made rides more pleasant by removing the payment transaction from the experience. In a retail store, “the space can be more friendly because the payment piece has been removed,” he said. “We try to rehumanize retail by removing the machine from between customers and associates, and allowing people to interact as equal humans.”

Even with Microsoft’s involvement and other tech advancements, it seems clear that the industry is a long way from scaling up cashier-less technology. Amazon is adding Go stores, but at a snail’s pace, and the company says it has no plans to bring the technology to Whole Foods. It’s likely that retailers will need to maintain traditional checkout options along with new solutions, at least for the foreseeable future.

In a blog post for Mobile Payments Today, Tom Chittenden, VP and General Manager, Retail Solutions, NCR Corp, wrote “What’s the best approach to frictionless checkout? Quality service is in the eye of each consumer, so retailers shouldn’t take a single-vision approach toward adopting new technology inside the store, or they might alienate parts of their consumer base. Grab-and-go shopping, most recently represented by the Amazon Go store, is one of the more attention-grabbing paths for achieving frictionless checkout, but it’s only one of the many paths that retailers could consider.”

]]> (Adam Blair) Trend Watch Fri, 15 Jun 2018 16:13:17 -0400
In-Car Commerce Retailer Collaborates With Snapchat For West Coast Launch In-Car Commerce Retailer Collaborates With Snapchat For West Coast Launch

Cargo, which places boxes with items for sale in ridesharing vehicles such as Uber, has partnered with Snapchat for its launch in the Los Angeles, Calif. market. In addition to using the Cargo app to shop for products, passengers can access the Cargo storefront from the Snapchat app by scanning the Snapcode printed on the Cargo box.

Cargo has access to Uber’s API, allowing passengers to use their smartphones to buy products. Riders can use their preferred mobile wallet or credit card to pay for items, which are handed to them once the vehicle has stopped. Rideshare drivers can earn up to $300 extra per month in commissions, referrals and performance bonuses, according to Cargo, which ships replenishment items directly to drivers’ homes.

The boxes contain retail products such as Red Bull, RXBAR protein bars, Matcha Lip Balm by Winky Lux and SmartyPants Vitamins, with food items curated by SnackNation.

Cargo’s West Coast debut follows the in-car commerce platform’s introductions in New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta and Dallas. The startup recently raised $5.5 million in venture funding to scale operations faster across the U.S. Cargo’s goal is to reach more than 25 million passengers riding in 20,000 vehicles in 2018.

“As we enter each new city, our mission is to tailor the Cargo experience and product selection to our riders’ preferences,” said Jeff Cripe, Cargo CEO in a statement. “Snap is the ultimate L.A. success story. We’re thrilled to offer an even more seamless way to order products using Snapchat, and to provide them with the highest quality, trending snacks by partnering with SnackNation.”

As Cargo scales up across the country, SnackNation will provide data and guidance to help the company predict and source products that fit into regional and seasonal merchandising strategies tailored to a diverse passenger base.

]]> (Adam Blair) News Briefs Thu, 14 Jun 2018 13:45:59 -0400
Exclusive Q&A: Can Fitness Centers Become The New Mall Anchor Store? Ben Midgely Crunch 225pxAs department stores exert less consumer drawing power, U.S. malls are seeking new types of anchors to build foot traffic. Many malls have been trying to add tenants that, by their nature, require consumers to be physically present, such as restaurants, theaters and fitness centers.

One of the most successful gym chains is Crunch, with more than one million members visiting 250 locations across 24 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia and Spain. In February, Crunch was named Best in Category in the fitness sector by Franchise Business Review’s annual list of the top franchises for 2018.

In an exclusive Retail TouchPoints interview, Ben Midgely, CEO and Founding Partner, Crunch Franchising (pictured above), and Brian Kunkel, VP of Real Estate, Crunch Fitness Franchise (below), reveal:

• Why non-traditional retail such as gyms are attractive tenants for malls and shopping centers;
• Why it’s important to align a gym chain’s business model to that of current mall tenants;
• How a gym’s “cool factor” and unconventional offerings can attract consumers and encourage them to extend their stay.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How does Crunch sell itself as a tenant for a mall or shopping center?

Ben Midgely: Typically, we don’t have to call on the mall owners — more and more, they’re calling on us. Large retailers are falling out of favor or are themselves downsizing, and different types of retailers are coming into prominence. With a landlord, someone new has more leverage, and the malls are finding it a little tricky to get the right tenant mix that will draw users in and encourage them to stay for a while.

Brian Kunkel CrunchBrian Kunkel: One selling point is that our gyms are busy, and people want to consolidate the trips they make. They’ll combine a trip to the gym with going to the grocery store and the pharmacy, so a lot of other retailers get trickle-down sales when a Crunch is located in the shopping center.

RTP: What does Crunch look for in a mall?

Midgely: In making our decisions about where to locate, we’re looking at the condition of the mall, as well as its organic traffic. For example, is the mall in a location that people would be driving by anyway, or is it a destination that people make a specific trip to go to?

Kunkel: We find that Crunch franchises do better in regional or neighborhood malls versus that type of ‘super-regional’ mall. If a mall is drawing people from as far as 30 to 40 miles away, that can create congestion that makes it difficult for our customers to find parking.

RTP: What trends are you seeing in the fitness category as they relate to retail?

Midgely: We’re seeing a lot of all-under-one-roof gyms like ours, that feature everything from 100 feet of turf to kettle bells and saddle ropes. In addition we offer proprietary classes with things like working a stripper pole or stiletto strength, for women walking around in high heels. It’s also becoming more important to integrate technology. We’ve invested in our web site to provide online class registration capabilities. We’ve also worked on integrating our app with things like team competitions and fitness-related retail purchases. To get people to physically take action, you have to spend a lot of time integrating people’s fondness for convenience. We’ve found that the more fun and engaging you make it, the better chance you have.

RTP: What’s needed to make a gym’s tenancy a ‘win-win’ for both the mall and the fitness center?

Kunkel: Malls want to line up a gym that’s consistent with the rest of their tenants. If it’s a value fitness chain, for example, they would want to locate it near a Dollar Tree or a similar store. If it’s a higher-end gym, it should be located closer to the high-end retailers.

Midgely: Space is another important consideration. For example, a Life Time Fitness with integrated wellness and lifestyle facilities could take 80,000 to 100,000 square feet, but we will do only 40,000 square feet as a maximum. Additionally, for malls that are trying to revitalize themselves, you want to add a bit of a ‘cool factor’ — something that someone else doesn’t have. We’ve done a complete redesign with materials to provide a more cutting-edge, upscale feel for our locations.

RTP: Can experiential retail like a gym combat the e-Commerce wave that has been shrinking mall traffic?

Midgely: People have to integrate some kind of activity into their lifestyle, particularly as they get older. In terms of malls fighting e-Commerce, we’re seeing retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s and Best Buy starting to have some positive momentum again. They’re adjusting to the new realities of retail. I don’t think we’re near the end of brick-and-mortar retail by any means, but we’re well into its transformation. I personally love the convenience of shopping online, but I like going out if the experience is interesting. I think in the next 10 years you’ll see more interesting and engaging mall spaces that will successfully hit the nail on the head.

]]> (Adam Blair) Trend Watch Wed, 13 Jun 2018 10:57:52 -0400
How To Optimize Both Ends Of The Customer Experience

0aaAlbert Ong Jazva“Who here is afraid of Amazon eating up their business?” the keynote speaker asked.

Most of the merchants in the room raised their hands. You see, I was in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency, La Jolla, attending MivaCon for the first time. Throughout the conference, Amazon’s dominance in the e-Commerce space was a persistent theme.

Indeed, for many sellers investing in their own web site and brand, Amazon instills a lot of fear. The company was referred to as a dragon in many of the slides presented. How can retailers compete with such a mighty beast?

Of course, there is hope. The point is not to slay the dragon, but to ride it by the tail. Instead of worrying, sellers should focus their energies on bringing more value to their customers, in the marketplace and beyond, and in ways that Amazon cannot.

This is where customer experience comes in and how front end and backend solutions provide other types of value to online shoppers.

Why Customer Experience Matters In E-Commerce

Customer experience (CX) positively correlates with loyalty. Good CX brings in more sales through repeat orders, word of mouth and social media referrals, whereas poor CX will mean the opposite. Nothing hurts an online retailer more than negative reviews.

Many businesses have already discovered that investing in the buyer’s experience is critical to gaining and retaining customers. Marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart already do this by weeding out sellers with poor CX performance, however they define it.

The same is true in B2B and wholesale. In one study, 80% of B2B customers cited customer experience as the biggest influencer in their decision to work with a vendor.

The significance of CX is only growing. By 2020, this will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. If CX is not already part of your growth strategy, it needs to be.

Optimizing Your Front End CX: Tracking On-Site Behavior

As we say in marketing, measure everything. The same is true for customer experience. Let’s start with the front-facing side of CX, specifically on your web store where you have full control over your branding as opposed to a marketplace.

A fancy web site with lots of hi-res images doesn’t always mean a great customer experience. If your web site takes too long to load or isn’t optimized on their device, your shoppers will be annoyed. We recommend tools such as Inspectlet, Crazy Egg or Hotjar to monitor on-site behavior.

You should analyze the following to get a better image of how users are interacting with your site:

  • Sessions replays: Watch user journeys on your web site to see how experiences are being played out.
  • Heat maps: Aggregate all journeys and display them in a visual report.
  • Form analytics: Examine how visitors are experiencing your onsite forms.

What Does “User-Friendly” Mean?

The next step is to ensure that your site is user-friendly. Put yourself in the position of a shopper browsing your site. Can they find your products easily? Do they feel secure buying from your site?

To some extent, creating a user-friendly site depends on the characteristics of your target audience and the types of products you sell. However, there are a few features that every retail site needs.

A fast loading responsive site: Customers will leave your site if it takes too long to load or displays oddly on their screen. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check what can be optimized. Sometimes you’ll need to cut down on content, reduce image sizes or remove unnecessary redirects.

Easy-to-find customer service: Shoppers today are impatient. Differentiate your brand by giving them the option to communicate with customer service during the purchase process. Make it obvious how users can contact your team, such as by enabling live chat, adding links to social media, and including your support contact information.

A seamless checkout process: Minimize the number of steps customers need to take to complete a purchase. Encourage them to create an account, but also provide them with a guest checkout option. Present the benefits of creating an account, such as access to exclusive offers. Getting their email allows you to provide more personalized experiences in future marketing campaigns.

Other Ways To Improve The On-Site Customer Experience

Ensuring that your site is user-friendly is a good start, but most users interact with many sites that have good usability every day. To keep shoppers on your site, you need to go a step further, showing them that what you have to offer is interesting and relevant.

  • Emphasize story: Use strong visuals and compelling copy. Some great brands use actual customer videos that barely even mentions their product.
  • Encourage exploration: Make it easy for customers to explore your offerings and related add-ons. Amazon is great if the shopper knows the product, but a web store truly shines by highlighting new or lesser known product lines.
  • A/B testing: Simple changes can have a big impact. For instance, one company used A/B testing to see the impact of changing their “Add to basket” button from black to blue. After finding that this reduced abandoned carts by 50%, the company implemented the design change across its entire site.

Optimizing Your Backend CX: Why Infrastructure Matters

Now let’s talk about the backend component of CX. By backend, I simply mean the operations involving order processing, fulfillment, and support — all of which result in a tangible customer experience in the form of a delivered package.

Since this is the boring, logistical side of retail, many merchants tend to neglect this aspect of the customer experience. Backorders, stockouts, overselling, mis-shipped items, defective items and delayed orders are all symptoms of a poor backend infrastructure.

The best solution is to ensure you have a solid inventory management system to support your backend operations. A great backend infrastructure should keep your listings, orders, inventory and financials all in sync.

The next step is to provide superior customer service.

How To Manage Customer Complaints

If one customer complains about a poor experience with your brand, you risk losing that customer. But if a customer writes a negative review online, you risk losing other shoppers as well. This is not just for marketplace listings, but also for your own brand. By responding to complaints the right way, you can show that you are dedicated to providing the best possible CX.

1. Act fast: To respond fast, you need to be aware of what users are saying about your brand online. Set up alerts for mentions on social media, receive notifications for reviews, and monitor industry forums. This way you’ll be able to answer as soon as possible and avoid any complaints going ignored.

2. Empathize with the customer: Your impulse may be to go on the defensive and explain the issue from your point of view. A better approach is to empathize with the customer, whether or not you are in the wrong, and commit to resolving the problem. Perhaps it was simply a matter of wrong expectations or miscommunication, rather than a defect in the product or delivery.

3. Do your best to reverse the negative experience: Think of ways you can turn a bad experience into a positive one. Sometimes, the solution is obvious: a refund or replacement. If this is the case, ensure that all the tracking and payment reversals are done appropriately.

Bear in mind that even if it costs you now, paying it forward can go a long way to helping you retain a customer, build loyalty and even turn a user into a brand advocate.

Two Halves Make A Whole

There are many aspects involved in creating great CX that can’t be covered in one article. But examining customer journeys to develop a better front end is a good start. You then need to follow through with a stellar backend infrastructure to prevent negative customer experiences. Finally, if a customer does complain about a product or delivery, appease and delight them with great customer service.

Yes, you can ride dragons, and your customers will be amazed.


Albert Ong is the marketing manager at Jazva, an all-in-one e-Commerce platform that simplifies multi-channel listing and inventory management. When not leading content strategy, Albert spends his time listening to audiobooks, writing science fiction, and binge-watching Netflix.

]]> (Albert Ong, Jazva) Executive ViewPoints Thu, 07 Jun 2018 08:46:40 -0400
Exclusive Q&A: ‘Experience Is The Way Forward In Retail Stores’ Exclusive Q&A: ‘Experience Is The Way Forward In Retail Stores’

You won’t find two more passionate advocates for experiential retail than Laura Davis-Taylor and Ed King, the co-founders of The HighStreet Collective. “Experience is the way forward in retail stores, and that’s no longer a theory — it’s absolutely mandatory,” said Davis-Taylor, the Collective’s Principal Consultant for Retail Experience Strategy. “My hope is that it doesn’t become a cliché term rather than an active strategy for retailers.”

Davis-Taylor and King, who is Principal Consultant for Retail Customer Experience at HighStreet Collective, discussed just how crucial experience is to the future of stores in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. This was also a key theme of the Digital Experience Forum they co-hosted in conjunction with the Digital Signage Expo in March, and their presentation at the 2018 Retail Innovation Conference.

Some key takeaways include:

  • To do experiential retail right, weave stores into your attribution models;
  • Focus on creating positive emotions when designing an experience strategy;
  • Supplier strategy is now about pitching to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) rather than the CIO;
  • Target the ACES — the Addictively Connected Experience Seekers; and
  • Try something, measure it, see if it moves the needle in 30, 60 or 90 days.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): People have been talking about experiential retail for a while. What’s different now, and how can retailers make sure it’s not just another buzzword?

Laura Davis-Taylor: One thing that’s different now is the critical nature of measurement. We’re not talking about doing experience for experience’s sake. Now you can prove that what you’re trying to do experientially will have a positive revenue effect.

Of course, to do this right, you need to properly weave stores into your attribution models. When that happens, retailers can finally ‘open the kimono’ about the value that the store provides — how it connects the dots from generating traffic to driving customers to the registers. It needs to be threaded into the omnichannel world so that the experience for customers is totally channel-less.

RTP: Why is creating an experience strategy so critical now?

Davis-Taylor:  One of our speakers at the Digital Experience Forum, Phillip Raub of b8ta, noted that we are all so digitally enabled now that the Internet is like air — we just expect it to be there. In order for retailers to start taking advantage of this digital enablement, they need to quit strategizing, measuring and giving credit in the traditional silos of store, online and mobile. That’s not an experience design; that’s a channel strategy.

Another thing is that the means of commerce are changing. There’s certainly still a role for the store, but retailers need to realize that in some areas, we’re not playing with the same weapons. We’re not even on the same battlefield! If Amazon is changing its prices 2.5 million times per day, there’s no way you can match that.

Ed King: Some of it is the reality of GAFA, which stands for Google/Apple/Facebook/Amazon. All these tech companies are creeping into our space. To combat that, you need to be you, and you need to focus on the customer, not the competition.

RTP: What are some of the major elements of an experience strategy in retail?

King: A big piece of it is optimizing positive emotions at every potential touch point. When we can measure emotions, that goes a long way toward understanding the “why” of what’s happening in a store. We can now see whether an experience lit someone up emotionally.

Davis-Taylor: If you’re talking about an experience strategy, you can’t do it without creating positive emotions.

RTP: What are some of the ways this emphasis on experience and emotion are affecting retail?

King: For one thing, the supplier strategy for those targeting retailers should now be about pitching to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) rather than the CIO. At the Digital Experience Forum, the integrators and technicians in the audience had been used to selling hardware and software to a CIO. Now they need to reframe the conversation to be more focused on what the CMO wants, because that’s where the budgets are coming from. There wasn’t a specific day that the shift from CIO to CMO happened, but there was a tipping point. We went from working toward a technology purpose to a marketing-experiential outcome-ROI purpose. Now solution providers need to talk the language of ROI, measurement, engagement and target market analysis. These emotional triggers, or goosebumps per square foot, are the new language.

In terms of the consumer, it’s about attracting the ACES — the Addictively Connected Experience Seekers. The digital native generations like Millennials and Gen Z have the idea that they can, with technology, get anything they want at any time they want. Yet they still seek experiences. One survey found that when given a choice between shopping online and in a brick-and-mortar store, 70% of Millennials chose the store, and 77% of Gen Z respondents did.

These generations have touched glass for their whole life, so they are craving these tactile, physical things. They love the convenience that technology allows, so stores need to give that to them in spades — but pair it with sensory physical experiences.

RTP: What are some best practices for retailers seeking to innovate along these lines?

King: Retailers need to realize that nobody is doing any of this perfectly. Everyone is still trying to find their way. Retailers can’t afford to wait to see who the “guiding light” is and copy them. I believe everyone will need to create their own test-and-learn strategy. Try something, measure it, see if it moves the needle in 30, 60 or 90 days. If it does, take it to 10 stores, and if it continues to work, take it to 100 stores. See what works and what your customers really like.

Davis-Taylor: You also need a leader who will not only preach about innovation but will incentivize toward it. You need an empowered leader, a vision of what you’re trying to do, and the tools in place to learn what’s working and to tweak what’s not. The point is that there’s no failure, there’s only learning. There’s nothing wrong with failing if you’re failing forward.

]]> (Adam Blair) Trend Watch Wed, 06 Jun 2018 08:00:00 -0400
59% Of Shoppers Won’t Buy Items With ‘Arbitrary’ Prices 59% Of Shoppers Won’t Buy Items With ‘Arbitrary’ Prices

When shoppers perceive that an item’s price is unfair or arbitrary, a majority (59%) will refuse to buy the product. However, they will accept price increases or decreases that remain within a “fair” range, particularly if the changes are based on data science, according to a Forrester Consulting study that examined consumer attitudes toward pricing and promotions.

An original survey in May 2017 queried 1,250 shoppers in the U.S., UK, France, Germany and Brazil and Forrester followed up with additional research in April 2018. Key findings included:

52% of weekly or monthly retail promotions go to customers who would have happily paid full price for the promoted items;

• Among consumers receiving promotions for items they would have paid full price for, 17% said it made them want to shop the store or brand less often, and 11% were annoyed;

65% of shoppers appreciate personalized prices, but 47% said they would be angry if someone else received a better price; and

53% of consumers will wait as long as it takes for an item they want to drop to a price they are willing to pay.

The high volume of promotions going to consumers who would have willingly bought the item at full price remains a major challenge for retailers. “Retailers need to approach promotions strategically and abandon their practice of repeating the same old promotions,” said Cheryl Sullivan, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for Revionics, which commissioned the Forrester study. “Retailers need to ensure their promotions are relevant, provide the optimal offer type, the correct discount depth, and they need to deliver them when and where shoppers want to be reached.”

In addition to shrinking their margins by indiscriminately lowering prices, retailers may be spending too much on promotional vehicles themselves. For example, careful analysis might reveal that retailers gain no incremental “bump” by featuring a promoted item on an in-store end-cap. Placement in a targeted email or the weekly flyer may provide all the promotional lift that’s needed. Armed with this information, retailers can use the valuable real estate within the store to feature another product that will perform better with greater exposure.

It’s All In The Timing

Retailers also can maximize their promotional budgets by better synchronizing offers with purchase frequency. “More frequently purchased items, such as groceries, household essentials, personal care products and convenience products, are the most likely to benefit from daily or weekly offers,” said Sullivan in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.

When the TechStyle Group sends retargeting emails to customers that have not purchased for a while, the retailer times the promotional offers to match individual customers’ purchasing cadences. The parent company of Fabletics, JustFab and ShoeDazzle uses algorithms to monitor purchase frequency in order to maximize each email’s impact. So rather than waiting a standard six months to send a “we miss you” email, TechStyle varies the time frame based on an individual’s purchasing patterns.

“We have some people that shop us every single day, while there are others that are ‘wardrobers’ who shop twice a year,” said Traci Inglis, TechStyle Brand President, during a presentation at the 2018 Retail Innovation Conference. She noted that if the algorithm indicates a customer shops every three months, waiting six months to send an email wastes that additional three months’ time. “On the other hand, if she typically only shops every six months, that means you’ve wasted a promotional offer, since she was likely to return to make a purchase in any case,” said Inglis. By using this purchase frequency algorithm, TechStyle achieved a 22% lift for its lapsed customer campaign compared to a previous campaign.

Retailers shouldn’t be timid about changing prices when the data supports the decision, but they do need to “tread lightly,” said Revionics’ Sullivan. She noted that 47% of consumers get angry when someone else’s personalized prices are lower than theirs, so retailers need to “remain focused on getting their customer segments right. For example, you should not be delivering cat food offers to someone who only owns dogs,” she said. “It should be delivered in their preferred channel and meet the criteria of being perceived as fair, non-arbitrary and relevant.”

AI-Powered Algorithms Bring Science To Promotions And Pricing

As retailers try to maximize margins while avoiding “arbitrary” pricing, they have a range of next-generation tools to navigate their course. “Today’s analytics and algorithms using artificial intelligence (AI) can do fine-grained segmenting of shoppers, to sort them by purchase frequency on various demographic characteristics and also provide competitive elasticity analysis,” said Sullivan. “For example, a pet supply company may find that dog owners have very different shopping cadences than cat owners or fish owners, or that urban shopper patterns are different from suburban, exurban and rural shoppers.”

The machine learning-powered algorithms continuously learn shoppers’ purchase behavior patterns and sensitivity to everyday prices as well as promotional discounts, the impact of vendor funds, and the methods/promotional vehicles to reach them, down to a very granular level, according to Sullivan. “The science has learned to detect changes in the signals to anticipate trends before human analysis can uncover them, allowing rapid response to shopper and competitive shifts,” she noted.

“AI-based price and promotional solutions can be a retailer’s best friend and offer a competitive advantage,” Sullivan added. “In fact, I assert that it’s table stakes for any retailer to have any hope of surviving in today’s retail environment.”

]]> (Adam Blair) Trend Watch Mon, 04 Jun 2018 08:16:43 -0400