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Retailers Need to Get Connected for Revenue

Guest Blog by Jon Stine

It’s no secret that shoppers increasingly prefer the experience provided by e-commerce retailers. Brick and mortar brands have long excused that preference with references to lower prices and at-home convenience – but the truth of the matter is that best of the e-commerce brands win with data.

Take Amazon, for example. Consider their best-in-class customer experience, complete with personalized recommendations, suggestions of “go-withs” and accessories, ideas from others, and shipping addresses on file.

All working together to positively influence shopper decisions, to create bigger baskets and an emphatic “yes.”   And all created through data acquisition, analysis, and action.

In today’s internet-of-everything world, it’s not just online retailers who can create new value from the realm of data. Brick and mortar retailers can take a page from their playbook and leverage the people, processes and things that increasingly connected to the Internet to better predict when and where consumers will want to buy, and ultimately capture more revenues.

For that last few years, Cisco has been watching the impact of the Internet transform the retail industry. Our research started with the observation that retailers just aren’t taking advantage of data already available. Here is how retailers can better connect and capture the data available to them to increase profits this holiday season and beyond:

1. Connect and Build Customer Trust: When customers freely share data with trusted brands, (via social media, mobile [location-aware] or at the website), retailers have the opportunity to upsell and match offers online and in the physical store – leading to greater revenue.

Example: Amazon shoppers don’t mind the retailer knowing where they live, their browsing history and what their favorite brands are because in exchange for this information, Amazon gives them personalized recommendations tailored directly to their needs.

2. Maximize Your Manpower Through Connectivity: Employees can access and share best practices, operational alerts and develop smart training and development tools from their mobile device, while giving managers new insights into efficient ways to allocate sales personnel to drive profits. In addition, employees can provide real-time feedback on product and promotion performance – leading to improved advertising, marketing and additional revenue.

Example: Imagine if your top sales person could be in all your locations everyday, providing expert advice to shoppers and suggesting additional items to go with their purchases. A workforce connected video collaboration can do just that. And by recording top performers, other employees can watch and learn how to do a successful upsell from anywhere, at anytime.

3. Drive Higher Levels of Stock Availability: In-stock performance is one of the four most critical indicators to overall store performance. With automated intelligent stock management and shelf sensing, stores can keep track of merchandise, order stock when inventory falls below a certain level and service customers – all without employee intervention.

Example: Numerous apparel retailers are now rolling out item-level RFID on their private label assortments. Numerous studies have documented the value of that investment in reducing stock-outs in basics, and lifting turn and revenues. Such an investment also pays dividends in omni-channel management, as it allows retailers to create an “endless aisle” of linked and available inventory.

4. Tap Into Dark Assess In-Store: By connecting dark assets like video surveillance cameras, social media, customer’s Wi-Fi signals to online analytics, retailers can predict new trends and empower employees to respond to drive profitability.

Example: A leading retailer is using sensors in the parking lot to help employees anticipate store traffic, and more efficiently staff checkout lanes.

5. Make Your Supply Chain Transparent: Retailers need to have full visibility across the supply chain process by connecting every component. This includes tracking materials from the source, to the factory, to the delivery truck and ultimately to the store or warehouse. In this model, retailers can anticipate exceptions to business rules and respond before anyone else.

Example: If a retailer has complete visibility in to the supply chain, they will know exactly when a shipment falls behind, and why. They don’t need to wait for a shipment to be late to know there is a problem. This allows them to reallocate inventories and promotional schedules as necessary.

These tips are just the beginning. There are countless ways to take advantage of the data available to your organization. Data comes from everywhere and there are trends starting right in front of you, all you need to do is be on the look out to realize the potential revenue they can provide.

Jon Stine is director, retail industry for Cisco Consulting Services

Reinvigorating Retail Loyalty Engagement through Partner Programs

Guest Blog by Rob MacLean

Just because something is good doesn’t mean it can’t be better.

According to COLLOQUY’s 2013 Loyalty Census, retail loyalty program membership has enjoyed some of the fastest growth compared to other industries. Department stores saw their loyalty program membership surge 70% in the last two years while drug store loyalty grew 45%. Overall, retail loyalty program membership has grown 24% since 2010 and 116% since 2006.

But with engagement levels down 4.3% as a loyalty program average, membership growth is only part of the whole loyalty and customer story.

Today’s retail loyalty programs (despite high membership) struggle with three main challenges:

#1.  Rewards fragmentation: the types of rewards offered to customers in different retail loyalty programs are inconsistent. Such inconsistency undermines consumers’ rewards expectations across the entire retail space. Financial institutions and airlines, by contrast, have designed loyalty program constructs where the rules and rewards between programs are similar.

#2.  Lack of merchant-operated scalability: many merchant-operated programs are too small to become retail profit drivers. Instead they become cost centers, forcing many loyalty programs to shut down before they hit their engagement stride.

#3. Drowning in the data deluge: competition among retailers combined with changes in consumer behaviors has left many businesses scrambling to find new ways to capture customer behavioral insights. And in the rush to acquire this data, retailers have failed to align business goals with the data they need to maximize customer engagement. As a result, many loyalty programs lack focus and, once again, don’t offer customers what they want.

Hubbub Over Loyalty Hubs

Considering how interrelated the above challenges are, solving them requires an overarching and integrated approach. Rather than building individualized small-scale loyalty schemes, coalition loyalty programs that bring together multiple retail loyalty programs in one location make the most sense. Either that, or retailers must do additional homework to discover which third party program providers are offering their competitors amazing loyalty rewards and collecting data that will help tailor future rewards to specific demographics.

In other words, there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel. If successful rewards programs are already engaging customers, why risk further fragmentation?

But after a coalition program or loyalty hub has brought customer reward schemes together, what then? How does brand’s loyalty strategy evolve? Loyalty marketplaces must be more than grand assemblies. They must allow customers to track, trade, exchange and redeem their points/miles (depending on the specific loyalty currency) in a seamless and intuitive manner. Making these transactions easy to perform and execute is the key difference between coalition programs and true marketplaces that continue to be developed.

The latter drives engagement to new heights as consumers are incentivized to perform more loyalty transactions, improving the quality of the reward while reducing redemption time. High activity levels also help merchants discover new customers and the shared customer data between members benefits all parties.

Mobile Wallets and Loyalty – A Partnership with Potential

Of course, a discussion of loyalty marketplaces isn’t complete without addressing mobile wallets and its customer engagement potential. Despite sluggish adoption, this environment will prove the perfect incubators of such digital transactions. With smartphone shipments now outpacing feature phones, (225 million smartphones were shipped in the US second quarter of 2013) it’s clear consumers crave these devices’ functionality and ability to augment in-store and off-site shopping experiences.

Convergence, a marketing term favorite, isn’t a buzz word after all. Uniting great loyalty programs with easy-to-use virtual currencies all within a single smartphone is nothing short of revolutionary. The union of loyalty programs and virtual currency might be the perfect marriage of convenience and the ultimate loyalty strategy.

Even if mobile wallet adoption has yet to hit critical mass and Point of Sale technology uniformity is far from achieved, smart retailers will be the ones envisioning a future where the phrase “paper or plastic” sounds entirely antiquated.

High loyalty program membership is great. But legions of disengaged members are like dead weight on a loyalty program’s enduring success. Joining a coalition loyalty program isn’t cost-free, or without integration challenges. But there’s no doubt that’s where the future of retail loyalty engagement lies.

So consider this article a conversation starter about what’s needed to reinvigorate retail loyalty programs and the steps needed to transform an already good retail loyalty program into one of the best.

Rob MacLean is CEO, Points

Tips to Ensure Your Brand Promotion Weathers the Season

Guest Blog by Jodi Sawyer

In planning your seasonal promotional campaigns, you, as a brand owner, are well aware that creative and implementation planning must begin well before the actual ‘holiday season’ arrives. Your successful Yuletide promotion was probably on your drawing board well before the beginning of July. However, have you considered how environmental conditions may impact the life of the promotional graphic? For example:  Installation temperature, location of the graphics (indoors or outdoors), the end-use application surface (windows, walls, floors, carpets, shelves, counter-tops), and the challenges that the graphic materials will need to endure. By considering these factors, your graphics will stay eye-catching and vibrant through the duration of your campaign.

By collaborating with your print-service provider and media-provider in the initial planning and design phases of your seasonal campaign, it will help ensure that you can handle any application challenges such as proper installation temperatures, heat and humidity variations, local sign ordinances and others.  By incorporating installation specifications during the planning stages, your promotional campaign will shine wintertime, summertime – anytime.

Here are five tips to ensure your brand promotion weathers the season:

  • Take into account the environment. For outdoor advertising and promotions, consider the various climates where your promotion will be implemented and know what environmental conditions your campaign will have to stand up against. This can be extreme heat in the summer or freezing temperatures in the winter. The promotional materials need to withstand certain conditions–which may span all four seasons–or may vary across regions.
  • UV exposure – know where the graphics will be placed, the expected life of the graphic, ink color and saturation – all of these factors can impact the material performance.
  • Removability.  Consider that promotions will likely be changed in a few months’ time. While you want to select the film and adhesive solutions that will last, you also need to consider the removal process. Leverage removable adhesive products that are easily removed without leaving adhesive residue behind. Surfaces vary, so the selection of adhesive is crucial to a graphic application’s success.  For example: A low-tack removable adhesive is ideal for interior wall borders and small- to medium-format decals. It offers initial repositionability and clean removability for a period of six months or less.
  • Consider the space and surface. Think about how you can visually transform an entire store aisle, taking the shopper-engagement experience to a new level. Consider using thin-gauge, full-coverage floor graphic films (clear, white opaque, silver and brushed silver underlaminates). In addition to branding elements, these films can use printed textures to create environmental effects, like grass, wood, rocks and water.
  • Durability.  Consider whether there will be heavy foot traffic in a busy retail area. A durable overlaminate for carpet graphics can resist heel punctures, reduce lifting and deliver improved printing clarity compared to the thinner-gauged overlaminates.

With these tips in mind, brands can be sure to help make their products stand out against the competition whatever challenges the seasons may bring.

Jodi Sawyer is a Market Development Specialist with FLEXcon

How Data-Driven Technologies can Help Brick and Mortar Retailers Step Up their Holiday Game

Guest Blog By Steve Jeffery

Santa gets letters. E-commerce purveyors get clickstream data. What do brick-and mortar retailers want for the holidays? In-store customer behavior intelligence. In store tracking is a hot item this season because understanding behavior in brick and mortar environments will help retailers level the playing field with ecommerce. If last year’s trends are any indication, online channels will continue to compete fiercely for consumer dollars during the holiday shopping rush. With an array of options just a mouse click or screen tap away, it’s more important than ever for brick and mortar retailers to close the deal when customers are in the store—they simply can’t afford to drop the ball when it comes to merchandise in stock, service, selection or price. Here’s how technologies for capturing and analyzing in store behavior data can empower brick and mortar retailers to bring their “A” game this holiday season:

  1. Staff strategically. The span of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas includes many of the busiest brick and mortar shopping days of the year, including the Big Daddy of them all: Black Friday. Making the most of these high value retail opportunities requires consistent service and product on the shelves. Especially when demand is fluctuating, good service depends on real-time adjustments in staffing. Periods of understaffing can mean missed sales: shoppers who want help finding a size or are interested in asking a few questions about a product may simply leave when a salesperson is unavailable or lines are too long. Overstaffing is problematic too, as it wastes money on headcount that is not needed. This is why continuously tracking store traffic and measuring wait times are critical. Historical traffic data is important to planning schedules, but real-time tracking allows staff to be deployed precisely when and where they are needed, consistently matching service levels with demand. Technologies designed to capture and analyze this vital data can help retailers more effectively manage their workforce and deploy staff strategically, so that service levels stay strong even on the highest volume shopping days, and without incurring unnecessary labor costs.
  2. Keep lines moving. Customers hate to wait, especially during the busy holiday season when nerves are frayed and people are rushing around trying to get all their “to dos” done. In addition to traffic metrics, capturing accurate data about individual wait times and customer actions while in line can help stores better manage queues and keep shoppers from getting annoyed, or worse yet, dumping their items and leaving when they think the wait will be too long. Real-time queue data, combined with traffic metrics, can be used to predict wait times so in store staff can be deployed to speed check outs when needed. Estimated wait times can even be communicated directly to customers, who are less likely to get frustrated when they know what to expect.
  3. Identify trouble spots… and recognize success. Retailers can also use traffic data to calculate sales conversions. Analyzed in conjunction with Point-of-Sale (POS) data, people counts help retailers determine the total percentage of store visitors that ended up making a purchase during specific times throughout the day. This is a very important metric, as it provides much more accurate insight into store performance than sales data alone. It’s valuable to understand both how many people came into the store and how many of those people purchased. For example, POS data may show lower than expected sales for a store on Black Friday, but when compared with the traffic figures, a very high conversion percentage is revealed. This means that store staff are doing an excellent job converting shoppers that do come in, and suggests instead that marketing needs to drive more foot traffic to the location. Without the traffic data, a retailer may incorrectly think that store’s service is to blame.
  4. Optimize marketing, pricing, display and service strategies. Brick-and-mortar stores offer the benefit of immediate access to products that online retailers can’t match. Showrooming —the practice by which shoppers look at products in a store and then price shop for a better deal online—were blamed for hurting sales last year but, this year, more and more retailers are embracing showrooming and offering free WiFi in the store. The WiFi allows the retailer to push a special offer to the customer in the store and counter the online price advantage. Price isn’t, of course, always the main factor.  The guy on his way to a party cares more about having the hostess gift in his hand than whether he saved a few dollars. He can even have it beautifully wrapped and ready to go in a matter of a few minutes (so much nicer than those generic colored boxes!) Another shopper may be prompted to buy by a particularly engaging product display or demonstration. Capturing behavior data about how shoppers use and move through the store, what displays they stop at and what items the touch and try can offer a wealth of insight that can be filtered back into more effective marketing, pricing, display and service strategies.

Understanding what makes brick and mortal holiday shoppers inclined to spend demands continuous, real-time analysis of their behavior—analysis that’s just as sophisticated as what’s currently done online. Retailers that take advantage of “behavior intelligence” technologies available for capturing and analyzing this insight will be better prepared to shine this holiday season.

Steve Jeffery is CEO of Brickstream

Is the customer always right?

Guest blog by David Kreitzer

We all know the popular adage, “The customer is always right.” For some companies, this is a great piece of wisdom to live by, but when dealing with customer feedback on social media sites, things are a little more nuanced. Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, has said of online customer service, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

A customer service-related slip up on social media doesn’t mean just one unhappy customer; it could mean a very public social media mishap. This broader audience holds a lot of power over your reputation so it’s important to act authentically. Even though most customer service training has probably taught otherwise, the customer actually is not always right. Don’t be afraid to apologize on social media, but do so graciously and without simply accepting all accusations of fault.

One of the key ingredients of a great social media presence is consistency. In fact, this is one of the reasons why Main Street Hub provides clients with a single point of contact. If you craft a consistent voice, you’ll show that you’re credible. If you check in with your staff members about an incident instead of just throwing them under the bus, both your employees and your customers will see that you’re interested in setting the record straight, while also protecting both groups.

When Bezos apologized for the 2009 Amazon mishap that remotely erased the books “1984” and “Animal Farm” from users’ Kindles, he took a firm stance. He apologized by taking responsibility for the slip up and also promised not to let decisions like this be made in the future. “We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission,” said Bezos. His sincere response elicited even greater customer loyalty from many of those who had been outraged just a few days before.

His apology showed his strength in leadership and restored customers’ faith in the company as a customer-focused business. By making a very humane apology, Bezos erased fears that Amazon was turning into a faceless corporation capable of Big Brother-like decisions.

Of course, not all situations are as clear-cut as this, and on social media it sometimes comes down to “he said, she said” with no obvious correct answer. It’s important not to fall back on the crutch of, “The customer is always right.” Apologize for the inconvenience, but keep it vague. Don’t openly say, “I’m sorry the store employee was rude to you,” if you’re not positive it’s true. A simple, “I’m so sorry you had a bad experience,” will show the customer that you care about their interaction with your store. Be sure to point out that the incident isn’t reflective of your typical service and always promise to do better next time.

Sincerely show that you’ll do everything it takes to prevent similar situations in the future, and you can often regain customers who may have boycotted your business just moments before. And better yet, you can remedy the situation without compromising the reputation of your business or your employees to future potential customers who may read the review. Great customer service requires more than just catering to the customer’s interests. It takes a leader who is willing to seek out the truth and genuinely improve relationships between a local business and its customers.

David Kreitzer, is VP, marketing with Main Street Hub, the “do-it-for-you” marketing platform for local businesses.

Cross Industry Targeting – Leveraging the Connection between Retail and Travel Content Consumption

Guest blog By Noah Tratt

Can the mere act of planning a vacation increase a person’s happiness? A Dutch study released in 2010 revealed that the largest boost in happiness surrounding vacations comes from the simple act of planning the vacation. In fact, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for a full eight weeks.

Retailers take note: targeting a happy consumer during the vacation booking phase can be an extremely effective marketing strategy because there is a unique tie between retail and travel shopping patterns. A study from Millward Brown Digital and Expedia Media Solutions identified a direct correlation between the frequency of visits to retail and travel sites by consumers during this euphoric phase as they plan and book a vacation package. The Traveler’s Path to Purchase study examines the 45-day period leading up to a vacation package booking on an online travel agency to determine what the US consumer’s path to purchase looks like. It revealed that online content consumption increases during the vacation package planning and booking phases and that the patterns of retail site and travel site visitation are closely aligned. In the 45 days leading up to a package booking, retail sites were visited almost as frequently as travel sites. Vacation bookers visited retail websites 36.6 times in the 45-day path to purchase period, while travel sites were visited 38 times.

The connection between retail and travel site consumption is logical because consumers, in their state of increased happiness, and are often searching for new products that they may need for the vacation they’re booking. A beach vacation may inspire a consumer to look at buying a new bathing suit or sunscreen, the same way a ski trip would inspire the purchase of a new jacket or GoPro video camera. Each destination a consumer looks at serves as motivation to research and potentially purchase new products that will make their vacation that much better.

While the correlation between retail and travel site consumption shows that retailers are already enjoying the effects of a happy traveler, there is also an opportunity to target this group in a new way. Despite the increase in retail site consumption during the entire 45 day period before a booking, during the week of booking, retail site visitation dropped while travel site visitation peaked. As a retail brand, why not remain top of mind for those happy consumers throughout the entire 45-day period?

As consumers are actually booking their vacation package, retailers should be where those consumers are – on travel sites – to ensure consumption increases again as booking is happening (as seen in the graph above).

Marketers across all industries need to look at new places and ways to target their existing and potential customers. Travelers, retail shoppers, bank customers and restaurant goers are all one in the same, so as marketers working across various industries we need to work together to serve consumers in the most relevant places, and in the most interesting ways possible.

Noah Tratt is global vice president of media solutions at Expedia, Inc.

Tap into the Five Senses to Appeal to Shoppers In-store

Guest Blog By Larry Berg

Making the List Versus Making the Basket

As shoppers enter the grocery store – list in hand – it is the moment of truth. What will end up in their basket? Will they complete their shopping list or decide on other items?  What will be the key influencer driving their purchase decisions? Consider this:

  • 81 percent of list makers do not record a specific brand on their shopping list
  • 9 out of 10 consumers purchase items not on their list (61 percent of those consumers purchase an additional one to three items)

While making “the list” and driving consumers to the store is half the battle, there is great potential for marketers to influence consumers in the store and after they’ve already made their “lists.” In-store advertising has long been the solution here, but marketers must remember the consumer at the shelf, as there is a bigger opportunity to stand out.

Today, standing out is not only about grabbing the shoppers’ attention with an end-cap display –traditional in-store high visibility placement, but also with in-store placement in a variety of areas where the eye meets the product.  Marketers should also add visual appeal to traditional in-store signage, such as incorporating the product into the sign. One consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturer introduced a new laundry pod on a spindle to create engagement in a fun way. Another CPG manufacturer outlined the product on an oversized sign and punched it out to make it more realistic and enticing.

To further engage the consumer who is already in the purchase mode, we must appeal to not only their sense of sight, but also what they hear, smell, feel and taste.  To increase brand engagement, marketers need to tap into the five senses for in-store purchases.

Exciting the Senses

While innovation of in-store space is a common topic, many don’t concentrate on the simple premise of the five senses.  The five senses play a major role in a consumer’s purchase decision. Marketers looking  to differentiate their brands in a unique and even unpredictable way can reach taste buds with flavor strips, ears with a motion-sensor sound sign, noses with scented leaflets or tear pads, hands to feel the softness of a new paper product or diaper and appeal to consumers’ eyes with beyond eye-level displays. For example, marketers can help consumers navigate the aisle by leading them directly to the brand with a large, eye-catching floor graphic.

Another visual way to engage the consumer is utilizing a 180-degree angled sign that uses motion-sensor LED lights (detecting motion from 10 feet away) to draw them in. One solution like this one takes in-store signage to another level as it adds extra emphasis to client creative and helps draw more eyes to the brand, let alone the category, boosting sales up to 73 percent.

Another interactive solution is to provide the consumer with a personal shopping assistant, which appeals to sight and sound in an interactive way. For example, through a simple scan of a QR Code, an avatar appears to answer questions a consumer may have on an advertised brand.  The consumer can then use text or voice to ask their question and get an answer right back – at the shelf.  This is a creative way to make the consumer experience human interaction.

In-store promotions and coupons provide immediate consumer response, building  brand equity to create greater consumer awareness and historically elevating response rates to as high as 73 percent. Retailers and brands looking to not only engage but to also activate shoppers in-store have a multitude of ways to reach them not only by what they see, but what they hear, smell, touch and taste. Surprise them. Excite them.  And appeal to them using the senses.

(In his VP role, Larry Berg leads in-store innovation at Valassis. During his 26-year career, Berg has gained a reputation for creating thought-provoking ideas. He has been active in many prominent industry associations including the Path to Purchase Institute and is a retired board member on the Alliance for Audited Media. )

Remaining Relevant in Amazon’s Retail Shadow

Guest Blog By Jeremy Hanks

Have you ever wondered how Amazon ascended to and maintains its dominant position? The company puts retailers left and right out of business, and consistently outperforms the rest of the e-commerce market, often reporting growth more than twice the overall market’s growth. Yes, there is Amazon Prime and Kindle Fire and the world’s largest bookstore, but the secret to Amazon’s success is not as sexy as you might expect.

Amazon is at the top of the food chain because of its supply chain. The real revolution we’re seeing is Amazon’s unprecedented ability to manage logistics so effectively that the company can see, virtually, billions of dollars of product supply. After all, services like Amazon Prime with vast inventory and two-day shipping options wouldn’t have any value without a robust supply chain network powering it.

Amazon’s dominance has led to increasing market pressures for retailers, and many are crumbling under the weight. As a result, more than $800 billion is lost annually in global retail inventory distortion (out-of-stocks and overstocks), according to research firm IHL Group.

While the B2C world has witnessed disruption after disruption – from one-click checkouts to mobile device purchases – the B2B supply chain has failed to keep pace with such rapid innovation. Today, even with distribution centers popping up everywhere, there are still significant geographic constraints on the logistics and fulfillment of supply.

In the e-commerce age, the future of mid-market retailers hinges on a supply chain revolution that leads to total visibility of distributed, virtual inventory. Any revolution requires upheaval, and here that has to come in inventory flow from a product push to a product pull. No longer should retailers dictate what consumers want – consumers should be the ones in control, and retailers must be able to respond rapidly and effectively to meet their demands.

To empower consumers, many mid-market retailers are turning to what has made Amazon so successful – third-party distributed inventory, also known as drop shipping. Better known as Amazon Marketplace, this strategic approach enables the company to sell more products with an almost non-existent effect on cost structure. In Q4 2012, Amazon’s third-party sales contributed significant revenue, making up 39 percent of all units purchased.

While the promise of expanded assortment is an important marketing tool for retailers, it then becomes even more important that the promise is backed up with strong supply chain execution. Here are three key benefits to implementing a distributed supply chain:

  • Less Inventory Risk – An expanded assortment strategy increases selling opportunities while simultaneously reducing supply chain costs associated with transportation and storage.
  • More Competitive Pricing – One of many reasons consumers prefer Amazon is its favorable prices. Increasing visibility of products also brings down prices by reducing overhead and fulfillment costs.
  • Endless Aisle Capabilities– The promise of an expanded or unlimited assortment of inventory is an enticing prospect for extending the reach of a retailer’s brand to new customers and keeping existing customers who otherwise shop elsewhere due to a stockout or limited assortment.

The state of retail and supply chain strategy is at a tipping point where providing expanded product assortment through distributed inventory is essential. At DropShip Commerce, we have been developing major innovations to level the playing field for retailers in every category. As retailers learn to navigate the e-commerce age, those that can react quickly and adapt their supply chain strategy accordingly will realize greater opportunities for growing sales and remaining relevant – even in the face of Amazon – for years to come.

Jeremy Hanks is Founder & CEO of DropShip Commerce

The Impact of NFC Technology on Retail Merchandising

Guest Blog By Douglas Lusted

The Pew Research Center recently announced that 56 percent of all adult Americans have a smartphone, which is up from only 35 percent two years ago. In turn, advertising has received a major renovation with the growth of smartphone usage and the supporting technology surrounding mobile devices. With a smartphone in more than half of their customers’ hands, marketers are looking for the best way to attract buyers through convenient channels. But analytics supporting this high tech marketing strategy have gone untapped. Can measurement capabilities be harnessed to bring in store marketers the same kinds of analytics found in digital or online marketing?

The answer is yes! Already accessible on a number of popular smartphones, Near Field Communication (NFC) technology provides a way for customers to directly connect and interact with a brand or retail store. Once activated, the user’s smartphone allows for direct engagement with an in or out of store advertisement. Using NFC technology, marketers can see how many people came close to an advertisement, how many customers stopped in front of it, how many interacted with it and how many of those interactions converted into sales. Products enabled with this new technology, such as Linkett provide full backend support to show analytics and conversion rates. Marketers will know which ads are the most effective and can collect the data that is most important to them in real-time. With motion activated in-store advertisements, a customized shopping experience is provided to the customer while immediate feedback on that shopper is provided to the brand or store.

For example, imagine walking into a store and passing a television offering 50 percent off of today’s purchase. To receive the discount, you tap your mobile phone to the screen and opt in to the store’s email list. You now have the coupon on your phone available for immediate use. You tap again and you instantly have the brand’s loyalty app. Three weeks later, you walk into the same store and the television offers you another discount for an item you previously purchased. You tap the screen again and receive the new offer.

Not only does Linkett harness NFC technology to give average televisions mobile and motion capabilities to make all content interactive and convenient for consumers while providing key analytics to promoters, but it also allows marketers to improve ads based on collected data.

NFC is also a secure way to accept payment transactions through mobile devices and loyalty and credit cards. NFC allows for a safe and secure connection because the transfer of data happens so fast and close together. NFC respects privacy settings and will never grab data from a customer’s phone or communicate with the device unless the device is tapped. Once tapped, there is always an option to opt out.

Having a customized in-store marketing experience in place for the customer can make a difference in direct sales. A customer may not think about going into a store, but when a screen literally talks to them as they walk through the mall and offers them a coupon, they may stop by. Even then, they could come in without intending to buy anything, but if an advertisement offers an instant coupon, they may change their mind. Until now, consumers are not viewing an advertised offer while in the store, but typically only before or after they shop. NFC technology guides them to a purchase during their physical shopping experience.

With Linkett, one person can control thousands of displays from one laptop and never have to visit the displays to update. Ads can be seen in real-time to see which are performing the best so only the most efficient campaigns are displayed at all times. Marketers can install Linkett, understand collected data and customize advertisements using a cloud-based platform. NFC technology is a development that streamlines marketing strategy and completely changes the relationship a marketer can achieve with a consumer.

Douglas Lusted is CEO and co-founder of Weston Expressions

The Dawn of Experiential Commerce

Guest blog by Tom Smith

You’ve heard many people claim that the walls of brick and mortar stores are crashing down spectacularly. That the old school architects are now being replaced by cleverly coded predictive web shopping experiences. That we’ll buy everything online: The numbers certainly still seem to suggest it.

The meteoric rise of pureplay eCommerce ventures like ASOS and Zappos has had in-store managers trembling. As the traditional retailers moved into eCommerce, the very same in-store managers would cling on for dear life to their revenues, even competing against their eCommerce colleagues for a share of the customer’s virtual and leather wallets.

And then something called “omnichannel” started happening: Devices called smartphones took over the world, and social media erupted. We came across mCommerce, tCommerce and social commerce, and retailers started scrambling just to be there – wherever the new “there” was – and keep up without really understanding what it meant to offer a shopping experience on mobile, tablet or any other channel that touched the customer.

Of course, we can virtually window shop on our tablets, we can purchase through a blog post, we can complete our online orders with a single click. But, as we spend more of our time shopping this way and as online retail becomes increasingly saturated and competitive, speed and convenience are less the deciding factors for consumers. With the increasing maturity of eCommerce and omnichannel retailing, the successful retailer of tomorrow understands that it’s now all about experiential commerce. Making the customer experience as inspiring, consistent, personalized and wow-inducing as possible will be the driver of conversion, revenues and loyalty in the next stage of eCommerce.

How are online retailers transitioning towards this age of experiential commerce?

Investing in data science

A true understanding of future customer behavior is really what the data geeks in eCommerce want to achieve. Yet so many of the data and insights initiatives in organizations today revolve around past behavior: looking in the rear-view mirror. In the world of lightening-paced eCommerce, this is not so useful. All efforts should focus on the future customer. The Big Data spectrum for eCommerce insights is vast – reviews, past purchases, social interactions, web behavior, inventory, financial and more. And they aren’t going to magically blend into one super-database. As a result, eCommerce executives are now looking to invest in data scientists and technologies that blend insights together, using them to deliver more relevant and personalized shopping experiences.

Figuring out what “omnichannel” really is

For every traditional retailer today, the term “omnichannel” is an omnipresent one. And it’s one that offers a fresh way of thinking about how to blend and make the best out of the interaction between channels for a customer, at all the different touch points they will have with a retailer today.

Omnichannel shopping is at the heart of experience commerce, as it takes the more strategic viewpoint of the customer being at the center of a seamless retail experience. It avoids ‘doing mobile’ or ‘doing social’, just for the sake of mobile and social. An omnichannel approach considers the customer, his journey, his touch points and delivering an experience that is consistent with the retail brand and the way it wants to engage the customer.

Personalization

It’s the holy grail of replicating that personal shopper experience online. Except, for all the hype over the years, personalization is still in its infancy. The opportunity to tailor the online experience with a 1 to 1 engagement with the customer was the promise of personalization, yet the reality is that understanding the common behaviors and characteristics of customers supersedes the need to treat Joe as Joe. The smart thinking now around personalization is to treat Joe as ‘other-people-like-Joe.’

Personalization in eCommerce generally revolves around tactics such as recommendations (to drive cross-sell and upsell), personalized search and navigation results (to drive conversion), and personalized content (to drive relevancy and a tailored experience). The businesses that are innovating in these areas, such as ASOS, are investing in technologies and resources that bring these capabilities together, and can deliver a differentiated experience unique to shoppers with common behaviors and characteristics.

Rich content marketing

Rich and diverse content marketing is fast-becoming a way to differentiate in online retail. Customers are able to watch videos of the latest gadget being tested by experts and purchase there and then. They’re also free to read blog posts from fashion bloggers about the latest trends, and complete the look with a click. This revenue-driving practice isn’t just confined to electronics and fashion products. Video and rich media is helping drive conversion of products across all categories: Funky office supplies online retailer Poppin is using video to enrich the experience of buying storage boxes.

Of course, all of these investments and transitions towards a better online shopping experience are not risk-free. Marketing, merchandising and IT need to be tightly aligned to deliver these experiences that are largely dependent upon technology and business working together in harmony. There are still major questions around the consolidation, the making sense of, and the gathering of disparate data sources to inform business decisions. And then there’s the challenge of keeping up with the pace of change of things like mobile, mCommerce and social engagement. There’s a long way to go, but the age of experience commerce is almost upon us.

Tom Smith, Product Marketer with SDL, is a trend-watcher and technology evangelist.