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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.

What’s Actually Happening In All My Retail Locations?

Guest blog by Ollie Benn

You’ve spent months on a new retail initiative or display concept.  You’ve piloted it in a few test locations and trained key staff.  Everything looks good and you begin the nationwide rollout.  But then sales numbers come in and they’re, well, lumpy.  And you don’t know why.  It’s not until months later you figure out that one regional manager conveyed the wrong instructions to store managers, another region had bad displays, and some individual store managers just messed things up.

The key for retailers (and suppliers) to address this problem is to understand how to shrink the distance between corporate headquarters and the front lines where sales take place.  There are some remarkably simple ways to increase store-by-store visibility and achieve more consistency in execution and sales.

The Solution Is Already In Workers’ Hands

Most Americans now own smartphones, the majority of which are iPhone and Android devices.  Whether companies have adopted a formal Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy or not, 90% of employees already use their personal smartphones for work, according to Cisco.

And companies are beginning to harness the power of those smartphones.  Banks, electronics companies and restaurants have found some interesting ways to use employees’ smartphones.

For retailers and suppliers, mobile devices are a way to literally “see” into every single store.  When rolling out new initiatives, or just managing day-to-day operations, workers’ smartphones can capture the photos, videos and data to give instant insight into how well each store is performing.  Some companies are already doing this to manage product and display installations in national chains.

But this is just part of two bigger themes for how workers’ mobile devices can radically improve performance:  (1) better information exchange between sales/operations executives (setting strategies) and managers in stores (implementing them); (2) better, more individualized, communication with employees.

Better Performance Through Better Information Exchange and Feedback

Research shows how high-performing companies ensure information flows well between workers, managers and headquarters.  In fact, it’s critical for good execution of corporate strategies.

In retail environments, smartphones and tablets can increase information flow from front-line workers to decision makers.  As discussed above, sales and operations execs can get reports and receive alerts when stores aren’t complying with directives.  They can then, in turn,  communicate with store managers and make adjustments and suggestions instantly.  Currently, most retailers will have little clue that something is amiss until after monthly or quarterly sales data is analyzed.   Instead of waiting for sales misses, correcting execution problems ahead of time can substantially increase profits.

In addition to allowing companies to better understand what’s happening in individual stores, smartphones allow feedback to go the other way too – enterprises can communicate to workers about how their choices have contributed to the company’s success. Performance-based feedback can have a great impact on the way an employee sees their role in a company, which can improve productivity and create a positive feedback loop.

Companies that adopt mobile enterprise solutions will create more consistent shopping experiences for consumers in all their locations.  This will produce more predictable revenue streams for companies caused by better, more uniform execution.

Ollie Benn is VP of Marketing for Zenput