Retail transitions to target mobile customers as sales channel changes

New technologies support better targeting of individual customers.

Retailers realize that many of their customers are coming through the mobile channel as much or more than in-store, and are changing the way they track and engage with them.  Everyone’s been looking in the US at Black Friday sales as an example. One of the busiest sales times of the year, the Wall St. Journal estimates that $4.45 billion was spent during the weekend, and it is “estimated that more than half of Black Friday shopping came from mobile devices.” This is up every year. Research house Comscore estimates mobile devices totaled almost $13 billion in holiday sales in the US, up 59 percent over the previous year. While in past year’s retailers have focused on upgrading eCommerce platforms to manage this traffic, not much was done to support mobile users. The demand to support omnichannel has increased, and retailers are responding.

Omnichannel: tracking devices in stores

While a lot of the noise has been about installing low energy beacons in retail stores to identify customers and provide offers, high costs and complexity has limited beacon adoption. Many customers may not even keep Bluetooth on, which most beacons use as the wireless network. Retailers are starting to take advantage of their own WiFi infrastructure to identify wireless devices that broadcast their media access control (MAC) numbers when connecting to WiFi networks. These are unique numbers to every device. Most of the major WiFi network vendors like Cisco, Aruba, Meraki and Aerohive offer analytics software to track visitor behavior as they enter the store. They can define location, how much time was spent in the store, which stores they visit (on the network), how often they return, etc. The major flaw is that unless the user identifies herself, these devices remain anonymous. Retailers can use f the data to inform some decisions, but confirmation is never really known.

Moving from tracking devices to customers

Getting anonymous data is helpful. But retailers would rather identify customers and customize offers to them. Recently there have been new technologies to support this. Just this week, the National Retail Federation (NRF) had their annual “Big Show” attracting retailers from all over the world with aisles and aisles of technology products to assess. Most of the emphasis was on evolving backend eCommerce systems to support online/offline sales models. There were also companies that supported moving from tracking devices to tracking customers. A number of analytics companies like Euclid and RetailNext provide analytics software and services that help retailers identify customers and provide targeted promotions and specials. The idea is that once a customer log-ins on the WiFi network, either providing an email address or even better, a Facebook connection, that device is identified and matched to the customer and demographic information can be obtained. This allows retailers to go even further in analyzing customer habits and bridging offline, in-store shopping with an the online and mobile experience.

Best practices for retail in 2016

Engaging the customer will continue to be complicated and there is no one right way to go forward. Retailers should follow these best practices when using new technologies and supporting their onmichannel program:

  • Reassess customer segments—in the past, customer segments were defined by age, spending habits etc. New metrics mean new segments. Retailers should look at propensity to buy, interest levels and engagement and define new segments.
  • Don’t abandon traditional practices completely—online or mobile doesn’t mean using technology solely for sales. Retailers need to provide high levels of service and distinction in order to attract customers inside.
  • Focus on the sale and sales associate too—too many retailers want customer data and focus too heavily on the customers versus their own sales process. Include your on-floor sales people in part of your strategy. Assess their interactions, and not just the number of them they have. Look for quality interactions and styles that lead to sales and replicate those habits among the staff.

Though retail practices are evolving and many are moving from in-store to online and from PC to mobile, engaging the customer and providing a top experience no matter what channel will always be the key to success. New technologies like customer analytics can help retailers zero in on sales but will not replace providing a competent end-to-end experience.

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