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Customers, Connectivity and Data: 3 Takeaways from STORE 2018

Author: Lucy Sharman-Munday

Recently, the Eagle Eye team attended the STORE 2018 conference hosted by the Retail Council of Canada. We heard and participated in several inspiring conversations with leaders from across the Canadian retail sector, but one discussion stood out from the rest: the notion that today’s consumers crave a sense of community—at work and at play. We live in a connected world where everything is transferred to our digital devices, but the consequence of this is we’re quickly losing the emotional human touch.

This idea stuck with me even after the conference ended. Today, people spend more time engaging with their phones than other, “IRL” humans.  Even when we’re together, it’s our screens that command our attention, not our companions. We may be more connected than ever, but we’re simultaneously alone in our own digital worlds.

But as a digital marketing company that takes pride in helping brands create real-time connections with their customers, it got me thinking. If community and a sense of belonging are what consumers want, retailers must be willing to create and maintain a personal relationship with each of their customers—online, of course, but also in-store, person to person, IRL. We have this conversation almost daily at Eagle Eye, and ironically enough, our three biggest takeaways from STORE focused on this:

Takeaway One:

Your customers are the most important factor to consider. Ask your customers what they want and be prepared to change once you hear the answer.

The retail industry is evolving right before our eyes and for businesses, the successful path forward means you’re investing more time in understanding your customers and adapting to their needs. You know what they like and don’t like, what their shopping behaviors are, and even what motivates their purchases. This requires retailers to engage with customers, analyze shopper data, and identify where their retail strategy misaligns with what customers want from the brands they do business with. Those who are willing to pivot their strategy to meet customer expectations will be successful in this highly competitive market, and those who aren’t will fail—as we’ve seen happen already with big name brands like Toys ‘R’ Us Canada and Sears Canada.

Takeaway Two:

To create a more personalized experience, focus on connectivity. 

Exactly half – 50% – of all online retail purchases are influenced by the in-store experience. This statistic was shared during the “Retail Reinvention” closing keynote session by Rachel Schectman, Founder & CEO of STORY, and it speaks volumes about just how valuable brick-and-mortar stores are at influencing buying decisions, despite the media telling us otherwise for the past two years. This reinforces that the online experience doesn’t replace the emotions and personal touch that you get from an excellent in-store experience and that consumers are using the two channels as one. First, they’re going into retail stores and then choosing to complete the customer journey by purchasing online—an example of a true omnichannel experience.

But this insight isn’t widely recognized by retailers today. One of the main challenges we heard at STORE is the lack of connectivity between each engagement channel. Retailers are engaging with consumers in their loyalty app, via SMS message or email, through their ecommerce site, on social media, and in-store, but in many cases these channels aren’t connected. The downfall? You’re unable to consolidate that data into a single customer view for a richer understanding of who your customers are. And, you lose the opportunity to create an optimized, personalized experience that makes them feel important and ultimately, deepens their loyalty to your brand. 

Retailers need to bridge their online and offline experiences, or in other words, focus on becoming a connected store. They need to know who their customers are to send push notifications to their mobile app upon entering the store. They need to know what their customers recently purchased online and prompt a salesperson to recommend other items they might like. They need to know when a customer spends time in a certain department but doesn’t purchase anything—and can send discounts via email when they leave to motivate a purchase online.

Personalization is key to maintaining a loyal customer base, and the retailers who leverage technology to create more valuable, integrated experiences (across all channels) for their customers will truly reap the benefits.

Takeaway Three:

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence will help retailers optimize their data.

Another prominent topic at STORE centered around the role emerging technologies like artificial intelligence play in optimizing the vast amount of data retailers have access to. While the majority of attendees believe AI can help drive more meaningful, targeted shopping experiences, many are struggling to understand how it can truly be incorporated into their retail strategy. Yes, we’re seeing companies begin to leverage chatbots, but we’re lagging well behind other countries - including China, which has invested significantly in AI technology in recent years and as a result leads the globe in retail data connectivity.

Although the Canadian market hasn’t yet cracked the code on artificial intelligence, one thing is clear: investing in new types of technologies will allow retailers to gain deeper insights into their customers. But the real opportunity lies not in gaining access to this data, but in connecting it across all channels and touchpoints. Having one single view of the customer, that includes the insights AI can provide, will help retailers better understand all the ways customers engage with their brand, build a more effective retail marketing strategy and create stronger customer connections in the process.

Eagle Eye delivers this required digital connection. We believe the brands with a customer-centric business strategy will overcome any challenge the retail industry faces in the future. We also believe that technology can be both connecting and isolating, but at the end of the day, experiences—particularly the interpersonal ones—will help retailers better engage with their customers. STORE 2018 offered many great conversations for our team around this topic and we’re eager to see the Canadian retail industry continue to thrive.

Interested in how we can help? Contact us today.