Many executives in banking, retail, and other sectors are still struggling to devise the perfect cross-channel experiences for their customers—experiences that take advantage of digitization to provide customers with targeted, just-in-time product or service information in an effective and seamless way.
This quest for marketing perfection is not in vain—during the next five years or so, we’re likely to see a radical integration of the consumer experience across physical and virtual environments. Already, the consumer decision journey has been altered by the ubiquity of big data, the Internet of Things, and advances in web coding and design. Customers now have endless online and off-line options for researching and buying new products and services, all at their fingertips 24/7. Under this scenario, digital channels no longer just represent “a cheaper way” to interact with customers; they are critical for executing promotions, stimulating sales, and increasing market share. Forrester says that by 2016, the web will influence more than half of all retail transactions, representing a potential sales opportunity of almost $2 trillion.
Companies can be lulled into thinking they’re already doing everything right. Most know how to think through customer search needs or have ramped up their use of social media. Some are even “engineering” advocacy—creating easy, automatic ways for consumers to post reviews or otherwise characterize their engagement with a brand.
Yet tools and standards are changing faster than companies can react. Customers will soon be able to search for products by image, voice, and gesture; automatically participate in others’ transactions; and find new opportunities via devices that augment their reality. How companies engage customers in these digital channels matters profoundly—not just because of the immediate opportunities to convert interest to sales but because two-thirds of the decisions customers make are informed by the quality of their experiences all along their journey.
Imagine that a couple has just bought its first home and is now looking to purchase a washer and a dryer. Mike and Linda start their journey by visiting several big-box retailers’ websites. At one store’s site, they identify three models they are interested in and save them to a “wish list.” Because space in their starter home is limited—and because it is a relatively big purchase in their eyes—they decide they need to see the items in person.
Under an optimized cross-channel experience, the couple could find the nearest physical outlet on the retailer’s website, get directions using mobile mapping, and drive over to view the desired products. Even before they walk through the doors, a transmitter mounted at the retailer’s entrance identifies Mike and Linda and sends a push alert to their mobile phones welcoming them and providing them with personalized offers and recommendations based on their history with the store. In this case, they receive quick links to the wish list they created, as well as updated specifications and prices for the washers and dryers that they had shown interest in (captured in their click-trails on the store’s website). Additionally, they receive notification of a sale—“15 percent off selected brand appliances, today only”—that applies to two of the items they had added to their wish list.
When they tap on the wish list, the app provides a store map directing Mike and Linda to the appliances section and a “call button” to speak with an expert. They meet with the salesperson, ask some questions, take some measurements, and close in on a particular model and brand of washer and dryer. Because the store employs sophisticated tagging technologies, information about the washer and dryer has automatically been synced with other applications on the couple’s mobile phones—they can scan reviews using their Consumer Reports app, text their parents for advice, ask Facebook friends to weigh in on the purchase, and compare the retailer’s prices against others. Mike and Linda can also take advantage of a “virtual designer” function on the retailer’s mobile app that, with the entry of just a few key pieces of information about room size and decor, allows them to preview how the washer and dryer might look in their home.
All the input is favorable, so the couple decides to take advantage of the 15 percent offer and buy the appliances. They use Mike’s “smartwatch” to authenticate payment. They walk out of the store with a date and time for delivery; a week later, on the designated day, they receive confirmation that a truck is in their area and that they will be texted within a half hour of arrival time—no need to cancel other plans just to wait for the washer and dryer to arrive. Three weeks after that, the couple gets a message from the retailer with offers for other appliances and home-improvement services tailored toward first-year home owners. And the cycle begins again.
As this example makes clear, the forces enabling consumers to expect real-time engagement are unstoppable…
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