How to do Omnichannel Marketing (Without Being Creepy)

How to do Omnichannel Marketing (Without Being Creepy)

You know Tia pretty well. She’s 32, has one child (who arrived fairly recently, based on all the onesies, soothers and burp cloths she’s purchased), lives in a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s (Eden Prairie) with her husband (they got hitched three years ago, according to her Pinterest board) and she loves hiking and kayaking (in fact, she posted a picture at the lake last weekend on Instagram).

But you’ve never met Tia—and she sure doesn’t know you. While Tia understands that marketers pick up information about her while she scrolls her phone or chirps requests at her Alexa, she doesn’t really know the scope of it. Is it merely convenient that she got a text with a coupon the minute she stepped into your store? Or is it actually kind of invasive? The last thing a retailer wants to do is freak out a customer.

Retailers today have never been equipped with more in their marketing toolkit. The rise of omnichannel marketing—which creates a seamless customer experience whether they’re in a brick-and-mortar store or scrolling through Instagram—helps retailers meet shoppers wherever they are. And studies show that it can really drive sales—a 2017 Harvard Business School study found omnichannel shoppers spent 4% more in store and 10% more online. 

Here are some insights on how to harness your customer data to sell omnichannel and avoid taking that wrong turn into creepsville:

How to leverage customer data in the right way for omnichannel marketing

Don’t be too much or out of touch

Nobody likes to feel bombarded by too many pop-up messages or offers that don’t feel relevant. And just like customers being asked one too many times in store if they need help after they’ve already said they’re fine browsing, it’s best to not come on too strong with chat bot pop-ups and information the consumer isn’t aware you’ve been collecting—especially if it feels irrelevant or inconsistent

For example, it’s totally fine to trigger a pop-up when someone returns to your website, offering a coupon for a discount on that item they’d been eyeing. Maybe Tia would really like a heads up if you’re opening a store in her suburb of Eden Prairie and a discount for being one of your first in-store customers. Crossing the line might sound a little like “Hi! We noticed you returned to our website four times this week and spent roughly six minutes browsing” or “Hey, Tia! You browsed this pair of shoes back in October, ready to buy them now?” Creepy! 

Google reports that 49% of their surveyed global shoppers want brands to send them promotions/deals specific to their past purchases[1]. But on top of that, customers want the warmth and common sense of human support. It’s important for companies to learn the art of harnessing the amazing intelligence automation can offer, while understanding how a human being expects to be treated. 

Leverage customer data to create a personalized experience in-store and online

Beauty mega shop Sephora has long built loyalty with their shoppers by providing rewards for every purchase, both online and in store, and offering a gift on members’ birthdays (you’ll find many a Sephora shopper race to the brick-and-mortar shop on their birthday to collect their gift). Take Sephora’s beauty workshops, in-store makeovers and product testing for example. Their online membership program replicates the personalized customer service you get as a regular customer—and it’s giving them great return on investment, given that their 10 million members tend to spend 15 times more on their website than those without a nurtured relationship. They were on the early end of digital gift cards, too: “51% of our digital gift cards are redeemed within just one month, compared to only 33 percent of our plastic gift cards,” Vice President of Sephora’s Innovation Lab Bridget Dolan said back in 2015. 

Remove friction for your shopper

Shoppers know that stores collect data about them and their habits, but it’s important to only use that great memory of yours in ways that will help the customer make future purchases that work for them. Let’s talk Sephora again—they have a great, personalized feature on their website categorizing all of a shoppers’ favorite products, and will sometimes prompt a shopper if they’d like to buy a product again. Google’s Global Retail Study, published in 2019 found that 32% of their surveyed global shoppers want retailers to remember past sizes and items they’ve bought[2], while 34% felt that seeing the history of their previous purchase would improve their shopping experience[3].

Anything that makes the online shopping experience super seamless also helps: 35% of these shoppers felt that having their shipping/billing info remembered and filled in automatically would really help them get from browsing to checkout. They’re also game for getting recommendations based on past purchases (33% said they’d be into that).

Use GPS wisely in omnichannel marketing

One of the most amazing advanced tools of omnichannel marketing is mobile location data combined with first- and third-party audience data. With technology, specific consumers can be targeted during the “moment of truth,” like if they just stepped foot into your brick-and-mortar store. But be sparing and strategic while using geofencing marketing or mobile GPS. You want to make sure they've consented, so they pass the weirded out stage of the whole experience and skip right to the part where they’re glad for that discount on the baby blankets piled high on a display case before them. Often you can get that consent when offering store wifi or when a user downloads an app. Then, in the customer’s mind, it makes sense that you would provide offers or suggestions because they’re an active participant.

Use people not bots

Brands like Gucci and Neiman Marcus use a program called Inside, by Powerfront, which visualizes online shoppers based on their shopping behaviors, past purchases and browsing history. The tool helps its customer service agents support shoppers in their online shopping experience, as if they were inside a store.

Use Powerfront to visualize online customers in real time

Just like in a brick-and-mortar store, these brands have a real sales associate helping on the other side—not some algorithm-powered robot. “We’ve removed so many social cues from online conversation that I can actually see the benefit of trying to add that back in,” Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School told The New York Times.

Powerfront analysis of shopper emotions 

Purchasing is emotional, so the tool analyzes how shoppers feel during their chats with customer-service agents. Through an analysis of their words, the movement of their cursors and other “personalized data,” the platform creates profiles of shoppers’ moods. But, King cautions that storing and selling those emotional profiles of shoppers would be deeply unethical.

Engage your in-store touchpoints

The Harvard study cited above also found that omnichannel customers love using a retailer’s in-store digital tools, like an interactive catalogue, price-checker or tablet, to help them make a decision when they’re standing in the store considering an item. Google reports that 56% of their surveyed global in-store shoppers used their smartphone to shop or research items while they were in a store in the past week[4]. Your shopper doesn’t consider your online presence and your brick-and-mortar business to be separate things, so neither should you.

Use social platform data to bring in more online store visitors

You’ve got to reach your shoppers where they are—and that’s on social media. According to the 2019 Customer Service Expectations Report from Gladly, there’s been a massive rise in live chat and social messaging with retailers, up 14% and 6% respectively since 2017, while email has declined by 18%. Customers want answers in real time. The Harvard study cited above found that “deliberate searching beforehand led customers to greater in-store purchases.” Nordstrom’s social media integrations have been heralded for the clean way they direct a shopper from a posted photo on Instagram or Pinterest to the product page on the Nordstrom site, which then lets them know if the product is available in store near them.

Be ready for cookies to disappear

Retailers often rely on third-party cookies to learn a customer’s behavior patterns across platforms and figure out when and where to retarget someone with an ad—a key part of omnichannel marketing, which seeks to find a shopper on Instagram as well as in her web browser. Google is phasing out these pieces of code within two years which could limit marketers from reaching shoppers across platforms. So it’s time to rely instead on first-party data. “Retailers that have a solid grasp on their first-party data will continue to see little impact overall,” Monish Datta, VP of growth at Glamsquad and a former product marketing manager at Facebook told Modern Retail. Another of their sources, Tanzil Bukhari, predicts “contextual ad targeting” to rise in its place. “Rather than showing you a Nike ad because you were shopping for shoes two hours ago, you’ll get a Nike ad because you’re reading about the Olympics,” he said.

In omnichannel marketing, it’s all just one relationship

At the end of the day, your priority is reaching Tia wherever she is, whether that’s on live chat on your website, on social media, on the phone or in store. She’s like the 41% of shoppers surveyed by Google who’d rather buy from a company or brand that offers lots of ways to connect with them, who get that they want this experience to be simple and smooth[5]. She doesn’t want to have to repeat herself. She doesn’t want to have to spend all day talking with you. She doesn’t want to be weirded out about how much you seem to know about her. She just wants her item, for a fair price, in her possession quickly, having had a pleasant time buying it. If that isn’t a healthy retail relationship, we don’t know what is.

Always be looking around the next corner

They’re calling the next wave of omnichannel marketing “anticipatory,”—“where the smartest retailers think ahead about how they’ll make the most of new and emerging touchpoints,” according to Dx3 Canada, whether that’s virtual reality or another shopping experience altogether. If you know your customer and can not only meet them where they’re at, but also where they will be, the future is yours. Just try not to be too creepy about it.

[1] Google / Ipsos, Global Retail Study, Feb 2019. Base: Total sample (n=14206) Global (excl. China) online 18+ who shopped in the last week. Countries included: AR, AU, BR, CA, CZ, FR, DE, IN, ID, IT, JP, KR, MX, NL, PL, PT, RU, SA, ZA, ES, SE, TR, UA, GB, US, AE, VN

[2] Google / Ipsos, Global Retail Study, Feb 2019. Base: Total sample (n=14206) Global (excl. China) online 18+ who shopped in the last week. Countries included: AR, AU, BR, CA, CZ, FR, DE, IN, ID, IT, JP, KR, MX, NL, PL, PT, RU, SA, ZA, ES, SE, TR, UA, GB, US, AE, VN

[3] Google / Ipsos, Global Retail Study, Feb 2019. Base: Total sample (n=14206) Global (excl. China) online 18+ who shopped in the last week. Countries included: AR, AU, BR, CA, CZ, FR, DE, IN, ID, IT, JP, KR, MX, NL, PL, PT, RU, SA, ZA, ES, SE, TR, UA, GB, US, AE, VN

[4] Google / Ipsos, Global Retail Study, Feb 2019. Base: Past Week In-store Shoppers (n=8430) Global (excl. China) online 18+ who shopped in store in the last week. Countries included: AR, AU, BR, CA, CZ, FR, DE, IN, ID, IT, JP, KR, MX, NL, PL, PT, RU, SA, ZA, ES, SE, TR, UA, GB, US, AE, VN

[5] Google / Ipsos, Global Retail Study, Feb 2019. Base: Total sample (n=14206) Global (excl. China) online 18+ who shopped in the last week. Countries included: AR, AU, BR, CA, CZ, FR, DE, IN, ID, IT, JP, KR, MX, NL, PL, PT, RU, SA, ZA, ES, SE, TR, UA, GB, US, AE, VN

About the author

Sarah Boesveld

Sarah Boesveld is a Toronto-based freelance journalist who has been a staff reporter for Chatelaine, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail.

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