eTail East 2016, Day 2: To Succeed with Omnichannel Strategies, Retailers Must Know the Customer Journey

BOSTON — On day two of this year's eTail East conference, speakers said it was vital to know your customers' needs on every leg of their journeys, as these insights enable omnichannel efforts to forge better, and longer-lasting, relationships.

In his keynote, Steve Dumas, retail digital marketing segment director at IBM Marketing Cloud, suggested that journey mapping is as essential as ever to identify gaps in the customer experience. "There's a direct correlation between how customers interact with your brand at every touch point, and whether or not they convert," Dumas stressed. Brands with a strong ability to understand a customer's journey see 104 percent higher conversion rates, he said. Also, creating and consulting journey maps might enable companies to better segment audiences, which, among other things, will help them avoid "over-marketing" to existing customers, or people they've already reached with messaging in the past.

Ghalia Bhatty, chief e-commerce and digital officer at Scholastic's reading club division, agreed. "Companies that are successful are looking at areas [where] there are gaps, and when you look at the solutions, they're very" effective she said, pointing to usual suspects Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, and Netflix.

One area of opportunity is assisting customers as they research a product or a subject related to a product, speakers said. According to Dumas, companies that have created knowledge portals have seen jumps in conversions. He gave the example of Moosejaw, a retailer specializing in outdoor apparel; customers who’ve visited one of its knowledge portals or education centers were 20 percent more likely to purchase from the company, Dumas said.

For Scholastic, a company that sells books to parents, guardians, and teachers, but has no physical stores, preserving a singular brand identity that extends into all channels has been essential, Bhatty said. The company has also made an effort to infuse each channel with educational materials, including short articles and videos.

Rose Hamilton, chief digital officer at the Vitamin Shoppe, said that the educational aspect has also been critical to its digital transformation strategy, which began nine months ago, when she joined the company. According to Hamilton, an omnichannel approach is less about the channels involved than it is about understanding a customer’s behavior and reaching her appropriately . "What we know about our customers is that at any time, they have many goals" related to their health, Hamilton said. The ability to teach them something new must spread across the entire digital and physical ecosystem—whether in stores or on various devices or platforms—to make sure that its brand and voice is heard in the moment a health-related question is asked.

Reducing customer effort has been vital to CVS Health, where Chief Digital Officer Brian Tilzer has led the effort to create a connected experience across channels. While it’s easy to be enamored with the latest technologies, "we have seen the most success when we focus on solving real customer problems," Tilzer told attendees. Like Walgreen's, CVS has invested in a mobile app dedicated to simplifying the process of refilling prescriptions, designing it specifically for mothers who might have to do refills for multiple family members. Though this would seem to go against conventional logic dictating the more a customer visits the store the better, it fuflfills a more pressing concern: improving customer experience, Tilzer said. For a similar reason, the company has partnered with (and invested in) the shopping app Curbside to enable drive-thru pickup programs.

For fashion retailer American Apparel, the customer experience gap it detected was the quick need for deliverable clothes. The company has addressed a surprising need for on-demand clothes, outside of the brick-and-mortar retail environment, in its collaboration with Postmates to enable deliveries in under an hour. Thoryn Stephens, chief digital officer at American Apparel, attested to the program's success and demonstrated a typical order on the conference screens for for the benefit of attendees. If someone spills coffee on his shirt, for instance, he can have it replaced before it can dry by toggling through a few mobile Web screens.

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