Archive for June, 2013

Geolocation: the next generation of customer engagement

Posted on: June 28th, 2013

Geolocation solutions could soon reshape the traditional consumer/retailer relationship and become the next key differentiator in retail.

The explosion in popularity of mobile devices and a continually constrained economy have pushed retailers to re-examine their processes of customer engagement, better aligning them to suit the growing demand of omni-channel.

If not doing it already, retailers will need to take an advanced approach to engagement, implementing solutions such as non-intrusive IP location to capture increasing amounts of data, breaking down the customer journey and filling in the knowledge gaps that give retailers sleepless nights.

Knowing where a customer shops when not in your store or how much they’re spending with competitors has always been a difficult problem to solve. In fact, just being able to recognize your customers when they walk through the door has always been headache-inducing.

Retailers and brands with aspirations to grow their m-commerce offering will need to position themselves correctly with better opt-in schemes and dynamic content to encourage consumer interaction. Developments such as HTML5 on mobile devices make increasingly dynamic content possible and allow retailers to provide better ways to attract consumers and extract a much deeper level of data that could revolutionize the shopping experience.

Systems that use the basic building blocks of geolocation are already becoming a key conversion tool for many online and traditional bricks and mortar retailers. They use WI-FI positioning to automatically reference an IP address against a ‘who is’ database service, locating a customer’s physical details

The next stage of this is not just to isolate where a person is positioned, in terms of map co-ordinates, but where they are at a street level, what are they interacting with and when they’re near your store – be it on a global scale.

Knowing the location of customers is only half the battle however, the true benefit of geolocation relies on having the ability to automatically send personalized data including; discount codes, local offers, news, tie-ins, and national promotions directly to customers. This could be a key differentiator in the future for building relationships and becoming trusted brands.

Other benefits include; being able to deliver the correct country or even regional website for your customers straight away, showing customers your nearest outlets to where they are right now, automatically calculate your customers’ local stock levels or shipping costs, reduce form filling, map out where your site visitors are for planning future campaigns.

Permission to use customer’s personal data remains key and will be a hurdle on the horizon before the technology will be fully adopted. Customers can feel as though their privacy is being invaded and retailers will need to ensure that they tackle this issue fully before investing heavily in rolling out any expensive technology.

Trust validation symbols and SSL certificates may not be enough to convince customers of trusted data security and retailers will need to work hard to encourage them to sign-up or opt-in to a geolocation ‘scheme’, which will bypass a lot of security issues.

Mobile will also unlock ‘self selection’, where the customer views geolocation as an asset and not an intrusion. Customers must be handed a transparent option that is secure and is an obvious asset to their shopping journey – giving them more control and something that will facilitate faster service.

For those who implement successfully, sales could grow rapidly in-line with consumer confidence, along with the ease of buying on the go through a one-click sale strategy that is optimized for mobile devices. As customer user numbers grow so will conversion rates.

Mobile is now being seen as a glue that will hold the bricks and mortar outlet and the online sales place together. Surprisingly, a high percentage of mobile users still log on to use basic functions such as store opening hours.

Mobile retailing can mean different things to different businesses. Many retail media experts are starting to eliminate the tablet device from the mobile sector, as they are generally a replacement for a laptop (often used in front of a TV). Many retailers still include them and they can swing the conversion data and sales reported. This skewing of the numbers has come under much debate as to whether the full picture over mobile retailing is yet accurately known.

Some retail strategies are moving on from in-store kiosks to replace them with one aimed towards a Bring Your Own Device – fitting in perfectly with geolocation and utilizing customers’ own devices.

Larger on-site screens can still add value but or perhaps is used to attract the eye of customers. There are even moves to personalize this display through data gathered through geolocation.

Throughout the consumer journey, shoppers want to be inspired to act and engage in an interconnected way. It is clear that brands and retailers now need to be fearless in their approach to mobile retailing, the omni-channel environment and geolocation.

An inspiring and well thought through adoption of geolocation technology could raise the consumer relationship to new levels, accelerate user adoption, trust, brand loyalty and reduce brand abandonment, while a poor one could generate scepticism and even lose sales.

How to get the message across

Posted on: June 28th, 2013

Derek Buchanan, CEO of ECS Global Inc, urges companies to recognize the importance of joined-up communications.

“Miscommunication is endless,” said JP Rattie. No, I’d never heard of him either, but he has described, in three words, what happens when words and messages are miscommunicated.

Far from being a simple moment in time that can be fixed there and then, miscommunication travels, and can be hard to stop. Take for example, the hotel that failed to take down its posters advertising a Burns Night supper, days after Burns night had passed.

Aside from me sharing this story with as many people as will listen, I now have to worry about whether this single lapse is just an unfortunate mistake or if it is indicative of their general management of information. Am I being too harsh?

The truth is, we expect companies to be consistent and accurate in their communications with us and we are less and less tolerant of mistakes. They used to say, if you have a good experience, you tell ten people, if you have a bad one, you tell 100; well, how about a million, and any number of companies are still regretting the mistakes they made that caused the victim to create a youtube video downloaded by millions of people all over the world.

Reputations take years to build and they can be destroyed in seconds. While companies that ‘fess up’ to their misdemeanours and publicly apologize will always mitigate the damage more than those who try to tough it out, the truth is, most companies routinely miscommunicate with customers in ways that may not lead to a viral youtube video, but do lead to a slow, even initially unnoticeable erosion of trust and of spend. Customer loyalty can disappear with a bang as well as a whimper.

The irony is that companies have never had more ways to communicate with their customers; social media, newspapers and magazines, advertising hoardings, telephone, catalogues, the Internet, stores and restaurants, smartphones. The irony being, here are new ways to get the message across, but at the same time, more opportunities to get it wrong. The problem is often not the message as it is communicated through one channel, but how it is communicated across channels.

Consumers don’t think in terms of channels; they almost certainly don’t care that the company has worked hard for consistency and accuracy in each and every channel, if they don’t actually deliver. This, I believe, is where the battleground is now – how companies can see themselves through the eyes of their customers and still satisfy the varying requirements of each part of the business that is responsible for different channels.

Interestingly, the obvious candidate for managing the flow of information is the CIO, as he/she has the word information in their title, but it falls to a range of people in the business, a range that is broadening with the growth in the number of channels – a certain recipe for greater miscommunication.

Communications are a senior management issue, backed by technology that is able to manage the dissemination of words and messages, visual and audio, in print and digitally, in ways that make it easy for everyone in the business to deploy. This is well beyond the capabilities of the traditional corporate standards manual, which can impose the standards but is unable to respond to constant changes in market conditions.

Once companies have control of their communications, they will need to ensure compliance by their staff in how they are deployed and managed. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said the playwright George Bernard Shaw. How common is it for retailers to impose rigorous standards in terms of labeling, promotions and pricing, only to see the individual stores deploy either incorrectly, inconsistently or without due care over the life of the stock, with the result that price tags may be wrong or even missing.

Ultimately, it is the customer who is now in control and they will make decisions not to buy even at the very last minute. For instance, some fashion retailers have discovered that customers will try on a garment in the changing room, find it fits, want to buy it but then dump it once they emerge from the changing room to see a long queue at the checkout.

Communications at this level is a much more demanding science, because it requires an understanding of the customer journey, both in-store and online, and it is not a predictable journey that can be easily mapped, with a route from A to Z. The truth is, the customer now navigates around a supplier in ways that are entirely known to him but often puzzling to the retailer. Added to which, the customer is now communicating in the other direction through social media in an unstructured fashion that can create a deafening white noise of feedback that even the largest and most responsive company can struggle to manage.

I’m the last person to say that the answer to these challenges is simple, but I do recognize that the rewards for companies who get it right are enormous. How else to explain that, in the teeth of a recession, some companies are posting record sales, while others are going out of business. Communications are one of the major differences between these two types of company.

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