In the heat of the night. Once a cheater, always a cheater

In the heat of the night. Once a cheater, always a cheater

As adults, we’ve all experienced the same urges. It’s the middle of the night, your significant other asleep beside you. The heat of the night overtakes you. Your mind races in anticipation, you’re thinking of doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing. But your wants and desires overwhelm you.

You reach for your tablet. Your fingers caress the screen. You search for what drives your desire for gratification. Then … you find it. Your heart rate quickens as you click the link, you know what’s about to transpire—the pleasure begins to overwhelm you in the darkness with nothing but the light of the screen glowing under the covers. You give in to your desire, you click madly at the link. And, finally, it’s done.

Congratulations on your purchase—your new tennis shoes will be shipped to you shortly. Please check your email account for shipping details. We thank you for your business.

By the way … what did you think I was talking about?

Okay, admit it, we’ve all done it: the quintessential online purchases that fuel the ever-building need for instant gratification in an ever-evolving and interconnected world. But the question becomes, do we ever think of the consequences? That online purchase theoretically just took money away from a local business. Or perhaps added to the pressure of bricks-and-mortar stores trying desperately to compete with the big online giants. So, if you’ve cheated on your favorite store by buying goods online, does it mean you’ll always cheat? Chances are, yes you will.

The issue, like so many other things in our busy lives, is one where convenience and complacency collide. After all, if it’s easier to buy online with no desire to go in-store—many times there’s no reason why you should—then why not continue to cheat, right?

But what of the retailer? Now, I don’t “mean to be mean,” but in this case, it really does take two to cheat. When a retailer fails to engage in the modern sense, ignoring all signs that the retail paradigm is shifting away from in-store and moving to a more online or in-app model, the retailer must find new ways to entice people to shop on the premises.

This is where omni-channel becomes so important for retailers in the new millennium. But with this new world order, also comes the internet confusion of how omni-channel is supposed to work.

For many, the first argument is: “delivering ads to people’s phones or computers won’t drive people to a store,” and I wholeheartedly agree. However, the issue with this argument is that it’s based on an aging model of advertising—one long gone or relegated to carpet stores or car lots.

In no way should retailers think its about offers—at least not at first. It’s truly about making every experience, whether online, in-app, or in-store, truly unique and gratifying. So, let’s begin with the elusive in-store challenge. What if every time a customer walked into a store you knew who they were, what they like, their product knowledge, their purchase history, and so much more? Now, you truly have a way to better engage and own that customer. If they feel truly appreciated, understood and wanted in that store, then the social aspect of coming in-store to look at goods is much more enticing. Everyone wants to feel special—omni-channel enables that feeling.

Now, let’s back up to the “ad game” part of this. Though omni-channel is never linear in its approach, let’s for the sake of argument and understanding look at this from a linear timeline. A customer shops in-store and is always greeted and made to feel special. They feel as though the store clerk knows them, appreciates them, and is genuinely glad to see them. With this comes custom offers in real-time: personal discounts, extra rewards points, and so on. The outcome from the in-store experience is highly positive.

But now as that person leaves, they check their store app and find additional deals, offers, personal greetings, and thank you messages through chat, and more. To the customer, it’s like they are still connected to the bricks-and-mortar location. They are awarded more offers or points, suggested goods that aren’t in-store, and so on—all making the in-app experience an extended connection to the retailer. Now, a few days later, the customer logs onto the store’s eCommerce platform—and again, they receive greetings and materials that make them feel connected to real people.

The outcome? Better customer experience wins every time. And whether they started online or in-app that led to in-store, or any permutation or sequence, the outcome should always be the same: a great customer experience from beginning to end, regardless of medium.

So, the next time you’re in bed with certain urges that lead to cheating on local retailers—urges that can only be satisfied through eCommerce—pick a retailer who has omni-channel covered. Though the internet is full of wonderful things, nothing beats eventual human interaction.  😉

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Old habits die hard

In any business, any market, and any career, we all develop and hone our playbooks—a semi-unique set of processes that becomes the guideline for our repeatable success. However, any good process needs to evolve. And though we as humans are hardwired to adapt and overcome, we are also for the most part resistant to change.

So, when discussing the world of retail and how it must change to continue existing, on what side will the coin fall? Will retail adapt and overcome? Or will retail orchestrate its own demise?

To evolve and prolong its existence, retail must redefine the customer journey. As someone who has spent his life in the field of marketing, trust me when I say the customer journey is a hard and fast process and a buzzword—all rolled into one. A conceptual attribute for so many in my field, one where the mere mention of it strikes fear and anxiety into the hearts of all as its meaning and definition are contemplated around the boardroom table.

But at its core, the customer journey has greatly evolved—or should I say it needed to evolve as retail customer engagement is about to change forever. In the past, the so-called customer journey was a linear path that brought the customer from the beginning to the end of pre-calculated events designed to result in the desired customer experience.

However, a linear approach is now so obsolete that many bricks-and-mortar stores have already suffered their own demise—a case of being victims of this evolution and survival of the fittest. You see, the issue is the severance of the customer journey and the customer experience: they have become two distinct entities that still support one another, but are no longer one.

Furthermore, the linear aspects of customer engagement have also met their demise in the new millennium because control has been relinquished by the retailer and placed firmly into the hands of the customer. Our worldwide connectivity has resulted in a monumental leap forward in one crucial aspect: choice for everyone. And with choice comes a newfound power people can wield and use against the status quo.

Now, consumers want their own unique experience every time they engage. Not one predefined by the retailer as part of a one-size-fits-most approach, nor do they want a persona predefined to fit them. With so much choice, every transaction is about a unique individual—an experience built only for one. What does this mean? It means the customer journey is now a technical scenario: a learning system that must accommodate single-user-profile information as a data source, as well as a process that creates any required scenario.

This new world order means the customer experience is the single driving factor in all retail customer engagements. It means instantaneous choice paired with a never-ending supply of technology connects us to the world; therefore, leaving consumers fully in charge and dictating the way forward for retail. By engaging customers how they want, when they want, through whatever medium they choose—the essence of what has become omni-channel—the customer experience becomes the single most important attribute throughout every transaction.

With the customer journey redefined as a technological system, one that can react and interact, the customer experience is delivered solely on the customer’s terms. And with so many new technological innovations, data, connectivity, and more, all designed to make the individual the King or Queen of their own domain, retailers who fail to move forward have only one outcome: old habits die hard—bankrupt stores die harder.

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The Customer Persona is Dead

As someone who has spent the majority of his career in marketing, trust me when I say that I have seen my fair share of persona documentation. In fact, for almost two decades in the field, marketing personas were a staple of any good marketing plan—the major indicator as to where to point the proverbial spears.

However, with a new era upon us—one that centers directly on mobility in all its definitions—the marketing landscape has changed forever. Now, customer personas are nothing more than an aged practice harkening back to a simpler time in marketing and sales: buying options were limited and the customer journey was well defined and unilateral.

But that is no longer the case. Now, with the introduction of omni-channel customer engagement, the customer persona is almost worthless: the generalizations of a buyer type have been replaced with single-user-profile information that is all about the real individual—and not a hand-drawn facsimile of a fictitious person.

Now, it’s at this point that I’m sure there are other marketers reading this who can feel their blood pressure rising in disagreement. They’re saying, that’s a preposterous proclamation, it’s especially blatant and disparaging of the sacred customer persona. But here’s the reason why it is in fact, dead.

A close friend of mine (and a C-level marketer himself) had a hilarious conversation a few weeks ago about this topic—one that centered on the two of us as individuals and that as a persona we are in fact the same person. For instance, we have the same job description, the same income, the same family structure and dynamic, the same age, even live in the same neighborhood. Furthermore, we have the same hobbies so we shop for many of the same things. Hell, our families even travel together and stay at the same places.

So, for all the marketers out there we would represent the ideal match and alignment with a buyer persona, correct? Wrong. In this case, although we have almost everything in common, our buying habits in terms of how we shop are polar opposites. Where I’m the guy who needs to touch and feel merchandise, speak with the in-store staff, inspect everything before purchasing, my friend is the opposite. He hates bricks-and-mortar interaction. In fact, he has gone so far as to buy a vacuum cleaner online and have it shipped to his house within 48 hours, even though the same item was available for a cheaper price at a store just five minutes from his house.

Thus, how does this play out in the eyes of marketers? Sure, the argument can be made that this is simply two variants of the same persona, but let’s do the math. If every persona has multiple variants, and each variant then crosses over every so often to the other variants, then how does one calculate the journey when more and more variables are interjected?

Then there’s the customer journey. Remember the good old days when we as marketers were responsible for defining the customer journey? It was a journey that resided in a well-established set of rules and boundaries in a unidirectional manner that brought the customer through set stages in a particular order. How I miss those days.

But now it’s a new world. A world where customers want to define their own journeys. With data being the new currency, customers want that data leveraged so that marketing materials, buying options, and their overarching journey is defined by them—not by us.

Being able to continually interact with their favorite stores online, in-app, and in-store—sometimes simultaneously—is the new paradigm: information continually building and being synthesized to create an experience unique to an individual. And, of course, with that comes an expectation they can shop how, when, and where they want under any circumstances and can receive highly customized offers for them and them alone.

How then does this play out? With so many tiny variants pertaining to so many types of shopping experiences, the old idea of customer persona is gone and replaced with an actual person. The person’s likes, dislikes, habits, wants and needs all calculated in real time to enable them to control the customer journey.

So, if personas drive your business, be prepared for the biggest evolution the world has ever seen, or you’ll soon find out you don’t know people at all.

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Retail Fail of the Month – September 2017

The battle between e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar stores is ever-present— not to mention the constant fight to maintain brand awareness and wallet-share among diverse competitors. And with so many bricks-and-mortar companies feeling the impact, it never ceases to amaze us when companies fail so miserably at the most basic retail function when so much is at stake.

It’s this failure that brings us to September 2017:

Retail Fail of the Month: A major electronics superstore.

Read Now!

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Rewards and the New World of Omni-Channel

When it comes to marketing efforts, whether loyalty programs, gift cards, sales, and more—we’ve all been there. It’s a permanent fixture within the retail landscape to join “the club” to get the most out of one’s purchases.

But how is the world of customer rewards and loyalty programs changing—or at least about to change in ways that we have never seen? The answer lies within the concept of data, and how retailers are choosing to leverage that data.

This in-depth business case outlines the necessity of changing the current Rewards Program business model, and demonstrates how omni-channel customer engagement can propel retailers far beyond that of traditional loyalty programs.

Download Our Latest Resource
Rewards and the New World of Omni-Channel

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How omni-channel can help retailers increase wallet-share

It’s no surprise that the competitive landscape for retailers is becoming increasingly difficult. From competing brands to competing technology, retailers need to work twice as hard to achieve even the most insignificant goal. One of the most consequential factors in the ever-present fight for wallet-share is online shopping. Whether it is eBay, Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, or Wayfair—the urge for instant gratification paired with comparative prices equals seemingly insurmountable challenges for most retailers.

But how does one compete against the largest of companies that have bottomless pockets when it comes to technology and its gravitational pull? Retailers must look at making their customers’ shopping experience far more seamless, and far more connected.

Download Our Latest Resource
How omni-channel can help retailers increase wallet-share

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Omni-channel is a Psychographic not a Demographic

There is a lot of talk around omni-channel in the retail sector these days—and there should be for many good reasons: Omni-channel and personalized commerce stand to increase your average cart size by anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent, depending on how you implement your omni-channel strategy.  So, what gives omni-channel its incredible potential? In one word—personalization.

Personalization is something we all intuitively want. Any good salesperson will want to know something about you to gain a selling advantage. If we know something about you that pertains to what we’re selling, then obviously the potential of selling you something goes way up. It’s why we sales people need introductions. We hope that since we’ve met, there’ll be trust; therefore, the probability of a sale should increase.

In the past when marketers were unable to personalize, they would look at demographics as a way of ascertaining the probability of a sale. For instance, they would map the ideals of a demographic to the benefits inherent in the product. They would then surmise that a certain product would appeal to males under the age of 45, or to a career-oriented busy mother with two children—all based on ideals and associated product benefits. Sometimes marketers got it right, and sometimes they didn’t—and it wasn’t the marketing. The demographics were correct, but the circumstances of the individuals were incorrect, and those circumstances dictated the reasons why the individual didn’t buy the product.

Then omni-channel and personalization entered the scene—dramatically changing the game. Today, we can use demographics to home in on what we suspect, and we can take the data from consumers’ buying behaviors to zero in on an individual. Through their buying behaviors we know what they like and what they dislike. We know what they have looked at on our website, enabling us to track their behavior in a store and, perhaps, to easily script a store associate to direct them through the customer journey.

This is called psychographics. Psychographics allows us to categorize people based on their attitudes, their aspirations, their circumstances, and their outside influencers. All this is a marketing goldmine when positioning a product because it means your store associates say the right thing at the right time to the right person, which should increase conversion and cart sizes tremendously. This is what changed the game. How many times have you been frustrated by a buying experience? And when you come across the right thing at the right time—that’s it, you buy it.

Omni-channel and personalization trigger the buying experience for a person. It might sound a bit Big Brother in that omni-channel and personalization could create an environment where shopping is dreaded by the consumer. They might think, “How can I get out of the store without spending more than planned on the products I want?”

It’s not that at all. It’s an environment where relationships are developed. It’s about connecting the individual with the brand, and allowing the brand to tailor the relationship that it needs with the store associate, the customer, and the brand. Obviously, a brand wants to have thousands of relationships with all its customers, delivering great service through its thousands of store associates. But managing all that is not easy, and changes are rapid.

The question becomes: How do you manage omni-channel and personalization and yet remain profitable? Easily, start thinking psychographics and personalization in your omni-channel strategy.

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Big Data. Big Ideas. Big Buzzwords.

As the CEO of two companies that are at the pinnacle of the data world, it never ceases to amaze me how companies approach, internalize, and rationalize their data—viewed as an end-point as opposed to a means to an end. What I mean by this is simple: the rationale behind terms like “big data” seems to drive many people in the wrong direction, with many focusing on an outcome light years from what is best practice, best process, and, ultimately, best desired outcome.

Like any industry, the tech sector is rife with buzzwords. After all, taking something viral and pushing the envelope to reverse the paradigm, sounds sexy, right? I have no clue what in the hell it means, but damn it sound fantastic. It’s the same as terms like “big data.” Okay, so we know it’s “big,” and we know it’s “data”…it sounds exciting…so what now?

In essence, big ideas don’t, and never should, come from big data. Big ideas should focus on an outcome that makes a product or service something spectacular. For instance, when architecting an omni-channel customer engagement solution, no one should ever start at data. It’s about understanding what the desired customer outcome should be: a magical experience that ties bricks-and-mortar, online, in-app, and more, together so that it’s seamless, rewarding, and easy for the customer. So much so, that brand, customer experience, the journey, and viral propagation, become a near religious experience. It’s the desired outcome that makes a company’s brand much greater than the sum of its parts.

Once the outcome is architected, the data comes into play. And regardless of whether it’s “big” or not, it should never be the focus. Again, data is the gasoline in the car that drives you to your destination—how much gas and the quality of the fuel is what will determine the quality of the journey.

When looking at data and how to manipulate it for the ultimate end-game, there are three main factors to consider.

First, there is the quality of the data itself and how it is interconnected with all the systems needed for access and management. Ensuring there are assets, such as verified and clean single-user-profile information, is imperative for the next two stages.

For step two, there is data automation. This sets the stage for how to use the data—in essence, creating rules and logic to deliver the desired outcome. Think of it as adding Marketo or Pardot to your existing website, CRM, and marketing infrastructure. It’s the system that captures and creates the circumstances to which content is delivered based on Boolean logic and the marketing criteria set in place. Without it, you have a bunch of names in Salesforce, but with no automated and measurable action.

Finally, there is the delivery. With all your clean data, rules, and engine in place, it’s now time for the ultimate outcome: delivering people the experience that you sought to deliver in the first place.

As an easy analogy, think of all this as your dream vacation; mine is to drive across the country. If I were to buy an RV to make the trip, I’d first make sure that the vehicle was clean, had gas, and was ready to carry me to my destination. Then, I’d ensure the engine was primed and tuned as it’s the propulsion system that will get me to where I’m going. And then, there’s the destination—your dream come true.

Remember, “big data” is just a buzzword—it’s not the final destination. That said, as you venture forth to create your customer experience, remember to enjoy the journey as much as the outcome. And, lastly, I have no analogy for the beer fridge in the RV—but a beer fridge for your development team is always appreciated. 😉

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Join us at eTail Canada 2017

Date: May 16 – 18, 2017

Location: Hyatt Regency Toronto, ON

Booth: #8

Event website: www.etailca.com

Join us at eTail Canada being held at the Hyatt Regency in Toronto from May 16 to18. Stop by our booth to find out how you can benefit from our Omni-channel Customer Engagement Solutions. Our CEO, Allan Zander, will also be hosting a roundtable discussion about the harsh reality of omni-channel, followed by a panel discussion. To schedule a meeting with us at eTail Canada, please email us at communications@omNovos.com.

Round Table Discussion

Date: May 16, 11:30 a.m.
Topic: The Harsh Reality of Omni-Channel: Why so many fail to Understand and Implement It
Speaker: Allan Zander

Panel Discussion

Date: May 17, 12:10 p.m.
Topic: Tracking Online to Offline to Paint the Holistic Picture
Speaker: Allan Zander (including other executives)

eTail Canada is the One-Stop Shop for Canadian eCommerce and Multi Channel Executives

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Is anyone doing the omni-channel?

I have had an interesting year talking to many retailers about omni-channel. Mostly, I would say omni-channel is still at the teenage-sex stage of technology. Everyone is talking about it, everyone says they are doing it, but no one is and, in fact, they are scared to death to try it.

So, let us look at some of the challenges facing omni-channel. Omni-channel went mainstream in 2014, and became widely accepted as the way in which all commerce should be conducted in the future.

Around 2016, omni-channel appeared to become less about the logistical backend, and more about how we engage with a customer. Take a brand that has multiple customers who have different ways of using technology, and that has multiple employees who need to be kept up to date on their customers: How does the brand manage all the permutations associated with a customer demanding to be shown that you know me, while demanding that you do know me?

Surely, if retailers can understand a bit more about what a customer personally wants and then presents the right product, they stand a much greater chance of a conversion. Thus, the technology becomes: How does the retailer manage a relationship with the customer while, at the same time, ensuring they have the inventory to meet the customer’s needs—and with employees educated sufficiently to know how to engage effectively with the customer?

Most retailers understand the importance of having an omni-channel strategy to stay competitive in today’s demanding retail environment; even so, many are still struggling to manage their operations efficiently and effectively. The primary challenge facing retailers is how to ensure a seamless customer experience across channels, making a profit on every sale while engaging with their customers.

So how can retailers take advantage of the opportunities that are inherent in omni-channel?

Outlined below are six challenges affecting retailers with some omni-channel perspective on how to navigate through this new retail landscape:

  1. Ensure Data Quality and Relevancy

Today, an omni-channel retailing strategy is essential as retailers need open lines of communication across multiple channels—in-store, online, mobile device, or social media—that lead to a seamless, continuous experience across brands and devices, and that engage a customer one-on-one. To seamlessly engage the customer, myriad databases and systems such as eCommerce platforms, POS (Point of Sale) systems, marketing automation, and customer relationship management tools must be connected to make omni-channel sales and marketing initiatives a reality.

The omni-channel journey starts with capturing customer information. While capturing all this customer information is critical, it is also equally important to ensure that the quality of the information captured is accurate and up to date; therefore, retailers need to measure data quality and set data standards, clean and analyze the data for relevancy, turn the data into action, and, finally, action that data through a customer engagement solution.

  1. Create an Ideal Customer Profile

An ideal customer profile should be based on interviews and research from current and past customers, potential new customers, and employees. The end result is a fictional character who embodies the retailer’s ideal customer.

Ideal customer profiles should guide all marketing efforts, new business outreach, and current customer growth. Retailers can use this information to develop offers that align with different customer types, to create enablement tools for sales representatives outlining common objections and responses, and to segment current customers and prospects for more targeted communication and marketing.

  1. Deliver Consistent Experiences

Delivering a consistent experience for customers across all channels continues to challenge retailers. Two of the biggest challenges are ensuring the consistency of inventory levels and product pricing. To satisfy their customers, retailers need to deliver a consistent and positive experience.

If recommending products, retailers must find a way to make that recommendation consistent. Consider that many people want to use their mobile phone while shopping in-store, so setting up a captive portal to an in-store Wi-Fi will help to engage those customers. It can deliver what is probably at the top of every retailer’s wish list: identifying who is in the store. Discrepancies will ultimately lead to poor customer experiences, so retailers need to place strong emphasis on ensuring they are delivering the same experience every time, regardless of the channel the customer may be using.

  1. Empower and evolve employees’ role

Retailers need to empower employees to deliver outstanding customer service. And the best way to make that happen is to give their employees the right data. With the right data, employees can take on many new responsibilities; therefore, the retailer will need to evolve them from a clerk to a concierge who can deliver a highly personalized service.

Providing employees with the tools that give them a single view of customer transactions is a good way to start, but often they will run into the elusive data issue. Data that allows sales staff to track orders, look up product availability, address enquiries, and understand customers’ purchasing history and preferences, not only can improve customer interactions and ensure positive experiences, but also has the potential to open new sales opportunities as it is the path towards a highly personalized experience for the customer.

However, frequently the data is not there because of the white space between a CRM and PoS information. Moving to omni-channel is not going to make this information suddenly available, it will take time, but at least it is a place to start.

If concerned about integrating, there is no need. If the data has no transactional history associated with it that ties back to the individual, and no way to connect to employees and the loyalty database—it just looks like first and last name and an email address—then a retailer is in the best position to start looking at omni-channel and how to use it because it is basically a blank slate.

If the data is the issue, then retailers do not have to solve it, but instead they can work around it. They can send emails to the people in their loyalty system, thank them for being their customer, and pick five SKUs, whether they are overstock or simply “good sellers,” that will drive the customer to the store. Retailers can tell their employees that if the customer comes in for SKU-A, to ask them if they bought SKU-B and, if they did not, tell the employee to offer an incentive if they buy it today. The retailer can have the employee make a note of it, which gives the retailer some data on what will bring that customer in, and what they might react to in the store.

Retailers could easily create a rule that whenever someone buys SKU-A online, they offer an incentive to pick it up in-store. Employees can be educated on the rules so when the customer comes in for SKU-A, an employee will know SKU-B is an incentive. If the customer reacts, then again retailers have an opportunity to understand the behavior. If this approach is successful, retailers can track and start to build a knowledge base.

A company like omNovos can keep track, so as the customer engagement platform builds data on what is bringing people through the door, then retailers will know the right promotion and the right channel—no integration required.

  1. Make Returns Easier

Many consumers shopping online are often hesitant to buy products because of stringent return policies. Knowing this, omni-channel retailers need to make this a much more seamless process and move towards enabling returns in any channel or location. This way, unwanted stock can be easily converted into available-to-purchase inventory, and consumers can easily return goods in a way that is convenient to them.

One of the best ways to build up loyalty and trust in the brand is to create reasons for loyal customers to show their loyalty matters. Being easy to do business with is one of the best ways to build that personal relationship. If a customer wants to return an item bought online, then set up a time in-store for that customer to meet with a designated employee. Simply confirm a time via email, text or chat that will show the customer how easy it is to return an item bought online.

  1. Understand stock availability and leverage network-wide inventory

Personalization is key to omni-channel experiences becoming positive, but before getting there retailers need to know where their inventory is and how they can leverage it. Retailers need to see not only stock levels, but also availability: What is already on order? What is in transit or returned? They also need to use every supply source to meet customer demand. This includes stores, which are increasingly becoming mini-distribution centers for fulfilling online orders, as well as a place where customers still go to shop.

Only once they are doing this can retailers hope to have complete operational control across their enterprise. This is critical: it will become difficult to have a consistent customer experience and build up a personal relationship with a customer when inventory is never in the right place at the right time to complete a sale.

Omni-channel does not have to be a scary beast. I do not recommend that you try to do all five at once. Your situation may make just one of these points an easier starting point than another—so start there. Do not get wrapped up in integrating and do not get wrapped up in overthinking the personalization approach.

Omni-channel is a new and exciting technology. Take baby steps that allow for the relationship with your customer to evolve and grow over time. This way, if you need to take a tiny step backwards, it is easier and poses less threat to your brand. We all want to have loyal customers, but we tend to overthink the implementation of omni-channel. Start small and start simple and your odds of success will be as high as your omni-channel conversion rates.

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