Today, getting the store experience right often depends on having a great e-Commerce experience to match, and vice versa. This means retailers can no longer afford to tackle issues in a channel-specific manner. Instead, they need to invest in solutions that can bridge the potential gaps between online and brick-and-mortar stores.
In this exclusive Q&A with Retail TouchPoints, John Federman, CEO of JRNI, a scheduling platform that enables retailers to offer online pre-booking for in-store appointments and events, discussed:
- The need to find balance between in-store and digital investments;
- Why in-store appointments can deliver major advantages for retailers and consumers alike, and even increase basket sizes between 3X and 5X;
- The increasing role of events in the store experience, and how they help build communities; and
- Why retailers must strive to understand the dynamics and qualities of the shoppers that convert most readily in their environment.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): From the retailers you’ve worked with and observed, where do you think the biggest issues with the store still arise?
John Federman: One of the things we find that a lot of retailers are still grappling with is, how do you balance between your investment in digital and your investment in-store? And moreover, how do you make them work to the same end — that there’s a continuity, a singular brand experience across channels no matter what door they come in? That becomes an advantage to the in-store experience — rather than insisting or suggesting that a consumer needs to effectively start all over again.
It’s a really interesting era and it’s defined by the way that consumers think about themselves. As we think about talking to retailers, the one thing I would caution them against is thinking in too platform- or channel-specific a way. The silos of data need to be a thing of the past. You need to understand the impact of every channel on each other,and revenue creation is not a channel-specific activity — it’s a brand activity.
Retailers aligning themselves with vendors that think beyond a single channel and have context for the entire consumer journey — that’s something I spend a lot of time talking to retailers about.
RTP: How does pre-booking technology appointments play a role in both improving a store experience and aligning physical and digital retail?
Federman: It’s all in expectations. If a consumer has invested their time, it doesn’t matter to that consumer whether it was digital or physical — they’ve invested their time. Appointments allow a retailer to create an experience that is much more personal, data-driven and responds to the issues of omnichannel.
For instance, if you think about that consumer who wants to go to a wedding in the Caribbean, they can have this a couple of ways. They can walk into a store, they can hope to find an associate and hope that the inventory that responds to what that consumer is looking for is there, and they can have a productive meeting.
The other approach, and one that is enabled by appointments, is instead to understand that a lot of their consumers start their search online. They then engage with your brand, and in the case of Nordstrom, that consumer is given an opportunity to book an appointment and also fill out a questionnaire. In Nordstrom’s case, [the retailer] would glean the following information:
- Somebody is looking to go to a Caribbean wedding;
- They are a size-42 suit; and
- They are probably going to need some shoes or sandals because it’s a beach wedding.
All those details come out. Imagine as the consumer, instead of walking in and hoping to find someone to work with and hoping the inventory you’re looking for will be there — now you can walk into Nordstrom and meet with a stylist with whom you’ve arranged an appointment. You’ve told them what you’re looking for, and your clothes, in your size, are put aside waiting for your appointment.
The result: our retailers, on average, see a basket size go up anywhere from 3X to 5X. You deliver an experience that’s more personal, that’s more engaging and therefore, a lot more relevant to that consumer. You’re going to have a lot more luck selling not just what the consumer originally came in for, but the opportunity for upsell and cross-sell gets magnified.
RTP: How do you feel this helps cultivate customer loyalty?
Federman: We’re just people. Loyalty is created by having a great experience. We’re thinking about not just e-Commerce but commerce. When you think about the technologies that are defining commerce, in our conversations with Forrester they said there are three major trends driving the market: omnichannel, data and personalization.
When those get combined, as they do with appointment booking and also with events booking, retailers are playing the role of an experiential center, and taking the role of being educators and building community. The whole definition of brick-and-mortar retail is being redefined. It’s why you’re seeing pure-play retailers create physical locations. It’s why you’re seeing those that were only brick-and-mortar go to a smaller physical footprint that’s more productive, where the associates are better utilized and there’s a better return on investment because they’re also investing in their digital footprints.
The key isn’t to be a zealot of online or brick-and-mortar, but to understand that there’s a balance, and make sure that both platforms’ end result is the same. Your experience gets better if it’s more relevant and more personal, and therefore the time spent is more actionable.
RTP: You mentioned events booking. What role do these now play in the store experience?
Federman: If you go back to the very premise of social media, it’s to identify people with like interests and then build relationships with them. Total Wine does wine tastings based either on seasonal issues or menus, but you end up with a group of like-minded people that think about wine as an important part of their life. It’s part of their social fabric and they like being around other people that think about the kinds of things they do. You build community, you build loyalty to create relationships.
One of the things we keep hearing more is that the retailer of tomorrow is not just a place to see what’s on the endcaps and kiosks, it’s a place that you can feel connected through community and experience.
RTP: What are some quick steps retailers can take to improve the overall store experience?
Federman: The technology is out there. It’s up to the retailer to make it seem natural and unintimidating. You can deliver so much information that it feels like Big Brother. It’s finding that balance where you’re responding to what the customer raised their hands and said they are interested in. It’s having scheduled appointments and making that easy.
At the end of the day, every retailer needs to understand that being an omnichannel shopper is the rule, not the exception. Every one of their shoppers has an omnichannel mentality and it’s about positioning the brand in each of those arenas, which is why I think as you talk about physical retail, we do the marketplace a disservice if we don’t contextualize that.
Of course it’s physical, but it’s a different type of physical store that’s emboldened and more intelligent because of the digital footprint.
RTP: What steps should retailers take to understand these omnichannel consumers (and their shopping habits) better?
Federman: There’s lots of partners that retailers should be embracing. Through our analytics, we can identify what segments of the market, against what kind of messaging, leads to those consumers with the greatest likelihood to convert. It’s not just understanding that there’s a message that got people into the store, it’s understanding that your SMS messaging worked differently than your paid media messaging, or earned media, or navigating directly from the site.
All of those things are incredibly valuable for a marketer’s toolkit. If you can understand the dynamics and qualities of those that convert most readily in your environment, then your top-of-the-funnel prospects get more optimized and more effective.