Modern retailing isn’t just about merging physical and online shopping — it’s about understanding the separation of shopping and buying into two different parts of the same journey, and also learning how to turn those shoppers into buyers. Retail thought leaders shared their advice for managing this more complex shopper journey in a webinar titled Where Retailers Should Place Their Bets In 2020 And Beyond, moderated by Debbie Hauss, Executive Director of Content for Retail TouchPoints Events. The speakers were:
- Chris Walton, CEO of OmniTalk;
- Giovanni Senafe, VP of Bentley’s Pet Stuff; and
- Mike Edwards, CEO of Hanna Andersson.
“The acts of buying and shopping were always joined at the hip,” said Walton. “Think about it: you go into grocery stores and you see stacks and shelves of product, and we as customers of those retailers had been for years acting as warehouse pickers, going into the store to get the items off the shelf. We were actually the delivery drivers, taking them back to our house. In today’s day and age, that no longer needs to happen.”
In contrast, e-Commerce lets consumers divide shopping and buying into two distinct pieces, according to Walton. This division can be seen in how most customers start their journeys: 50% of product searches start on Amazon, regardless of where the shopper ends up making their purchase, and another 35% start on Google. The process of turning these shoppers into buyers is one of the key challenges faced by retailers in 2020.
Stores Can (And Should) Do More Than Support E-Commerce Operations
Today’s omnichannel economy means stores can play a key role in converting shoppers who started their journey online. Walton cited five key psychological reasons that stores have always existed:
- Immediate gratification;
- The ability to touch and feel products before buying; and
- The experience of being out in the world.
All these aspects are still relevant, and brick-and-mortar locations are still a powerful sales driver in an e-Commerce driven world. Physical locations become even more important in a retail segment like pet care, where expensive shipping costs and small basket sizes limit the profitability of online transactions. Neither Amazon nor Chewy has figured out how to turn a profit by shipping 30-pound bags of dog food for free, according to Senafe.
However, that doesn’t mean e-Commerce doesn’t play a vital role in the company’s operations. Bentley’s e-Commerce offerings are the first step in attracting new customers who will visit the store for events like adoptions or services like grooming. Once in the store, these shoppers are then more likely to purchase additional items beyond the essentials. Online sales also drive the retailer’s expansion strategy by helping it scout promising locations for new stores.
“E-Commerce for us is definitely the number one way we know where to open up a new location — even a pop-up store,” said Senafe. “Now that spaces are getting freed up, we’re starting to think about just going into a market for two to four months in a high traffic area based on where we’re delivering to a lot, and seeing if that’s where a Bentley’s can survive and thrive.”
Personalization Lies At The Heart Of A Great Experience
Simply getting a customer into the store doesn’t bridge the gap between shopping and buying on its own — retailers still need to build a relationship in order to both capture that valuable first sale and give shoppers a reason to keep coming back. Personalization is playing a larger role than ever in this aspect of the shopper journey, and both online and in-store interactions are valuable sources of the data needed to feed personalization initiatives.
Most Bentley’s customers bring their pets to the store, which gives the retailer a valuable opportunity to learn about them, according to Senafe. Associates quickly learns the pets’ names and which products they’ve tried in the past, helping them maker owners feel welcome by knowing their preferences and reducing friction by having their favorite items available and ready to go.
Failing to provide this level of personalization is like a restaurant not recognizing a diner who has just visited seven times in a row, according to Edwards. “You’d be very upset,” he said. “Our customer feels exactly the same way, particularly online or if they walk into one of our stores.”
Like Bentley’s, the children’s apparel retailer competes against some of the biggest players in its corner of the retail industry. Personalization is one of the main tools Hanna Andersson uses to set itself apart and to deliver a focused in-store and online experience that less specialized companies have difficulty matching.
“As with everyone in the industry, but particularly in specialty retailing, it’s about personalization,” said Edwards. “It’s really understanding our customers, giving them incentives and loyalty to stay, and really investing in data and analytics. We know from a predictive standpoint what our customer wants, and ultimately what their children want, from a parent-to-parent perspective. The very large firms never invest in that type of specialized information in this category.”
Driving these personal experiences is the core role of the store in an omnichannel environment, and one of the best ways to turn shoppers into buyers. The store of 2020 isn’t just a place for customers to pick up items — it’s a place where retailers guide a journey that in all likelihood started online to its end, through experiences and human interaction.
“I think technology is going to be phenomenal,” said Senafe. “I think we can get to the consumer faster and we can interact more often, but candidly I’m betting my family’s future that in the more technological world we’re entering one-on-one personalized service is still going to have a place. The only way that works is trusting that you have an associate that’s representing your brand the way you want in a face-to-face interaction.”