E-commerce has been a disruptive force for retailers and CPG brands alike. With more avenues for engagement than ever before, marketers have difficulty allocating resources and knowing precisely where to place the strongest marketing emphasis.
The emergence of e-commerce merchants and platforms has driven many organizations to splinter their target audiences into two primary camps: in-store customers and online shoppers. Although there are certainly distinctions to be made between the two groups, viewing your customer base in this fractured way can be detrimental in the long run. These two demographics overlap quite a bit and, in reality, are often one and the same.
How are Digital Customers Different From In-Store Customers?
The default stance of many brands is to view online and in-store shoppers as wholly separate customer personas that require distinct engagement and nurture strategies. The argument is based in the notion that what drives sales in a brick-and-mortar store will be far different than an e-commerce platform like Amazon.
Treating your customers as different entities is problematic for a number of reasons -- chief among them the inherent fallacy in assuming that consumer behavior has drastically changed with the advent of digital shopping platforms. Despite repeated prognostications that digital shopping would replace traditional storefronts, brick-and-mortar shops remain incredibly resilient. Foursquare CEO and Forbes contributor Jeff Glueck noted that 90 percent of consumer spending occurs in physical stores.
Certain products are simply better suited for brick-and-mortar locations. Shoppers prefer to try on clothing, for instance, to ensure it's a good fit before making a purchase. Consumers may want to compare toys, electronics, tools or just about any other product, and have the tactile sensation of holding them in their hands. And even the most faithful customers would not buy a new perfume or body wash without giving it a "sniff test" in a physical location.
Are consumers shunning physical stores in favor of digital platforms? That doesn't seem to be the case at all.
Connecting Digital and Brick-and-Mortar Identities
Brick-and-mortar and online channels are not at odds, or at least they shouldn't be. Brands need these two arenas to work together, facilitating the customer journey to increase sales, regardless of where they occur.
Consider someone in the market for a new high-definition television. There are so many options to consider, from size and resolution to screen type. Do they go with a 4K-compatible model or one that supports 3-D viewing? It's a lot of information to comb through, but at the end of the day, they want to physically see the difference between a 55-inch LED 1080p model and a 65-inch ultra-high-definition 4K set. To get that experience, they need to walk into a brick-and-mortar store and compare different options.
That person may ultimately choose to buy online to take advantage of a promotion, sale, lower price or more convenient delivery options, but the sale was only made possible because they visited an actual store.
It works the other way too: Shoppers may have difficulty making a selection while in-store and need to gather more information online, comparing different products and vendors. Once they've done their research and decided on a selection, they may come back to that same store to get that item in their hands as soon as possible.
Unifying In-Store and Online Experiences
Digital and physical channels should have a mutualistic relationship, supporting one another and improving the overall customer journey, wherever that may take a consumer. The key is to take a more holistic view of your customer personas, create a consistent brand experience and provide personalized interactions at every touchpoint.
How can this be achieved? By tearing down the barriers that separate various digital identities. It's extremely difficult to create an environment where digital and physical channels work in tandem when companies have no way to determine precisely who a user is at any given time. That individual asking a question on a brand's Twitter feed could be the same person participating in a local promotion.
Gaining a better understanding of who each customer is empowers brands to tailor each interaction and channel to that specific person. For instance, brand websites could notify users when there are new promotions occurring at stores in their area or show a detailed list of which local shops have a particular product in stock. Mobile apps can be used to pay for items in stores and provide exclusive deals and loyalty benefits.
The good news is that leading customer identity and access management solutions -- like Akamai Identity Cloud -- provide the progressive profilings and cross-platform customer engagement options that enable a clearer view of consumers' off-line and digital interactions.. With the help of customer identity a universal consumer profile to better know how these pieces fit together to create a singular identity across any channel or platform.
WIth a CIAM solution in place, remembering user preferences and customer history to inform brand interactions and create the kind of personalized experience consumers are looking for is achievable. Brands can then more effectively guide shoppers to whichever channel makes the most sense, leading to happier customers and healthier bottom lines.
For more ideas on connecting online and in-store shoppers check out Akamai's omnichannel retail identity management solutions.