Instore experience excellence requires online maturity

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I am sure that the online vs store debate will soon be over. The online business won’t kill store but complete and enrich it. It forces stores to reinvent, reposition, but won’t kill it unless a business manages both as competing entities, which is the best way to lose on both sides at the same time. I’ve never seen the digital business killing the retail one or the retail preventing digital to emerge, except in the case of lack of shared vision and governance.

Customer want online and instore experiences continuity

As I recently read in an article, the Grail of commerce is to deliver in stores the same experience customers get online. That’s what customers are dreaming of. But we’re still far from the goal.

• with disconnected and poorly informed sales clerks facing clients who did long benchmarks before walking into  the store. The client knows everything : characteristics, prices, competitors characteristics and prices and even stock availability. And he does real-time fack checking every time the sales clerks uses a new argument. If, in the 90s, the sales clerk was the knowledgeable person and us the ignorant, today it’s exactly the opposite.

• with sales clerks who know nothing about the client. While any good retailer’s website recognizes the customer, calls him by his name and pushes personalized offers, the customers is treated like an unknown stranger when he walks through the store’s door. Previous purchases ? Level of loyalty ? Level of spending ? Tastes and interest ? The truth is that when your website knows your customer better than your sales clerk does you are in deep trouble.

I have no doubt that, sooner or later, online and instore experiences will be aligned. But to do so, the store must rely on the web while the web does not need the store.

To know the customer better, sites rely on many tactics and tricks.

• know or guess your demographics

• know your loyalty

• know your buying power

• know what products you searched information about, what sites you previously visited, what you read.

Do you know that your favorite media sites only need 3 clicks to guess your demographics, associate you with a statistical twin and guess your buying intentions to sell it to a brand that will target you with ads ?

Regarding what’s about customer data collection and processing, everybody knows it’s happening, not everybody knows to what extent it’s happening, and even those who know pretend to ignore or minimize it. Either people consider normal, shoking, a necessary evil, it’s invisible and painless so we act as if we did not know.

Regarding customer understanding, what is intrusive instore is transparent online

In stores, it’s different. To reach an acceptable level of customer understanding and intimacy….imagine a sales clerk asking you.

• Hi ! What’s you occupation ? How old are you ? You have kids ? Married ? Divorced maybe ?

• Where do you live ? Ah… Nice district.

• Did you visit other shops today ? To buy what ?

• Did you read a newspaper today ? Which section ? What articles did you enjoy.

• Where did you have lunch ?

• What are your topics of interest ?

And if you answer all these questions (what I doubt), you’ll the store intern print your personal record, run and share it will other shops around. And he’ll come back with the profiles of other clients that the others stores have shared with him in return.

Horrifying ? Scandalous ? Irrelevant ? Logical ? Unavoidable ? Necessary ?

This is the only way to have an instore experience that’s consistent with the online experience. But it’s easy to realize that collecting the necessary data is much more complicated in stores that online. In fact it’s quite impossible except in some specific industries – for example luxury – where clerks can have a lasting trusted relationship with the client, enough intimacy to know more about him.

That’s why online experience matter.

No instore experience without online maturity

It’s impossible to collect in the physical world the information required for a consistent customer experience. So, no matter if a brand does more business in stores than online, the its online presence is key to collect data for a better in store experience. So digital maturity is key to instore experiences.

In conclusion it’s interesting to see how easy it is to capture data in the digital world and how difficult it is to do the same in the “physical one”. There are things we accept as long as it’s invisible and transparent even if we know this is happening while we found the same behaviors unacceptable in the physical world. Data collection issues are not a matter of data but of context, but will it last ?

Will customers be more and more vigilant online ? Will they accept more intrusive behaviors in stores ? Will they stay in a grey zone ? The future of business depends on it.

Photo credit : Fotolia