Making Real Connections With Customers – Part I: B2C

Businesses are constantly honing their web presence to meet the demands of their digitally-inclined consumers. But when we examine consumer shopping behavior online vs. offline, we see that there’s more to it than a great website and the ability to make purchases online.

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Everyone knows that ecommerce maintains a critical role in our retail economy. The whole world relies on the internet to make purchases, check email, and make important decisions. And it’s not just one particular age group—although Millennials lead the pack with about $2,000 spent annually online—one in four mobile shoppers in the US is over the age of 55, which is about even with their share of the overall US population (Source: Business Insider)! According to Statista, a site that aggregates data from hundreds of online sources, there will be over 200 million online shoppers in the US by the end of this year, up from 172 million in 2010 (Source: Statista).

Though ecommerce is growing at a steady rate of about 14% per year in the US, it’s impossible to deny the value of face-to-face shopping experiences. Offline shopping provides the benefit of an environment where you can easily talk to someone knowledgeable, ask questions, and touch and feel the product you are about to purchase (Source: Forbes). Regardless of how digitally connected we may be, consumers still have a decided preference for physically engaging with products and appreciate assistance from sales associates. In fact, 61% of consumers still value asking sales associates for information (Source: Forrester).

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The balance of online and offline commerce is increasingly crucial to a successful sales strategy. When ecommerce started growing in popularity in the late 90s, tons of brick-and-mortar retailers jumped on the bandwagon to build an online presence. But, the tide has shifted, and businesses now need to pay attention to a trend in the opposite direction – online-based companies such as Warby Parker are setting up physical stores to reap the benefits of an in-person experience. Other web-based companies such as Etsy have experimented with pop-up stores to allow customers to touch and feel their items prior to purchase.

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(Photo: Event Marketer)

Also worthy of noting, online subscription companies like Birchbox are popping up like crazy – from makeup to crafts, to pet care to jewelry, to food and clothing. Even Target has jumped on the trend, incentivizing customers to subscribe to their monthly services by offering a discount on purchases (Source: Forbes). These subscription services allow customers to provide a profile of their interests or even specific types of products they like in order to customize their monthly deliveries. The rise in this trend is another indicator that there is value in allowing consumers to not only experience items before making a larger purchase decision, but also to customize the shopping experience based on their individual interests. In addition, Birchbox is yet another example of an online company that broke into the brick-and-mortar retail space to deliver an even more personalized experience for their shoppers. Their New York store that opened about a year ago provides beauty services, lessons, and personal consultations.

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(Photo: Birchbox Store SoHo)

More and more, digital integration is finding its way into the brick-and-mortar retail space. Major retailers are stepping up their digital integration to tailor their in-store experience using location-based technology, apps, and other interactive touchscreens. These solutions help companies interact with their customers to enhance their in-store shopping experience and create more moments of connection. This may include mapping foot traffic to determine what special offers will lead to more sales, or encouraging consumers to download an app to access exclusive deals. Data achieved from location-based technology also helps stores optimize their shopping experience by improving layouts, pricing, and ad campaigns (Source: Inc).

The world of online and offline shopping continues to grow and change, just as its consumers do. But in this day and age, businesses need to pay attention to leveraging the capabilities and insights gained through digital integration to deliver the best possible personalized customer experience for consumers both online and offline. This is the key to capitalizing on the integration of online and offline shopping.

Check back next week for Part II of our series, focusing on making real connections with customers in the B2B space.