At last year’s National Retail Federation Big Show, one word was on everyone’s lips: omni-channel. Today’s consumers are using every tool and method available to find, research and purchase goods and services, and the result is stiff competition for brick and mortar stores. Recent forecasts predict that worldwide business-to-consumer ecommerce sales will increase by 20.1 percent in 2014 to reach $1.5 trillion – and then continue climbing. Forrester analysts say that the percentage of traffic and total online orders placed via mobile devices will increase in virtually every market worldwide. What’s a store to do?
For brick and mortar businesses, personalized interaction is essential to competing with online giants like Amazon and eBay. In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, more than 50 percent of customers thought that most companies they interacted with didn’t understand or care about them, and 40 percent of customers that suffered through bad experiences stopped doing business with the offending company. A lack of connection to the customer spells doom for long-term retail success.
Creating loyal customers takes more than low prices and free shipping – across the board, superior service experiences are proven to be the single most important factor influencing a consumer’s decision to return. Stores must use every resource at their disposal to distinguish themselves in this area, and social media feedback is rich with insights that can help businesses get smart on customer needs by delivering data that goes far deeper than sales receipts.
The key to success lies in a brick and mortar store’s ability to listen, engage and act on this data. First, though, they must be able to parse the thousands of pieces of feedback posted online each day to discover what makes their consumers tick. Understanding this data gets to the heart of not just what customers want, but why they decide to buy – or perhaps more importantly, why they don’t.
In one real-life example, a major retailer’s time-stamped social media data showed an increase in negative online reviews being posted in the evenings. Further analysis revealed that this downward trend was due to customers expressing frustration with a lack of sales associates available to assist them as the store prepared to close for the night.
The retailer’s executives checked in with the local managers and found that the floor sales teams were frequently working on their “closing” duties, such as folding shirts and straightening displays, instead of engaging with customers during the final moments of the business day. In response to this assessment, management reallocated cleanup responsibilities to another team and revised the sales associates’ job descriptions to focus solely on customer support throughout their entire shift. After making this change, negative social sentiment around the availability issue declined steadily and overall service scores increased.
The impact of these online reviews on the bottom line is enormous. In another recent study, 73 percent of consumers said that positive customer reviews make them trust a business more (up from 58 percent in 2012), but that they read fewer reviews overall before making their decision. It’s more important than ever to make a good impression, and quickly.
By analyzing online reviews and feedback from sites like Facebook and Twitter, store managers can easily identify the top factors that impact a consumer’s overall experience—whether it’s issues with service, merchandising or something else—to create a positive buying experience that translates into both in-store sales and ongoing customer loyalty. All of this insight can then be applied to better training staff members, so that once shoppers are through the door, making a purchase is a no-brainer – and their positive social media reviews help feed the demand generation funnel that brings new buyers through the door.
Customers may not walk into a store specifically seeking an omni-channel experience, but the seamlessness of ecommerce has fundamentally changed the way they expect to be serviced. In order to compete, brick and mortar stores must combine the ease of frictionless online shopping with personalized attention sharpened by social media insights to create the ultimate intelligent shopping experience.
Smart retailers, take note.
Article By Kristin Muhlner, CEO of newBrandAnalytics, a social media intelligence provider for retail, restaurant, and hospitality organizations.
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