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How to engage online retail shoppers, wherever they discover your brand

By: Jon Buss

This article explores the concept of the ‘everywhere brand’. In this era of digital discovery, shoppers come across brands through a plethora of apps, websites, and networks, most of which don’t belong to those brands.

Here’s why and how online retailers make sure they engage shoppers, wherever they discover the brand.

  • Know where your brand is
  • Think about the whole digital ecosystem
  • Improve your digital knowledge management
  • Deploy rich localised content 
  • Create relevant, real-time content

For nearly 25 years now retailers have used their websites as their centre of gravity for their businesses.  The internet’s astounding growth and success meant retailers knew the website was the one place a customer would go for information about the business or to buy – the Eighth wonder of the retailers’ world.

And then there was Google – retailers could rely on these fantastic things called search engines to find their website even if the customer didn’t know the web address - genius.  If the retailers’ website was a shining example of great information, online retail and customer experience the world was a great place.  What a simple and effective world the retailer lived in.   

But then something even more magnificent arrived, the smartphone and it changed everything. There was now a new way for customers to find a retailer.  There was an ‘app’ apocalypse.  But the novelty soon wore off and as the functionality became clear retailers realised that having a primary app, that customers could download themselves onto their smartphones, alongside their website was the best way to optimise customer centricity.

Add to this the rise of social networks where consumers were discussing, suggesting and engaging with retailers and the world was starting to look like a very different place – increasingly impulsive and mobile.

In November 2016, mobile surpassed desktop internet usage for the first time, mobile search now accounts for nearly 60% of all searches, voice search now accounts for more than 20% of all searches on Google and this trend is set to continue.

The digital ecosystem is constantly evolving, and retailers are finding there’s now numerous places that their customers will go to find out a plethora of information about them: products they sell; menu options; store opening times; driving directions; forthcoming events and promotions.  And it’s often not the retailers’ own website they go to first, this jewel in the crown has lost its fiefdom.  It’s time to look beyond this.

As you can see from the above diagram, it’s a complex world out there and to cope with it the consumer has developed their go-to list of favoured apps, maps, search engines, social networks, and digital assistants that best serve their needs in the moments that matter. From Google, Apple, Bing to Instagram, Siri and Snapchat.

What retailers really need to ask themselves is ‘are you everywhere your customers need you to be, and is the digital knowledge about your brand - the facts and attributes they are requesting correct at every customer touchpoint across the whole digital ecosystem?’

There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than to get incorrect information in that moment of need.

In a recent study we conducted, retailers with brick-and-mortar only locations see an average of 3 times more traffic across third-party services than their own website.

Before we continue, let’s address the white elephant in the room: do retailers need to care that much when most people do and will increasingly shop online?  Yes. Shoppers still love the physical retail experience, especially at Christmas time, and connecting the dots between what they look for online and the in-store visit. According to the ONS, while online sales continue to rise, online retail as a percentage of total retail sales July to August 2017 was still only 16.4%. 

Therefore, it makes sense for bricks-and-mortar businesses to devote resources to optimising for the 85% of sales they expect to conduct in person – but this doesn’t mean ignoring your online channels.

If you’re not testing how the digital knowledge about your brand appears in the places consumers search for you, then you’re getting a warped view of the world. A good retail marketer will put on a coat, go outside, and experience exactly what the consumer sees about their brand across every device and service that matters to their customers. They conduct “near me” searches on Google.

They quiz Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Siri about their people, products, and locations. They become their customer. And in so doing, they see the broad universe of facts about their people, places, and products online that need to be fixed and managed.

And because consumers are so mobile-focused today, retailers are also under increasing pressure to deliver real time information that is accurate to consumers when and where it matters. According to comScore, 61% of time spent online in the United Kingdom is now spent on mobile devices.

If it’s “Free Cone Day” at Ben & Jerry’s, we want to know about it — especially if we’re within walking distance (#ChunkyMonkey). If a store is closed due to a holiday or open on Christmas Day, we want our maps to tell us. And if a store nearby has a can’t miss sale on a product we’ve been researching, we want an alert about that too.

For retailers, the smartphone creates new opportunities to capture consumer attention in the moments that matter. As a result, it seeks out every opportunity to publish digital knowledge in real-time about events, sales, specials, and temporary data changes that benefit customers.  Retailers have to keep their brands relevant in the mobile age.

Retail brands that create and publish more specific and more granular data about their people, products, and locations stand to attract more business from the digital universe than those who don’t. You already know this from the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), where the more content you produce and optimise, the more traffic you drive to your website.

The same is true among the ever-expanding universe of information services. In fact, the heart of Digital Knowledge Management is about optimising your public facts so they appear in more places and drive more visibility and engagement for your brand. However, unlike SEO that relies mostly on the unstructured data of your web pages, these services depend more on structured data, which requires additional granularity and specificity.

 

As intelligent services evolve and expand, they are creating many more opportunities for brands to provide granular, structured data to satisfy user queries. Such services are happy to have this data. Why? Because they know consumers’ search behaviour will continue to change.

Think about how differently you search today on your smartphone than you do on your desktop. Now, consider how differently you search when using your voice with Alexa, Cortana, Google, or Siri. With voice search, you’re not seeking a page of results with 10 blue links; you’re seeking answers. And according to former Baidu Chief Scientist, Andrew Ng, by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches — voice searches seek an awful lot of granular information.

Retailers should also add granular data to its social assets in the form of Facebook location Pages, Instagram location tags, and Snapchat geofilters. Why? Because it knows that this granular location data boosts local brand engagement, and that local social engagement drives business.

We all know that first impressions count, don’t give customers a reason to disengage.  Make the most of every opportunity within the digital ecosystem by implementing the following four strategies:

Know where your brand is – Don’t be surprised or caught out.  Make it a recurring task to behave like a customer so that you understand exactly where your brand appears within the digital ecosystem and then work out how to maximise the impact of this presence.

Think about the whole digital ecosystem -  A retailer needs a vibrant and active presence across the whole digital ecosystem.  This isn’t just Google and Facebook, you need to include Snapchat, Instagram, Uber, Bing, car GPS systems, maps, apps, Apple, Yelp etc and keep abreast of innovation within the customer channel.

Improve your digital knowledge management - A retailer must be able to manage and maintain accurate facts and attributes including locations, opening hours, menu options, products, promotions and events, and ensure this data is accurate and represented on web pages per individual locations.  It’s imperative to have a robust internal system to centralise this data or find partners to automate this.  Managing this data manually is extremely labour and time intensive especially if you have hundreds of locations.

Deploy rich localised content – The richer the information about your store, the better.  Include photos and videos, business descriptions, products, service offerings for example, Photo-Me booths, local promotions and events, Snapchat Geofilters etc. 

Create relevant, real-time content – Create an agile strategy that enables the business to continuously deliver fresh content, as fresh content drives prominence.

 

By: Jon Buss, MD UK & Northern Europe, Yext

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