Online Retail Today

Retailology: How Not to Run Your Omnichannel Commerce Strategy Like March Madness

March Madness is one my favorite times of the year. There is something about unpredictable outcomes, the emotion of winning or losing, the challenge of picking the right teams in your bracket, and the anticipation of the next Cinderella team that simply gets me excited.

Millions of people will be filling out their brackets with a variety of strategies – best mascot, most unique school name, or best jersey color – all in hope of having winning results. While strategies centered on hope and luck may work for March Madness, a winning omnichannel commerce strategy should be centered around creating seamless consumer experiences across every buyer touchpoint.

Organizations who are looking to thrive in the era of Amazon should look to incorporate these 5 elements into their omnichannel commerce strategy:


Unified commerce platform


A unified commerce platform is one of the essential elements for delivering true omnichannel experiences. It starts by having a front-end eCommerce website that ties a back-end order management system to provide order routing and processing, flexible inventory sourcing optimization, customer-driven fulfillment, and consistent and personalized customer experiences.

By utilizing integrated software that enables seamless, customer-centric omnichannel experiences that drive more traffic to your website and more foot traffic into stores you reap the benefits of customer loyalty and growth that far exceed that of traditional retail solutions today. Merchants who are able to connect channels to blend digital and in-store touchpoints into one seamless customer experience will be the winners of tomorrow – and it starts with a unified commerce platform.


Scalable and extensible eCommerce


At the core of any omnichannel commerce strategy is modern eCommerce software. With online sales growth outpacing in-store sales, choosing the right enterprise-class eCommerce software is imperative for long-term sustainability. The ideal solution will be built on a truly SaaS foundation to provide continuous, non-disruptive upgrades and reduce your total cost of ownership (TCO). Modern ecommerce software is designed to enable business users to launch new promotions, create landing pages, or publish new content-without burdening IT resources.

A winning solution should provide extensibility with an API-first architecture to allow your organization to drive customized experiences without breaking the upgrade path – allowing you to integrate with best-of-breed third-party applications, such as product reviews, social engagement, payment, or loyalty programs.


Enable omnichannel fulfillment


One of the biggest drivers for converting an online sale is flexible, consumer driven fulfillment. This means providing the consumer with their choice of fulfillment option – whether that is based on lowest price, proximity of inventory, time to delivery, or convenience. Forward thinking retailers and merchants leverage a modern order management software to drive a variety of fulfillment options, such as buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS), ship from store, ship to store, store-to-store transfer, vendor drop ship, or even return to store.

By leveraging a distributed order management architecture, merchants are able to connect inventory across their ecosystem to their customers in real-time – enabling flexible and convenient delivery of purchases. An order management software that has the appropriate integrations enables the merchant to save costs, provide faster delivery, and expand online product mix by leverage inventory in stores – all proven to increase digital sales and brand loyalty amongst consumers.


Personalized Experiences


Personalized experiences have been on the top of investment list for many merchants for several years. There are several ways a merchant can use personalization throughout the customer lifecycle, but the key is to drive 1:1, individualized experiences that are relevant to the customer.

By investing in personalization software, merchants can drive personalized experiences across each customer across any touchpoint – including website, mobile apps, in-store, email campaigns, and even customer service. The key is to leverage a solution that is based on predictive, big data technology to drive content based on the consumer’s interaction in real-time. An ideal software package will also empower your merchandising teams with the tools required to optimize the omnichannel commerce experience, such as category sorting, recommendations, real-time previews, and simple to use user interface (UI).


Mobile First Design


We live in an instant gratification world where every consumer has a point of sale system attached to their hip at almost every waking hour – the smartphone. This means that mobile commerce must be at the center of any successful omnichannel commerce strategy. Whether you are creating a native mobile app or simply a mobile responsive website experience – the key is to have a seamless experience across device types.

While this might not come at a surprise, the effort and resources many merchants spend on creating superb mobile experiences can be sub-optimal. Merchants must invest in technology that enables them to build once and deploy everywhere. Retail has become extremely competitive, and those who are able to shift their organizations to think “mobile first” will be at a significant advantage over their peers.


March Madness is incredibly unpredictable and most leave their bracket strategies to chance; however your omnichannel commerce strategy should not be left to luck and merchants must look to be proactive and implement the necessary solutions to win a competitive landscape.

nrf retail technology

NRF 2018 Recap: 3 Fundamental Innovations Retail Technology Must Support

Thanks to strong results from the 2017 holiday season, retailers were riding high headed into NRF’s Big Show earlier this month. The myriad of retail innovations on display helped maintain the positive momentum — but as merchants head home to put key strategies into action, the bar is set high to reach beyond technology as strategy and deliver memorable shopping experiences.

On the surface, NRF 2018 put technology front and center, with a dazzling array of offerings to help retailers optimize their brands. Electronic shelf displays, inventory tracking systems, store beacons, frictionless point-of-sale and self-checkout tools, cloud commerce platforms, and AI everywhere were the order of the day on the exhibit floor, which teemed with more than 35,000 attendees. There were even retail robots to act as in-store tour guides and inventory managers.

But despite the dazzle, the most inspirational stories from NRF sessions weren’t about technology deployment in and of itself. Rather, leading innovators demonstrated how technology helped their brands shift into new territory when it came to the shopping experience.

In the end, the message was two-fold: merchants must choose wisely to ensure their technological foundation is both cutting-edge, extensible, and reliable — but getting there is only half the battle. Indeed, with Amazon continuing to set the standard for easy ordering and efficient, cost-effective fulfillment, merchants can no longer differentiate merely by offering such services as in-store pickup, free shipping, or mobile payments. These features are now table stakes, not innovative strategies.

As if to underscore the point, the week after NRF brought the very public debut of the first Amazon Go outlet, a quick-shop grocery offering completely frictionless purchasing with no checkout whatsoever. Although retailers must eventually follow Amazon to such new frontiers, they’re unlikely ever to take over the lead.

Instead, retailers’ best bet is for technology and logistics to become the background services that support rich, relevant brand interactions both in-store and online. The most crucial retail technology powers such interactions without taking center stage, instead enabling a brand’s unique identity — what one speaker referred to as “heart” — to come to the fore.


As merchants finalize their top priorities for 2018 and begin long-range planning, they should invest in those technologies that:


Rethink and reinvigorate stores.


NRF sessions were bursting with examples of cutting-edge stores that broke down barriers between online and offline shopping, as well as in-store and organization-wide fulfillment options. From Sephora’s Beauty TIPS Workshop stores, where shoppers can try products and experiment with looks using augmented-reality tools, to Eataly food halls that mix dining, shopping, and food education, innovative brands are allocating store space to “experiential” enhancements that demonstrate deep connection to the customer lifestyle.

Store-specific mobile tools are at the forefront of these innovations, with offerings for customers and sales associates alike enabling seamless access to online resources and shoppers’ preferences. In a “Big Ideas” session, vendor Tulip reported that among store associates equipped with mobile devices, 43% reported saving a sale by accessing store-wide inventory, and 66% reported improving the customer experience.

Tools for seamless fulfillment of both online and offline orders are also essential — not only for stores acting as pickup points for online orders, but for “showroom”-style outlets where shoppers inspect and select items for subsequent home delivery. Flawless execution of these functions is crucial so as not to derail store visitors from the immersive environments merchants must create to showcase brand offerings.


Enable true one-to-one commerce.


Artificial Intelligence, or AI, was the top buzzword of the show, and with good reason. As the number and variety of available customer data points has skyrocketed, talk has quickly shifted from “advanced analytics” to “machine learning” and the big-data tools that can not only process information quickly at high volume, but predict shoppers’ intentions and proactively serve relevant experiences.

The outcome of the back-end data churn is potentially a true “segment of one,” whereby individualized recommendations generated in real-time both assist shoppers with their immediate tasks while serendipitously surfacing products and services to match as-yet-unarticulated needs. Consumers value successful realizations of this vision, with 57% saying that they appreciate the personalized communications offered by their favorite brands, according to a study by WD Partners released at NRF. On the flip side, when asked what their least favorite brands do to alienate them, 53% of consumers cited botched personalization — making it the top flaw.

The GWYN “conversational commerce” tool offered via Google Assistant by 1-800-Flowers was featured in an NRF general session exploring the leading edge of AI deployments. But less futuristic AI applications can also pay off, as demonstrated by merchants such as Cosabella lingerie, which reported a 30% lift in conversion following AI-driven design improvements to align more closely with customer preferences.


Redefine customer service for the entire customer lifecycle.


Along with the revolution in stores and online, leading merchants are also at the vanguard of radical undertakings in the realm of what used to be called “customer service.” Not only can  customer service queries now be fielded anywhere and at any time, but the need to demonstrate unique relevance requires brands to adopt proactive approaches that address consumers’ needs before they’re voiced.

In extreme cases, customer service becomes a so-called “brand stretch” that involves new partnerships or outright acquisitions, such as airline Lufthansa’s partnership with grocery chain REWE to provide flyers easy ordering of grocery delivery in synch with their return flight home. In other instances, customer service merges with concierge and personal shopper functions, such as at The Experience Desk at UK department store John Lewis, where shoppers can make reservations for in-store restaurants and sign up for technology tutorial classes to help them make the most of their purchases. In these scenarios, merchants are expanding their repertoire beyond the products and promotions they offer to include meaningful service experiences.

Not every merchant can make a major acquisition to enrich its customer service offerings, as IKEA did when it acquired TaskRabbit (and thereby an army of DIY experts willing to help assemble furniture). But IKEA’s augmented-reality mobile app, which enables shoppers to visualize furniture in their homes, is within closer reach for small- to mid-sized merchants, who can create similarly solution-focused tools to demonstrate an understanding of customers’ needs.

Similarly, while Alibaba’s use of AI chatbots to address 95% of customer queries on Singles Day made NRF waves, merchants don’t need machine automation to provide cutting-edge service. Deep troves of customer service content and detailed product specifications — along with the content management engine, personalization, and on-site search capabilities to surface relevant information at the right time — can help merchants proactively address shoppers’ questions. Making such information accessible to call center agents and store associates alike boosts the utility of content investments further, as does deployment of personalization tools to incorporate relevant how-to and product care information in transactional emails and other post-purchase interactions.


What trends did you spot at NRF, and how did the retail technology solutions offer support to your organization’s 2018 goals?


Posted by / January 25, 2018 / Posted in Events
NRF 2018

From The Trenches: NRF 2018 Day One Recap

By Tushar Patel, Chief Marketing Officer, Kibo


Day one of NRF 2018 in cold New York City has come to a close. The show is off to a great start with significant buzz and a hopping expo floor. The Kibo Team at Booth #4145 has already had the opportunity to interact with various retailers, branded manufacturers, analysts, media, and partners. Here is what we heard from the trenches on our first day:

Brands Are Stepping Up Their Omnichannel Game

Several brands (manufacturers) are really looking at taking advantage of the omnichannel infrastructure that retailers have been putting in place over the past few years. We are hearing of significant investments from brands to go direct to consumer in 2018, leverage in-store fulfillment options (think buy online, pickup in-store) even if they do not own or operate their own stores, and exploring “experience centers” in lieu of traditional brick and mortar stores.

Personalizing The In-Store Experience

It’s no surprise that personalization (or 1:1 individualized experiences as consumers prefer) has been at the top of the list for retailers for several years. Some have executed on their initiatives, while others are getting started. It is safe to say that digital or online personalization is no table stakes. What about the store? We are hearing several retailers interested (and some investing in) personalizing the in-store experience by empowering their associates with information at their finger tips – mobile devices, real-time inventory data, consumer browsing or purchasing trends – to enable more impactful face-to-face interactions.

Death Of Homegrown Software

While the death of homegrown technology and or software systems may sound controversial or unrealistic, it is clear merchants are looking for ways to become highly efficient with their resources and technology. One of the more popular topics today was the replacement of internally developed commerce solutions and software with more off-the-shelf SaaS commerce software platforms. Several organizations are kicking off initiatives to invest in eCommerce and order management software in 2018.

Retail Apocalypse…Or Not?

In 2017, we were hammered with headlines about traditional stores (and malls) dying and closures across all industries and geographies. While this might be true, a majority of sales are still done in stores. This year we are hearing significant conversations around breathing life into stores by elevating their role in the consumer’s buying journey.  We are hearing of initiatives and strategies that will transform stores – into experience centers and fulfillment hubs.  Consumers still have an itch for face-to-face interactions with products, and retailers are investing to ensure they are meeting consumer’s expectations.

Eyes On The 800 Pound Gorilla

Last week we heard several rumors from the investment community that Target is a prime acquisition candidate for Amazon. Unfortunately we do not have a crystal ball to predict Amazon’s next move.  However, it seems that everyone we speak to is anxiously waiting to see what their next move is. No matter who we speak to, everyone is curious.  What are your predictions?

That’s a wrap for us from Day One at NRF 2018! If you would like to discuss the above or other topics, please stop by Booth #4145 on the 3rdfloor. 

More tomorrow!

Posted by / January 15, 2018 / Posted in Events
Kibo at IRCE 2017

From The Trenches: IRCE 2017 Recap

Now that the flood of emails, promotions, and social media posts on IRCE 2017 have died down a bit, we thought we would provide a view from the trenches on what we heard at the annual expo in Chicago. This year, Kibo had a booth on the show floor, participated in an eCommerce Workshop, and shared a customer case study on B2B personalization up on stage. IRCE 2017 was a great conference, and here are the top five topics we heard over and over again:


Retailers have been talking about personalization for the past few years, and now we are really seeing retailers making investments or creating budgets to make a purchase over the next 6-12 months.  Personalization has the power to improve click through rates by 51%, as was discussed in Kibo’s joint B2B personalization presentation with Zoro – and every audience member wanted to experience the same levels of success for their B2B and B2C channels.  


Personalization is a broad term, and we saw a lot of questions and discussion around elements of individualization and machine learning.  On the surface, many personalization solutions seem the same. Their underlying performance or effectiveness will ultimately be determined by how well the solution can individualize content and how finely tuned the machine learning engine really is.  If you are like many folks looking for a personalization solution, we encourage you to dig deeper on these two subject areas before making a decision.

2) Optimization as a Differentiator

No matter where you turned or which vendors you spoke to, optimization was at the center of the conversation.  Whether you were trying to increase revenue from your email channel, improve conversion rates, or maximize the customer experience with omnichannel, the name of the game is optimization.  Not only were vendors messaging to attendees on the floor about how their product will optimize their (fill in the blank), but the attendees were also leading conversations around optimizing a specific area of their business or commerce strategy.  If optimization is not in your top 5, then it should be as your competition is focused on it.

3) Manufacturers and Brands are Going Direct       

The age of channel conflict concerns for manufacturers and brands is over.  Customers want you to go direct and if you do not go direct, you will risk losing sales.  Several folks talked about creative strategies they were using to ensure channel conflict is minimized, but more importantly ensure the customer has the buying experience they are looking for. It comes down to one simple thing: jointly develop the strategy with your wholesalers, resellers, or dealer networks to find a strategy that benefits both parties.

4) Consumer Experience Needs to be at the Epicenter

This might be the most important thing coming out from IRCE – and it should be no surprise.  If your commerce or omnichannel strategy does not put your customer at the center, then it is not a winning strategy. We live in an instant gratification world where the customer expects a seamless experience.  We’ve seen success when brands and retailers sit down and determine what a  “seamless experience” really means for their business and their customer. Each retailer’s and brand’s customer target is unique and each customer is unique, so retail and marketing teams need to be discussing what the optimal experience for their customer looks like, and what tech needs to be utilized to actually provide the seamless experience. For example this can entail personalization, mobile, in-store use of next-generation technology, or simply basic building blocks like an order management system (OMS) to help drive better fulfillment.  Either way you slice it, walk a mile in your customer’s shoes and see what experience they are getting from you. Is it what you would want as a consumer?

5) Challenge Everything

Challenge the way you are doing things because consumer expectations are changing faster than retailer’s ability to respond.  These expectations span from fulfillment and pricing to product discovery and relevant content – but the only thing for sure is that retailers need to learn to adapt by bringing agility into their teams, processes, and strategies or they will run the risk of becoming irrelevant. Challenge your organization by asking the tough questions and making unpopular decisions, even if it means rethinking how you have traditionally done things.


Thanks for a great time Chicago, we will see you next year!

relevant personalization for mobile commerce

IRCE 2017 Report: The Data To Power Relevant Personalization Is Within Reach

The 13th annual Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, better known as IRCE, was last week, and personalization was the dominant theme. Not only do merchants recognize the brand differentiation potential of one-to-one relevance, but they’re making personalization a reality — often based on data that’s readily available.


From the bevy of vendors promising “AI-powered personalization” in their toolsets, to the speakers discussing innovative uses of data to deliver one-to-one shopping experiences, to the conversations we had at the Kibo booth, it’s clear that merchants are making personalization a priority.


One big reason why, as articulated throughout the conference: the increasing dominance of In his address as part of an “Amazon & Me” workshop, Scott Wingo of ChannelAdvisor noted that Amazon accounted for fully 53% of all eCommerce growth in 2016. He also revealed a chart showing the “AmazonScape” of the more than 200 public-facing programs Amazon offers — demonstrating Amazon’s omnipresence and influence on consumer expectations.


Personalization’s ability to meet consumers’ specific needs in the moment is one way merchants can counter the dominance of a mass merchant selling everything, but specializing in nothing. In a study cited by eMarketer, the BCG Group predicts that fully $800 billion is set to shift toward merchants who deploy personalization effectively.  


The happy news from IRCE is that more and more merchants are hitting their stride — and not always due to prohibitively complex big-data implementations. Conference speakers demonstrated that simplicity could be effective, and much of the information merchants need to deliver relevant experiences is readily available. Among the winning tactics on display:


Tailor eCommerce site content to the stage of the customer lifecycle.

Merchants should use analytics to understand how new visitors, returning visitors, and customers move through the eCommerce site, and adapt content at crucial decision points accordingly.


At IRCE, Kibo merchant detailed how product detail pages, which serve as entry points for 80% of the B2B distributor’s search traffic, could adapt in real time based on whether the visitor was new or returning, with more attractive pricing potentially served to loyalists. For existing buyers who largely enter the site via the homepage, facilitates re-orders by displaying previously-purchased products and previously-viewed items prominently. Below, returning visitors who previously searched disposable gloves see a mix of personal protection products in the home page carousel.


Zoro IRCE 2016


Navigation for existing customers also adapts to prioritize categories previously browsed and bought. The personalization features have produced a 10% lift in sales so far, with further implementations on the horizon.


Use implicit and explicit  information to drive relevance.

Merchants can also derive valuable data from the context of shoppers’ actions. Greg Zakowicz, analyst for Kibo partner Bronto, showed how taking into account  the location within the eCommerce site where shoppers opted to sign up for email promotions could inform the products and offers within welcome email messages — for example, by serving only products for women to those who signed up from within women’s categories on an apparel site. Similarly, tracking which email content attracted subscribers’ clicks could then be used to inform the array of items offered in subsequent campaigns, Zakowicz said.


Armani Exchange IRCE 2016


Of course, merchants can also solicit such information explicitly, as Kibo merchant Armani Exchange does in its modal email signup window. And more elaborate content can further unlock data riches: While not every merchant can or should build their businesses around personalized shipments like KidBox (for children’s toys) or Stitchfix or Trunk Club (for apparel), the practice of using a detailed profile builder or questionnaire to gauge shopping preferences is one many sellers can emulate.


Interactive buying guides, quizzes, or design tools that spur shoppers to volunteer information about their shopping quests can yield detailed data to shape the subsequent online experience — from displaying only apparel items in the right size in search results to prioritizing product categories that match shoppers’ preferences.


Create apps with real-life utility that accrue rich data.

As a corollary, merchants should think beyond merely streamlined shopping when considering mobile app development. Instead, sellers should consider tools that align with their audience’s lifestyle and goals and that provide solutions above and beyond making purchases.


Such apps not only demonstrate that the merchant brand has a deep understanding of their audience’s needs; they’re also likely to be used more often than a pure shopping app. And merchants gain access to a wealth of data that can subsequently inform personalized content, products, and offers.


IRCE keynote merchant Under Armour is a case in point. Via its dozens of fitness mapping apps, the athletic apparel and equipment manufacturer gains credibility as the definitive platform for a community of fitness enthusiasts — and reaps insights into its audience’s priorities. While the apps aren’t related to shopping per se, Under Armour can use profile data to act as a “digital concierge,” helping address users’ needs  in the moment with relevant products and offers.


“Brick mine” the in-store experience.

Merchants with physical outlets have yet another trove of information to inform personalization efforts — activity within store locations themselves. IRCE presenters pointed to formerly online-exclusive brands such as Warby Parker — and, yes, Amazon — that have now branched out into bricks-and-mortar retail partly for the information-gathering potential stores represent. Retailers should take advantage of the opportunity to interact face-to-face with shoppers and build rich behavioral profiles.


Fabletics is an extreme example; the online-first apparel manufacturer uses its retail outlets to track consumer behavior so closely, even items shoppers take to the dressing room to try are scanned and added to their profiles, as IRCE attendees learned. But every retail merchant can use a mobile point-of-sale tool to unite store selections with previous online activity and gather product feedback.


What were your top IRCE takeaways, and which sessions were most valuable?


From The Trenches: Kibo Summit 2017

If you are looking for more information on Kibo Summit 2018, please follow this link.


For the second consecutive year Kibo gathered with customers, partners, and industry thought leaders for a few days in New Orleans, Louisiana to share best practices, discuss industry trends, and reveal our joint commerce roadmaps at our Kibo Summit 2017.

While there were many highlights from the event, below are our key takeaways:

1. Personalization

In 2017, many of us will be investing our dollars in various areas to strengthen our commerce capabilities that will lead to enhancing our customer experience. Throughout the entire conference it was clear that this is the year of personalization. While many have discussed or implemented personalization to some degree, the difference now is that we heard personalization was at the top of the list for many across the extended ecosystem. Whether it was Brendan Witcher from Forrester Research Inc., or a customer with millions of online GMV, or a partner working on implementations, the story was clear – personalization has made it into budgets and is garnering significant interest from all levels in the industry. The story of personalization is not limited to the website alone, but there are many deploying personalization on email, mobile apps, call centers, and in-store.

2. Enhancing The In-store Experience

We have all seen the headlines that are plaguing our industry – store closures happening for retailers with bankruptcies following shortly after for many. It is no surprise that enhancing the in-store experience was often a topic at our Summit in New Orleans. It seems that many have focused their efforts on digital channels or mobile technologies and coupled these with in-store promotions. While this has helped curb some of the decline of in-store sales, more can be done. To help energize the in-store channel, retailers spoke a lot about turning their focus from promotions to experiences. Many have made it a strategic imperative to enhance the in-store experience – and this might not always include technology. For example, we have heard recently about Target changing the layout of their stores based on product type. It seems like retailers are looking to embrace such unconventional approaches to ensure the in-store experience is aligned with consumer expectations. We also heard about organizations that are experimenting with smaller stores (to drive more personalized engagements), leveraging mobile for the in-store associate (such as a tablet for easy access to information), ensuring online inventory visibility matches what’s actually available in-store, and increasing self-service options so visitors can find the products they are looking for (Note: this is different than self-service checkout). It is exciting to see so many retailers embracing the idea of changing the dynamic of the in-store experience versus running away from it and simply declaring that “stores are dead.”

3. Integration is Critical

Integrate everything to reduce friction. Technology, teams, systems, processes, experiences, and channels all need to be integrated in order to reduce friction. No matter what topic we discussed, who we discussed it with, or what the role of the attendee was, it was clear that retailers do not have enough resources to accomplish everything they need to accomplish. There simply is not enough bandwidth to take on additional work or absorb inefficiencies. The result is a strong desire to integrate as much as possible to drive more seamlessness into day-to-day operations. Some specifics include reducing the numbers of vendors retailers are working with, integrating teams that traditionally do not cross paths, and cross-department training to help drive more connectedness across the organization. This might sound like common sense, but practically speaking it can be hard to implement due to siloed departments, misaligned goals, or physical distance. At the end of the day, many organizations are challenged at the speed of operations – they simply cannot move fast enough – and it was the general belief that integration from all aspects will help to alleviate the challenge.

4. Improving Fulfillment and Delivery Maturity

We have all used strategies to leverage fulfillment and delivery options for consumers as a competitive differentiation. However, the tides have changed. Delivery and fulfillment options have become table stakes. For example, in our annual survey we learned 55% of consumers are willing to switch retailers if their preferred method of fulfillment is not available, and 68% expect delivery of their online purchases within 3 days. The amount of sales risk directly tied to fulfillment has significantly grown over the past few years. This year’s Summit attendees agreed. Several times we heard retailers talking about revamping their buy online, pickup in-store programs or that they are looking for ways to streamline in-store fulfillment. This makes sense as 48% of consumers say they are less likely to buy from a site that does not offer in-store pickup. This naturally led to conversations around showing in-store inventory on eCommerce sites as well. While there were many debates on what the challenges are, there were absolutely no arguments on why it is important for consumers.  Showing online inventory helps drive online sales, encourages in-store visits, and provides consumers a sense of urgency to take action. While many retailers have invested in fulfillment and delivery options, almost all of them were looking  to grow along the maturity curve.     

5. No “Buy” Button for Social Media

While we see significant growth in the social media ad space, most of the retailers we heard at Summit were not looking for ways to monetize their social media efforts. They were leveraging these channels to grow their brands, drive traffic, improve reach or engagement, and build followers – but not for conversion to sales. The feedback was consistent: most retailers were not looking to utilize a “buy” button on social media. In the end, this decision will depend on individual retailers and the types of products they are selling, as well as the business goals they have surrounding social, but by and large retailers are looking to social to engage their audiences.

We appreciate all who came out to support the event and hope you came away with as much as we did. We look forward to hosting our ecosystem next year. Stay tuned for dates and locations!

From The Trenches: NRF 2017 Recap

The 2017 NRF Convention and EXPO, or better known as Retail’s Big Show, was a fantastic event with many takeaways and discussions of industry trends. While many areas of the retail industry were covered, here is a recap of our top findings:

Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS) is Table Stakes

2016 was the year of investing in buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) fulfillment, especially if one wanted to be considered an omnichannel merchant.  So much so, that BOPIS has become table stakes for any modern retailer who has brick-and-mortar stores. Consumers like the convenience of researching, browsing, and purchasing online, but they want the flexibility of saving money on shipping and the ability to have their product within the same day – without paying extra for it. Recent surveys suggest BOPIS fulfillment is now expected by consumers and many consumers are willing to switch vendors if their fulfillment choice is not available.  At NRF, almost every retailer we spoke to had rolled out a BOPIS strategy or was in the midst of rolling one out. 2017 will be the year of optimizing the BOPIS process by investing in order management software, in-store technology, or training for sales associates.

Omnichannel Fulfillment is Stressing Supply Chains

Speaking of buying online and picking up in store, one common conversation at NRF was regarding the stress that new in-store fulfillment options are putting on store operations and supply chains. For example, several retailers experienced challenges in keeping up with BOPIS orders over the holidays – simply because their stores and associates were not ready for the high levels of traffic that BOPIS sales brought to the stores. Many had to rent out extra storage facilities, hire additional labor, and put in manual processes to keep up with the demand.
In 2017, retailers will need to assess the affect that BOPIS and other in-store fulfillment strategies have on store operations. Several elements and costs need to be taken into account – cost of inventory, store associate training, and increased staff to handle additional traffic. In addition to changes and upgrades needed in-store, there are several technology and process elements that will have to be evaluated, such as supply chain software, planning management, order management, and real-time inventory models. While in-store strategies are great for creating a unified, connected experience for consumers, retailers must invest in other areas of the business to ensure that these strategies are well supported and do not negatively impact the business.

2017 is the Year of Personalization

The retail industry and marketers have been talking about personalization for years. We believe 2017 is the year where retailers and branded manufacturers will actually invest in personalization technology – and not just talk about. Initially, the technology was not mature enough for industry-wide adoption, however recent advances in data science, algorithms, and machine learning are making the return on investment (ROI) of personalization technology a no brainer. We heard several retailers speak about double digit increases in average order values (AOV) and conversion rates that resulted in an ROI of less than 4-5 months. Personalization not only increases sales, but it also helps drive brand loyalty for retailers. In 2017, look for retailers going from personalized recommendations to 1:1 personalized experiences with content, merchandising, and promotions that span across channels and devices. Every consumer is unique and every retailer will strive to take advantage of this uniqueness to drive increased engagement.

Too Early for Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)

Intel, Google, and even the CEO and President of NRF were encouraging the attendees to take advantage of the technology advances in virtual reality, augmented reality, and wearable technology. Following some fantastic keynotes and sessions, the show floor was littered with interesting and appealing demos of the latest technology. While there is a push from many technology providers to leverage these new technologies, we are still skeptical. I believe a majority of retailers still have much to implement with respect to basic modern retail strategies – mobile responsive/adaptive, mobile apps, omnichannel fulfillment, personalization – that most will opt not to invest in these advanced and unproven technologies in 2017. However, we do believe the more mature or profitable retailers will leverage 2017 as a testing bed by implementing certain sites with VR/AR technology to prove ROI – subsequently making major investments in 2018 or beyond.

The Omnichannel Vision is Still a Vision

While many will consider themselves to be an omnichannel retailer, there is still much work to do. The intentions are there, but not every retailer has implemented all the necessary components to be considered a true omnichannel merchant. Throughout our few days in NYC, we heard many stories of retailers struggling to provide consistent experiences for their consumers, specifically between the digital and the physical in-store channels. Many are still investing in mobile, whether that is mobile adaptive websites or mobile apps, and there are still a large amount of disconnected strategies when dealing with email promotions, inventory availability, and local product search. All in all, vendors are saying the right things and are trying to get there, but we did not come across any merchant who is satisfied with their omnichannel retailing.

This creates a huge opportunity for retailers as they head into 2017.  Our prediction is that retailers who invest in omnichannel will be the winners in the next 18-24 months. Retailers do not have to have every element of omnichannel to win, they just need to find a handful of use cases or scenarios that are relevant to their business and ensure those are executed flawlessly. We will not make any predictions as to who those retailers might be, but we think those who are nimble, agile, and using Cloud technologies have the highest likelihood of getting there.

All in all, NRF was a great show and we are interested to see how the thought leadership presented at the show converts into real life implementations and investments. Retail is still an exciting sector and the best in user experience is yet to come.

Posted by / January 25, 2017 / Posted in Events
mobile commerce

How to Use Social Media to Exceed Customer Service Expectations

Although merchants struggle to quantify the direct impact on sales, by now there’s little doubt that social media can play a significant role in driving sales and sustaining loyalty. But while opening new outposts on the latest “hot” social networks may hold appeal for reaching coveted demographics, there’s one fundamental aspect of social media no merchant should overlook in 2016: customer service.

As we’ve argued in the past, customer service is crucial as a differentiator in a crowded marketplace — and social media is increasingly an important touchpoint shoppers use to address their customer service needs. Increasingly, more and more consumers are turning to popular social networks for direct communication with merchants. Some two-thirds of U.S.  consumers have used social media to receive customer service assistance, according to JD Powers.

Furthermore, plenty of evidence exists to suggest that social media plays a significant role when interactions go awry and shoppers turn to the Internet to share their stores. Fully 39 percent of consumers say they’ve shared negative experiences with friends and family, and more than 1 in 10 have posted negative reviews on sites such as Yelp or critical comments on their own — or a brand’s — Facebook page. Merchants with robust social customer service teams in place can act quickly to respond before flames are fanned into a firestorm.

To cover the bases, then, merchants might be tempted to multiply service outposts across social networks. But consumers have steep expectations for speed and resolution when it comes to social service: for example, 42% of consumers expect a response to a social media support request within the hour, according to a survey by the Northridge Group.

So in order for merchants to deliver effective social service, it’s crucial to clearly set expectations for what their brands can deliver. By fulfilling or even exceeding those self-imposed benchmarks, brands can surprise and delight followers and engender loyalty.

First, manage expectations for “always on” service — and provide alternatives.Merchants who are unable to staff social channels 24/7/365 must clearly communicate that fact and back it up with alternative options. Among the best practices:

  • List every available service option everywhere, with hours. Consumers should be able to access live chat, an “800” customer service number, email support, and other social support channels from every social media touchpoint. Hours of operation should be clearly stated up-front.
  • Reinforce opening and closing times with status updates. Signing off for the night and saying “hello” each morning lets social followers know when staff are available to field their requests.
  • Similarly, closures for holidays should be both messaged in advance as well as that day. Related customer service information about shipping deadlines and order processing delays should be proactively communicated.
  • Proactively address common questions and concerns with prominent customer service information in the social environment. Whether via a content tab in Facebook or substantive status updates on Twitter, merchants should anticipate consumers’ needs and supply the information that most frequently slows the journey along the path to purchase. By offering this always-available option within the social environment, merchants give shoppers a convenient alternative to live support.

Kibo merchant Figi’s provides Facebook users with a searchable trove of customer service information, accessible via a prominent tab. A direct email link is also available from the customer service tab, while the “About” section of the left-hand column displays still further options.

Social Media Figis

Avoid dead ends by giving staff the tools they need.
The temptation to divert serious customer service issues to the call center may be strong — merchants are more familiar with the medium, and the interaction takes place out of the public limelight that is a social media stream. But just 24 percent of social customer service users who are directed to call or email actually continue the interaction, according to social media marketing firm ConverSocial — leading to frustration for the consumer and lost opportunities for merchants. Instead, merchants must commit fully to providing robust service on the social media platform by enabling resolution, not just response — and that means empowering social service reps to:

  • Interact one-on-one with followers within the social environment. Reps should be able to initiate live chat on Facebook and use Twitter “at” replies and direct messages to continue conversations privately if need be. And they should be armed with protocols for when to do so, such as if the interaction requires sharing personally-identifiable information such as an order number or payment details.
  • Provide continuity by accessing customer data from other systems. Social service reps should have access to order management and customer relationship management systems so they have a full understanding of shoppers’ past interactions with the company. By the same token, protocols should dictate which social media interactions should be logged as a “ticket” and the details of qualifying incidents should be accessible to call center reps and even store associates.
  • Mollify customers with substantive incentives and discounts, such as free shipping, promo codes for future orders, and priority admission to store events.
  • Access online product information and inventory from across the organization. Social service reps should be able to resolve product questions and provide detailed buying guidance without shunting shoppers to another touchpoint.

Here is an example of a company that empowers its social service reps with the tools above. Kibo merchant Beauty Brands responded to a customer inquiry on Twitter with precise product information, and followed through over a multi-day exchange.

Go the extra mile to exceed expectations.
To shift from crisis management mode to proactive service that satisfies consumers, merchants must go above and beyond. To bring their social service to the next level, merchants should:

  • Monitor beyond the brand page. Employing “social listening” services that go beyond branded Facebook pages and explicit mentions in Tweets and Instagram posts can help merchants proactively address nascent issues before they become high-profile problems.
  • Don’t forget to call out positive experiences. Even as they focus on swift resolution of problems, merchants should also ensure that they respond to those followers who take the time to relate a positive experience or to praise products or the brand as a whole.

For example, Kibo merchant Modell’s retweeted a mention and photo of thanks from the recipient of donated sporting goods bound for a school in Namibia. Not only does the original poster’s cause receive a “signal boost” within the Modell’s fan base, but the retailer’s good works are on full display for followers to endorse.

How are you using social service to meet and exceed customer expectations?