As technology transforms retail, it is becoming increasingly important for merchants to create a positive customer experience.

Technology is one of the key drivers for success in the retail world, both online and in stores.

Beacons, digital signage, QR codes and AI-driven personalization are rapidly changing how customers shop. As technology transforms retail, it is becoming increasingly important for merchants to create a positive customer experience, a number of marketing and technology executives said at the recent eTail East conference in Boston. Doing so can serve as a differentiator in today’s hypercompetitive commerce industry.

Here are the five themes that stood out during the event:

Build an emotional connection to your customers

Many consumers feel it’s important to buy products that represent their own personal viewpoints. After all, a significant share of shoppers consider the clothing they wear to be an extension of their personality and passions.

That’s why Dunkin’ Donuts incorporated an emotional connection with customers with user generated content on Instagram, said Richard Kesternbaum. The campaign, called The Promposal Box, gave five consumers an opportunity to win a “limited edition, tricked-out Dunkin’ promposal box” that was complete with lights, sparkles, donut puns, and of course, donuts. Consumers  had to comment on the brand’s Instagram post explaining why they wanted to give a unique Dunkin’ promposal using the hashtag #DDPromContest.

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Differentiate your brand

Content marketing has exploded in the past few years. Why? Marketers are trying to secure contact information from customers to help expand their marketing and sales pipeline. But to secure more prospects, marketers are tapping into the power of things like visual and interactive images and videos, promotions, shoppable images and videos, and user-generated content.

Take virtual reality and augmented reality. The top brands are devoting huge amounts of resources to develop a more enjoyable customer experience. Amazon is pushing all of us,” said entrepreneur Bogdan Constatin. “We need to get more experiential with our customers, pursuing augmented and virtual reality and other new technologies and strategies.”

Grow your direct-to-consumer focus

Shifting to a direct-to-consumer approach creates many challenges and opportunities for consumer brands. While they can develop a more personal and direct connection with customers, and reduce the need of having middlemen, they need to be careful not to disenfranchise their partners. In addition, these traditionally wholesale consumer brands rapidly find themselves in head-to-head competition with digitally native brands. Digital transformation initiatives must address these challenges in addition to taking advantage of opportunities.

For example, that realization led GameStop, for example, to break down the silos throughout the company for both their online and in-store sales partners. “We run small pilots to not just test the technology, but see how our in-store teams react and to help teach them and get educated on what’s possible,” said Jim Edgett, the retailer’s head of integrated marketing.

Never lose sight of the customer experience

While “digital transformation” and “omnichannel” have been retail buzzwords for the past few years, there’s a growing emphasis among retailers to combine the online and off-line experience they provide customers. Developing strategies that incorporate both worlds demonstrates that retail organizations are maturing in their understanding of e-commerce and in-store transactions.

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That’s driving a number of merchants to overhaul their systems. For example, Lilly Pulitzer is developing a multitouch attribution dashboard to enable it to better understand what drives shoppers to make a purchase, said Kim Czopek, the retailer’s vice president of digital marketing.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Just a few years ago it seemed as though the rapid growth of e-commerce companies like Amazon.com Inc. might bring an end to many retail stores. Now we are seeing many e-commerce companies open up retail stores, but with a twist. Many retail stores are combining the benefits of in-store and online commerce experiences, which allows for rapid adoption of new forms of technology based on how customer trends evolve, increases revenue and loyalty

To succeed, retailers need to experiment, said Ben Tilton, director of product and project management at Williams-Sonoma. For example, Williams-Sonoma bought augmented reality startup Outward because it believes the vendor’s technology can enhance both its online and in-store shopping experiences. Retailers need to “optimize the present, forget the past, and innovate for the future,” he said.

While retail has undergone tremendous changes over the last few years, there are many more changes to come, said Scott Savitz of Datapoint Capital. “We’re still only in the first two minutes of the e-commerce movement,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities for disruption and growth.”

 

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Michael Gerard is chief marketing officer of e-Spirit.

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