5 Mobile-to-Offline Holiday Strategies: Every Channel is Retail’s Conduit to the Consumer

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It seems as if each holiday season brings with it another November and December of retailers scrambling to strike the best balance between online and offline sales. The challenge is easy to understand: online shopping is an increasingly crucial component of every brand’s total market approach, even if an organization built its name on in-store shopping.

Earlier this month, an HBR newsletter painted the picture: “Online sales are growing at almost 10% per year. Should that trend continue … online retailing will account for nearly 20% of the total in 2025, over 30% in 2030, and about 50% in 2035.” At the same time, web sales alone were up 15% to $19.5 billion, in 2017, and the combined takeaway for web and app shoppers, according to new Bain & Company research, is that in-store experiences can prove less satisfying for consumers. The flip side of this, of course, is that the holiday season is exactly the time frame in which retail opportunities surge. Across all channels, overall spending (online and offline) is expected to grow by up to 4% (also according to Bain), this year.

Earlier this month, an HBR newsletter painted the picture: “Online sales are growing at almost 10% per year. Should that trend continue … online retailing will account for nearly 20% of the total in 2025, over 30% in 2030, and about 50% in 2035.”

What can brick-and-mortar brands do to deepen customer engagement and drives sales to whichever channel happens to be the preferred choice? Answers to that question start with the following five ways to shape strategies — fueling the whole of the mobile-to-offline journey, however consumers choose to shop.

  1. Beyond proximity and prompt — context and inspiration. There’s a time and place for proximity, but what we also know is that consumers want more from brands than just location-triggered offers. Loyal consumers grant location data with the expectation that offers from their favorite brands will become increasingly contextual. They want retail to inspire them with new discoveries and fresh opportunities that they’d otherwise have missed. Brands must match the when-and-where of customers’ holiday-shopping research. It’s often not in the moment they’re near the store entrance; it’s in the moments they’re at home, on the couch, planning the next gift-gathering trip.
  2. Don’t rule out last minute location-based offers. Location and mobile mean more than proximity-based messages, it’s true. That being said, never underestimate all of the opportunities that a full spectrum of location-powered marketing can create. These are the days of quick decisions, after all — the run-up to Christmas and Hanukah and all the reasons we give at year’s end. And so, there’s still value in prompting consumers’ devices when they’re close to your store, and in competing for devices that you see at competitors’ locations. Locate, incentivize, and convert!
  3. In-store mobile is the new customer normal. Our recent survey of 3,000 Millennial and Gen Z consumers shows that one in four of these consumers uses a smartphone to seek in-store guidance and input about what to buy next. That’s one quarter of the surveyed shoppers using their mobile device as their brick-and-mortar assistant, ready to buy based on what their friends, family, and other consumers have to say. Crafting mobile experiences in these moments— again, anticipating and inspiring discoveries via location and activity data — is a key way to drive holiday-season retail spending this year.
  4. Premium experiences fuel positive steps in the consumer journey. Premium publishers attract attentive and interactive audiences. Ads in those environments have been shown to be 67% more effective. It’s this lean-in audience that provides the ready-to-act mindset retail wants to acquire.
  5. Returns are another retail holiday advantage. Retail’s opportunity to engage with holiday consumers extends beyond December 26. Holiday-season return rates are expected to climb to 13% in 2017 (up from 8% in 2015), according to the National Retail Federation. Embracing and inviting shoppers back to make exchanges is a key avenue to new conversions, as Bryan Pearson, president of LoyaltyOne, writes. The returns desk is a perfect place to encourage gift-card redemption and to start retargeting holiday one-and-done customers for later months of the year.

What we’re learning is that mobile and retail are neighbors along a multi-channel continuum.  Meeting them along that spectrum, and engaging them in ways that are meaningful to them means adapting to that mindset.

In other words, if the customer wants to shop in-store, great. If they want to shop online, in-app, or in between, bringing their smartphones in-store and creating new social experiences around item discovery and inspiration, equally wonderful. The point is, retail needs to look for ways that mobile and offline sales can work together. Brick and mortar can then leverage the mobile advantage that’s right at their customers’ fingertips.

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