I was able to attend the National Retail Federation Conference last week in New York City. It provided an amazing look at how some of the world’s most innovative retailers are reshaping the consumer experience across marketing, sales and service. 33,000 attendees and hundreds of retail technology vendors filled every corner of the Javits Center. There was outstanding content from leading brands like Apple, Disney, Hershey’s, Home Depot, House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, Nike, and more. Here are a couple of takeaways every marketer needs to embrace.

Blend the Physical and Digital

We all know we need to have a great website. But in today’s environment, it’s not enough to just deliver a great online experience—you must also give your customers a reason to come into the store. How can retailers reimagine their stores as a digital magnet? Deliver a unique memorable experience in the store that you can’t get online. Disney Stores Share the Magic and Hershey’s Smile Sample facial recognition are great examples.

The brands we know and love blend the digital and physical worlds to create  personalized, ongoing dialogues with customers. They leverage every opportunity—whether in-store or online—to nurture the relationship. There is the often cited story of the butcher who knows his customers and gives them a cut of meat personalized to their tastes and needs each week. Regardless of what products retailers offer, this is becoming the standard expectation of every retail experience.

There were plenty of sessions about creating great mobile app experiences and using beacons to literally guide consumers through a store. It’s time to expand beacon and proximity use cases beyond simple couponing and offers to location analysis and understanding of consumer behaviors.

Engage Shoppers in the Moment

Another hot topic was how retailers can facilitate online shopping in the store—with or without a sales associate guiding the conversation. Some retailers suggested using tablets for engagement and personalization. The strategy enables the retailer to show the brand’s entire inventory and capture shopper interest in the moment. The motto: "If we don't have it in stock, it's on the mobile device.”

But let’s not overlook the fact that just about every customer in the store already has a computer in his or her pocket. Perhaps they’re comparing your prices to a competitor’s, or evaluating your online inventory against what’s in stock. At no point is it more critical to deliver an exceptional experience with responsive design. Likewise, there is no better opportunity to send push notifications through the app you’ve so carefully created.  

Maximize the Value of Email

For retailers, email is still the gateway to your brand and ecommerce experience. Make sure you are observing email marketing best practices when engaging your customers.

Remember that great subject lines and attractive design are a must, but getting consumers to click the call to action (CTA) pays the bills. Be certain your mobile CTAs deliver the desired experience and direct customers to the right place—like your mobile app or mobile optimized website. Also, consider integrating technology such as True Fit or Apple Pay into your shopping experience to reduce the amount of data entry required and streamline effort at checkout.

Along the same lines, ask yourself if there is a disconnect between the amount of data you ask your customers to provide, and the value you are giving to them in return. Are you using all the data requested to personalize each subsequent interaction? If not, you’re just adding friction to your buying process. 

The Future of Retail is Here

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a retail marketer. The digital and physical worlds have merged, and your customers are at the epicenter. They reward brands that deliver cohesive, personalized experiences with every interaction, and quickly find alternatives to those who do not. Are you ready for the future of retail? It’s here!

See for yourself how your customers can receive the ultimate digital experience. Sign up for Any Journey is Possible and over the course of a week, you’ll receive a series of digital communications that show the art of the possible through the eyes of a retail customer. It’s an excellent way to witness the future of retail marketing!