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The retail customer experience is something special, whether it’s in-store or online. It’s an opportunity to make customers’ lives easier, or delight them with something unexpected. However, it can be fragile. One negative experience can prompt a customer rant — in a social media feed, on a retailer’s website comment section, or even in the store in front of onlooking customers.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, ecommerce sales in the first quarter of 2017 hit $105.7 billion, increasing by 14.7% from the first quarter of 2016. Over the last decade, ecommerce sales as a percentage of all retail sales climbed from 3.6% in the second quarter of 2008 to 8.5% in the first quarter of 2017.

As ecommerce sales continue to grow, marketers at long-standing retail brands have a big question to answer: How do we continue to create a personalized retail customer experience for every shopper online as well as in-store?

There are many ways to add customer personalization in retail. Here are three considerations to make the digital retail experience more impactful:

 

1.  Rethink retail advertising

When you think of retail ads, especially online, you probably think of transactional promotions — “20% off all electronics” or “buy one, get one free.” It’s true that transactional ads can create urgency and get customers through the door, however, they don’t necessarily create a well-rounded retail customer experience. For the most part, transactional ads are one-time or short-lived promotions that push a purchase, not a repeat experience. Though they have their place in the buyer’s journey, other types of ads may do a better job of building relationships by injecting an element of personalization in retail advertising.

If a retail company can leverage customer data — like open and closed customer service cases, past purchase history, online behaviors, demographic data, and more — it can make more informed decisions about the type of content to showcase in ads. This might include educational or entertainment content, instead of fleeting transactional promotions.

 

2.  Connect with context

 

Most marketers are familiar with demographic data (birth date, age, occupation, name, address, and so on) and behavioral data (purchase history, social media engagement behavior, website browsing history, and so on). However, technology is still catching up to the power of contextual data.

Contextual data is real-time information used to improve customer experiences based on their unique situation and surroundings. This might include weather information, geolocation, current event updates, live social feeds, and so on. This type of data is invaluable to marketers. In fact, 42% of customers think it would be helpful if brick-and-mortar stores knew their online search behaviors prior to arriving in person.

Many companies, like Home Depot, already leverage contextual data on their mobile sites. Customers can search for products, then use a handy feature to check local stores for inventory. That’s how easily contextual data can personalize retail experiences, and even drive traffic to physical locations.

To create a personalized retail customer experience, marketers need to put this contextual data to work.

 

3.  Go omni-channel

Whether customers are checking a company’s app, browsing a website, or clicking a social post, all customers are now omni-channel customers. And that’s not a bad thing. It presents marketers with an opportunity like never before. Seizing that opportunity, however, involves having the right technology, like a DMP, in place to monitor, collect, and analyze customer data from every channel.

Think about how this data can create a connected customer experience across channels. For example, a customer browses a website, adding items to her  cart. She’s not sure if she wants to make the purchase yet, so she closes the website. Later, while scrolling Instagram, she’s served personalized ads that inform her of a 10% in-store discount. She returns on the company’s app, and — voila! — there are the same items she placed in her cart on the website. There’s a CTA that says, “Shop Nearby Stores,” and she clicks it to find the closest one in her area. It’s only five miles away, so she heads to the store, makes a purchase, receives 10% off, and has no question that she’ll continue shopping with this company in the future.

Having demographic, behavioral, and contextual data from every customer channel sounds daunting, but with the connected consumer ruling the future of ecommerce, going omni-channel is a must.

Read more about the digital retail customer experience by checking out these key retail industry insights.

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