Integrate or Die

Keeping up with consumers

The headline of this article isn’t an exaggeration. Just ask Borders. Or Blockbuster. These once- great brands didn’t fail solely because of changing tastes and technology; they failed because they did not evolve and align their channels to remain competitive. Not surprisingly, consumers chose what benefited them most—more convenience and value.

With an increasingly global economy, and access to practically unlimited choice with online ordering, customers— especially Millennials—have little patience for brands when their retail and digital channels aren’t a seamless customer experience. shoppers see the retailer’s name on the store and the screen. They don’t give a whit about back-of-house complications with operations and inventory. (Pay particular attention if your customer is under 30!) Like it or not, it’s the price of entry these days.

Always a leader in building positive customer experiences, Starbucks does a great job of blending their physical and digital brand in a way that surprises and delights people — and delivers real value. The Starbucks website provides constantly changing and compelling products and lifestyle-based content, while encouraging personalization and customer interaction.

One of the first to create a branded “app,” Starbucks also has steadily enhanced its mobile experience. initially a basic store finder, they added the capability to add credit to a Starbucks stored-value card, and now offer the convenience of using the app to pay for purchases in the store. This technology benefits the consumer; it’s not technology for technology’s sake.

Remember that investing in these kinds of technologies enhances your relationship with your customer. it can’t be thought of as a cannibalistic substitution for your proven, existing channels, but rather as a complement to them. While the customer likely is not aware of the specific technology you are using, they do recognize the benefit and efficiency (and maybe even fun) you are offering them. Help them save money or learn from other shoppers, and you will build loyalty, increase revenue, and potentially decrease expenses as well.

Not all retailers have the reach or resources to execute the same level of digital integration as Sarbucks; however any retailer can get there with a roadmap and a plan of attack. This process of integration should be looked at as a continuum with many milestones along the way.

There’s no time like right now to get started. How many of following have you achieved?

Road Map for Channel Integration

1. Build solid digital

This means doing the basics well: maintaining an on-brand website; establishing an authentic social media presence; and offering mobile-compatible web content.

Start with the website. Make sure it reflects your current campaigns and leading products, so that moving from website to store and back feels consistent.

Build everything with an eye on mobility. Don’t adopt technologies that aren’t compatible with handheld users. People love to shop online, and buy in person, but sometimes browsing, comparing, and sharing will happen on an iPhone in your store.

Apprehensive about Facebook? Don’t be. if millions of your potential customers (and many of your competitors) are in a room, you need to be in that room too.

2. Shift from a cost center to a profit center

You can have it both ways. if your roots are in brick and mortar, that’s OK! But bring that experience to millions of shoppers with online commerce. Suddenly, millions of your customers carry fully capable buying devices in their pockets and purses. The “phone” part of mobile phones is almost an afterthought. Commerce can now happen anywhere.

3. Aspire to digital synergy

This is where Apple really shines. They’ve removed all the operational silos to benefit the consumer. Browsing, buying, servicing, learning — it all feels like an orchestrated, purposeful experience where the boundaries are blurred in the best possible way.

Social commerce and community drive brand loyalty, which drives sales; geolocation recognizes customers in and near stores and alerts them to specials only for them. Apple isn’t alone in achieving digital synergy. Whole Foods is another retailer who expertly uses mobile apps to enhance shopping — with lists, recipe, favorites, locators and more.

So figure out where you can “bite the elephant” to align all of your sales channels. if you don’t have in-house resources who understand the world of digital marketing, you can find experienced consultants. Waiting will likely only cause added distress and cost to the effort.

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