Digital: A Complement to In-Store Customer Experience

Last spring, I worked on a class project in partnership with Target. The objective of the assignment was to use the new technology behind Target’s Cartwheel App to elevate the in-store shopping experience with a focus on how employees could leverage this technology to improve guest (customer) interactions.

My team’s initial struggle with the assignment centered around the employee-focused nature of the assignment. The Cartwheel App is a cost savings app designed for Target guests as the end users, not the Target team members. The first step to developing a solution that leveraged the Cartwheel App to elevate the in-store experience was to shift the focus directly to the end user: the guest. This change of scope allowed us more freedom to create a solution that was both beneficial and engaging for the Target shoppers.

Recently, this Mashable article caught my eye. For the original scope of this blog, fashion brands had always been on my radar as they have been at the forefront of incorporating user-generated content into their digital presence as well as elevating their digital presence with elements of the in-store retail experience and brand heritage. Custom and user-generated content help drive brand engagement and brand loyalty in many industries. The article mentioned above highlights Burberry’s new attitude towards the convergence of  in-store and digital experiences.

In short, Burberry strives to elevate the in-store experience by incorporating elements of it’s digital retail world into the in-store shopping experience. This philosophy stands at a stark contrast to the rest of the fashion and retail industry that continues to focus on bringing the physical store elements to their online environments.

Using new technologies to marry the two worlds of commerce, the physical and the digital, elevates the Burberry experience beyond the competition. It also creates a more engaging experience for the customer when they visit the physical retail store. Using RFID technology to create a custom content experience for a customer in the store creates an environment similar to the one they would find while shopping online. The content is tailored to the specific customer based on what items they are picking up in the store, which mirrors the experience of being served custom content based on what you search for in the online shop. This level of personalization drives engagement with the brand because you are serving customers with the types of content that they find entertaining, informative, or interesting as opposed to a generic content piece designed to please the masses.

Other retailers, like Target, should take note: E-commerce is not killing retail. When integrated correctly, a company’s digital environments serve to complement the in-store retail experience and drive customer engagement.



A Game of Platforms

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like me, you were likely greeted with the spinning wheel of frustration (better known as buffering) when you tried to log into HBO Go on Sunday to catch the Game Of Thrones Season 4 premiere. While every social platform was buzzing with Game of Thrones chatter, HootSuite was capitalizing on the GOT buzz with their YouTube video A Game of Social Thrones. Piggybacking off of an infographic they released in 2013 called Social Media Winter is Coming that detailed the 2013 tensions between House Facebook, House Twitter, and House Google, Friday’s video reimagines the opening landscape of Game of Thrones as the The Social Game of Thrones. Each “Social House” is depicted as it’s own kingdom, with the elusive House Snapchat operating north of the Wall. Does anyone else think that’s a reference to the free roaming Wildlings or freaky White Walkers north of the Wall, or is that just the GOT fan in me reading too far into the situation…

The one thing the Social Game of Thrones has that House Stark, House Baratheon, and House Lannister do not? The uniting social force of HootSuite campaigning to “Unite Your Social Kingdoms” in the much less bloody #GameofSocial

Well played, HootSuite, well played.

Yelp Reviews…For the Subway?

I love review sites. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Urban Spoon, you name it I’ve used it to find anything from a good restaurant to a good dry cleaner in my area. I like to be able to get a feel for the business before I decide to become a customer there. I also like to let other people know if they should refrain from becoming a customer at a business I have had a horrible experience with (by the looks of it, we all do). That being said, most businesses that are reviewed on customer rating sites have a range of reviews from great to terrible, but most reviews trend towards these two extremes. In a recent Mashable article, a study of customer reviews of the world’s subway systems shows another side of the ratings story: humor. 

When I recently traveled to New York, I used TripAdvisor reviews to decide which hotel to stay in and I used Yelp and Urban Spoon to find restaurants to try. It never occurred to me to use Yelp to check out the MTA because it is, after all, the only subway option in town. While there are many serious reviewers of the subway system who call for changes in New York City, I did some digging to find some particularly useful ones. And by useful, I mean they are a funny way to pass the time on your next subway commute. 

Yelp user L. William, a NYC native, says “I can’t take a nap without being woken up by flipping break dancers, Mariachi performers, or those men with long dreadlocks who play the African drums. If I wanted entertainment, I’d go to the theater.” At least the D train is cheaper. 

Reviewer Danika C. says “Yes, the bus comes when it wants. Have a schedule? Good for you, but it’s still not going to be on time. But when I think of the Big Apple, MTA is the Core.” I see what you did there, Danika C. Clever. 

Monica T. wants to help us tourists out by suggesting specific subway stations to use. In reference to a stop at West 4th street, “I’d advise a tourist who really wants to know what an average subway station looks like to go to this one.” I’ll be sure to stand in awe of this particularly average subway station next time I’m in the city for a visit thanks to you Monica. 

And the most useful and humorous review award goes to Tom T. who astutely observes, “It’s a good place to catch a train. It is a train station.” 

Online customer reviews can make or break a business. Luckily for the public transportation systems of the world, these funny reviews are just another way to help a morning commute pass by in a flash. 

YouTube’s Street View of the Ukrainian Conflict

When I want a news update, I go to Twitter. On Twitter I can find bite-sized breaking news from CNN, the BBC, and other news accounts that I follow. These Tweets lead me to nicely packaged articles and videos about the topic at hand. If I happen to know somebody who is involved in the event that is unfolding, Atlanta’s recent Snowpocalypse for example, I can check my Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine feeds for on-the-ground photo and video updates from the people in my network. These three social outlets helped me see what was really happening on the ground through my friend’s eyes, though they are limited to a 6 second video or a single image that the platforms dictate. Where can I find a street view of events that occur outside my network?

With the recent political turmoil in the Ukraine, citizens and news organizations alike have turned their Social Media focus to YouTube to broadcast their messages. The magnitude of the political conflict is too vast to be expressed in a 140 character Tweet, a 6 second Vine video, or a single Instagram image, so YouTube’s long-format video medium has proven to be instrumental in passing unedited information around the world.

What does that mean to those of us that are on the outside of the conflict trying to get a bigger picture of what is going on? The excess of 90,000 YouTube videos uploaded since February 1st give us access to live streams, video clips, and news updates from many perspectives that take us inside the conflict and give us a broader understanding of the turmoil and chaos in the region. We can see this information through the lens of a local news station, a foreign news correspondent, or a citizen that decides to broadcast his or her personal experiences. Dispersing real time videos of the conflict from multiple perspectives gives those of us following remotely an unfiltered look into the true nature of the political crisis and it’s impact on everyday Ukrainian citizens.

On Social Media, it is paramount that the message fits the medium that you use to broadcast it. In the Ukraine’s case, YouTube’s long-format videos are better suited to our comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand than a 6 second Vine clip.

Your Future Projected in the Palm of Your Hand

Smartphones and tablets are devices that exist to make our daily lives easier. They connect us to the web and each other faster than ever before. They put any information we could ever want right at our fingertips. They can do everything except predict the future, right? 
The designers at Dor Tal in Israel want to change that with a new device called Future Control. This app uses algorithms to detect patterns in the interactions we have in our digital world. Once a pattern is detected and the app determines that the event is likely to occur, it suggests a number of actions that the user should take to respond to the event by displaying an interactive interface via a tiny projector onto a flat surface like a wall, table, or even the palm of your hand. It takes information from emails, calls, calendars, social networks, and other digital interactions we have on a daily basis using our Smartphones and tablets to predict the future of our jobs, friendships, and even romantic relationships. 
What makes this app different from a comparable product offered by Google is that it incorporates information from your friends as well. It uses their Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, and other Social Networking information to help you manage your personal relationships. Miss that Tweet your friend sent about her dissatisfaction with her job? Future Control saw it and has already mapped out the closest flower shop for you to pick up a bouquet to brighten her day. Think your team won’t be ready for that big meeting this week? Future Control doesn’t think so either, so it has already suggested that you move the meeting to next Monday. This app does all the thinking and planning for you when you can’t always see what’s coming. Click here to watch a promotional video for this new gadget. 
As cool and convenient as this technology is, at what point do we take a step back and wonder why we need an app to let us know how our friends and family members are feeling when all it really takes is a phone call? With the multitude of ways in which we connect to each other on a daily basis, shouldn’t we be able to detect our friend’s moods better than a Social Media scanning algorithm? As we progress further into the digital world, more and more tools are surfacing to help us stay in touch with reality. I think I might need an app to detect the irony in this situation.

Travel Savvy

While I was studying abroad at Oxford University over the summer, I planned a weekend trip to London with some other students. It was our first weekend trip, so we did what any traveling college student on a budget would do on their first week abroad… we looked for the cheapest hostel available to ensure that we had enough money to spend on other trips for the rest of the summer. That first week, we committed the biggest mistake that many travelers make: we didn’t read enough reviews.

Now, thanks to various websites (and that less than positive hostel experience), it is easier than ever to make a study of customer reviews a priority for every vacation planning process. Whether you are checking out a condo to rent at the beach, a boutique hotel in a foreign country, or a rental on AirBnB, there are review sites for all of your accommodation needs. For Millennials like me, is the place to go. There are numerous reviews of smaller, more budget friendly boutique hotels that appeal to my generation of travelers who aren’t afraid to try a quirky B&Bs or an artsy independent hotel.

Getaroom is capitalizing on the most common behavior of Gen Y individuals, which is sharing information and opinions online. Peer reviews and the opinions of friends and family influence many day-to-day purchases, and they are becoming greater influences on how we choose where to stay and what we do on vacation. The best part: it’s never been easier to share or discover reviews thanks to review sites and Social Media.

Customer reviews are great resources for guests who are looking for potential places to stay, but they can present a challenge to hotel management. When I am planning a trip, I look for reviews that have been acknowledged by the hotel staff. I see this as a sign of hotel management’s dedication to improving guest experiences and it makes my confidence in the hotel increase. Even if a hotel has a negative review, a response from management shows that they value the opinions of their guests and will try to accommodate them.

Millennials are a generation of Social Media loving, content creating, review reading travelers who love to have the inside scoop, so it will be important for hotels, restaurants, and “local” specialty destinations to see customer review sites as another tool to reach their audiences.