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.

 

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Social Media: The New Way to Pay

As I was sitting in class trying to pay attention (read: scrolling through my Twitter feed), something unusual caught my eye: Marc Jacobs Pop Up Shop Takes Tweets, Instagrams for Payment. Intrigued, I clicked the link to learn more about this unusual exchange of value. 

We talk a lot in class about social media engagement with brands, but it never occurred to me that companies would have a way to rank individual users based on engagement with the brand across platforms. This concept is called Social Currency, and according to Brian Solis, it ranks the value of a person’s social brand engagement like a credit score ranks a person’s creditworthiness. This way, brands can tell who is more important during social media interactions. 

Marc Jacobs is taking the concept of Social Currency one step further in the limited time Daisy Marc Jacobs Tweet Shop. In this Soho pop-up shop, customers exchange currency for products, just not in the way you would think. Instead of paying for your favorite perfume with dollars and cents, you can pay in “social currency.” This means that all you have to do to take home that gorgeous new Marc Jacobs necklace, delicious fragrance, or -for the especially social savvy among us- that lovely purse is Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, or otherwise socially engage the company while you shop. 

What a way to reward customers for continued loyalty and engagement! I can’t even imagine the line to get into the store at this point, seeing as Marc Jacobs has a very large and very involved social media following.

To me, this three day pop-up shop event shows that Marc Jacobs appreciates customers for more than the money they spend on products. The brand is showing customers that the time and effort they put into engaging with the brand online is more valuable than the $75 it takes to purchase Daisy perfume. I have no doubt that this event will endear the brand even more in the hearts of the loyal and socially engaged followers. I applaud Marc Jacobs for redefining the typical dollars and cents transaction to one of comparable value: social engagement with a vast network that Marc Jacobs didn’t have to seek out and pay to engage with. I am interested to see if any other brands catch on and try something like this in the future. Until then, bravo Marc Jacobs!

Crowdsourcing Helps Brands Communicate

With the immense popularity of photo sharing apps like Instagram and SnapChat, it’s no surprise that big brands have followed consumers to these platforms. Some brands advertise on Instagram like it was any other channel while some brands use Instagram to shake things up a bit. What is the distinguishing factor between these two breeds of brands? Authenticity.

A few months ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when a picture of Big Ben caught my eye. At first, I thought that my friend, who was studying at Oxford University, had posted it after her weekend trip to London. As I was about to leave a typical “looks like you’re having the time of your life” (read: I want to be you, I wish I was in London right now) comment, I discovered that the photo wasn’t posted from her account. It was an advertisement for Burberry. Here is a brief version of my thought process after discovering this ad… 

  • How did that get there? I don’t follow brand pages on Instagram.
  • Get off my feed.
  • At least it’s Burberry and not something tacky like Walmart.
  • Get off my feed. This is my Instagram feed, not yours.

Thankfully, some retailers are challenging the norm. Instead of forcing content down our throats (ahem, Burberry), brands are recognizing that we love social media because it gives us (the users) a voice. Brands are also recognizing that we are far more likely to listen to our peers than to big brand voices that are advertising to us. We don’t like being sold. We do our research, and a lot of that research comes from friends and people in our networks because we like genuine, authentic conversation.

Enter Coach, one of the many big brands with a social media presence. Coach is rewriting the playbook for online retail by using social media in new and engaging ways. According to this Businessweek article, Coach has begun to crowdsource photographs of shoes and other merchandise from consumers on Instagram. That’s right, instead of looking at Coach shoes on the feet of some industry standard, ridiculously Photoshoped model, you can look at Coach shoes on the feet of your every day consumer (through a strategically chosen Instagram filter, of course). You can even Instagram your own shoes and use the hashtag #CoachFromAbove for the chance to be featured on their site.

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Their website highlights consumer created content with links to buy your own pair of trendy, crowd approved shoes.

Lancome is another great example of a brand that is using new, innovative ways to reach out to consumers without run of the mill advertising content. Much like Dove, Lancome is urging women to post Selfies to showcase their natural beauty. It does fit into the promotion strategy for one of their new products quite nicely, but Lancome isnt buying up space on my Instagram feed to sell it to me. Instead, Lancome is acknowledging me, asking me to engage (using #bareselfie) and become part of the conversation. Lancome gets to know me and I get to know Lancome. They are communicating with me in a more personal and authentic way and showing me how personalized their products can be.

I’m glad brands are starting to get it. We join social networks to have a voice, and Coach, Lancome, and others are changing the game by giving us one. This isn’t just an email complaint system or a hotline to call with comments. This is content that we generate on our own and we can immediately see it integrated into the brand’s identity. It gives the brand a more relatable and authentic personality. In this way, brands can seamlessly integrate themselves into the fabric of social networks and be invited into conversations between consumers. It is not an intrusion. It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in the way that traditional advertisements do. It is welcome and invited by social network users, and I hope we see more of it from other brands.