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AIAIO: Our Blog

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Channel Jumping – Omnichannel Techniques for Retailers

A major component of Transactional Intelligence is knowing what your user is expecting before they do.  At Alexander Interactive we know quite a bit about what users typically expect when it comes to a digital workflow, but a new area of exploration for us has been users’ expectations in an Omnichannel world.

Omnichannel introduces a lot of new complexity to the world of digital because, as the name implies, covers multiple devices, locations and needs – all of which link back to the ultimate expectation: a purchase.  But in order to better understand and serve a user in an Omnichannel world, we need to think of these experiences as extensions of the digital world.  And they are not just an extension of their buying experience, but also a part of a user’s larger shopping experience.

First, it’s important to state that Omnichannel assumes that a brand has both a physical and digital presence that allows for direct-to-consumer sale of products in a retail model: either of products manufactured by the brand or resold by the brand.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not diving into the use of multichannel devices to help operate back-office systems or coordinate with buyers or distributors.  I’m also not going to break down the multi-channel aspects of pure digital businesses that have no physical store to contend with.  The goal here is to understand users’ motivations and options and how it connects with a physical retailer’s digital presence.

The User Goals

When it comes to shopping, there is a very well understood journey that a user goes through.  The funny thing about this journey is that it’s a lot less like a Caribbean cruise and more like backpacking through Europe.  The user, like the backpacker, will stop and start at will, and doesn’t always have a concrete destination in mind.  They’re always on the go, and sometimes they don’t even return home.  It’s important to think of a user in this transient way, because you’ll want to be there for her in all the steps of her journey – and in just the right way.

Let’s take a look at the stages of her journey.  Remember, while the clear path through these stages is sequential, few users proceed through it in order – and it is more important to focus on those that do not take it step by step because there is more opportunity to affect their direction.

The Journey Stages:

  • A. Inspire (sales, photos, recommendations)
  • B. Focus (search & browse, availability)
  • C. Locate (store locations & hours, in stock)
  • D. Obtain (locate in store, find sizes and variations)
  • E. Evaluate (price comparison, reviews, detailed information)
  • F. Act (share, save, buy, abandon)

In a perfect digital world, these Journey Stages would happen in order and entirely online.  In some well-documented cases, it does.  For example: a user could see a pair of bright red New Balance sneakers in a photo of a friend on Facebook [A. Inspire].  He then takes to the web to figure out what they are.  Visiting Zappos, he filters the Men’s Shoes category by searching for the brand New Balance. Next, he assumes they’re Athletic Shoes and checks off that they are red [B. Focus].  Left with fifteen options, he can quickly determine that they have the sneakers in stock [C. Locate] (usually a safe assumption with Zappos), and that he can have them shipped to him for free and have them on his feet in four days or less [D. Obtain].  He checks the product info to make sure they’re breathable (it’s summer, after all) and finds out from the reviews that they’re super comfy [E. Evaluate]. In a few quick steps, he is checked out and the sneakers are on their way [F. Act].

Even though it may appear the journey has concluded, it hasn’t!  Once the shoes arrive, our user revisits the Evaluation stage, and tries them on at home to find that they’re way too small.  In a couple quick steps, he’s requested a new pair in the bigger size and the first pair is back in the box on its way back to Zappos.  The next day he receives an email from Zappos asking if he’ll leave a review of the product on their site.  He clicks the link and submits his experience with the size [F. Act].

When dealing with a mixed channel retailer (i.e. clicks-and-mortar) the above Journey has a potentially more complex path.  When dealing with products that are higher consideration or that users expect to touch-and-feel, retailers with a physical presence may have an advantage over their pure digital competition – if only they can be there when the user jumps channels between digital and physical.

The Devices

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s first take a look at how people are using digital tools to reach their goals.  There are dozens of devices that a user might have to connect to digital, but I’m going to sum it up to three:

  1. Mobile Device  (e.g. hand held mobile phone)
  2. Store Tablet/Kiosk Device  (e.g. Associate’s Device, Tablet Display)
  3. Desktop / Tablet Device (e.g. Laptop, Netbook, iPad)

All three of these have an aspect of mobility, but we’re going to ignore those semantics and look more at where these devices are typically used.

  1. In Home/Office
  2. In a Store
  3. On the go

Since there is no one-to-one correlation of device and location, let’s look at it as a matrix showing usage:

Handheld / Mobile Store Tablet / Kiosk Desktop / iPad
In the Home Medium Low High
In a Store High High Low
On the Go High Low Low

It stands to reason that in the comfort of your own home, you’re more likely to use a larger device that has more features and offers greater visual capabilities and that in a store you will only want to be toting your mobile phone.  While it is becoming less relevant where a user is when they’re using a given device, it’s important to note that the user’s handheld mobile device will be used in more places and at more stages of the Journey.

The Sites

So now we are on the same page about where users are employing which devices, but that begs the question: what are they looking at?  There is a wide range of information sources they may access during the digital moments of their Journey that vary based on the Journey Stage that they are in.  Here are some examples:

1. Inspire: social

  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • Facebook
  • Blogs & Media
  • Social Shopping Tools (polyvore, svpply)

2. Focus: product aggregators

  • Amazon
  • Target
  • Google

3. Locate: retailer

  • Retail Store Sites

4. Obtain: store

  • Retail Store Apps
  • Retail Store Kiosks

5. Evaluate: product aggregators

  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Manufacturer Sites

6. Act: share, save, buy, abandon

  • Retailer Mobile Site/App
  • Competitor Mobile Site/App
  • Amazon
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Other List Tools

The Decision Making Process

For your brand to stay connected to a user it’s important to be visible to her through the entire Journey.  Unfortunately, it would be futile to attempt to “own” every Journey Stage, because you can’t control what a user chooses to do at every step.  In his book, Users, Not Customers, Aaron Shapiro describes what’s happening in the user’s brain at the moment of decision:  “When a purchase is on the horizon, users quickly run through a mental exercise – balancing trust, convenience, price, and fun (TCPF) – to decide where to shop and buy.”

Inside that last part – where to shop and buy – is the most relevant statement for this discussion, and it could actually be bifurcated to explain how users decide where to shop or buy.  As a user starts her Journey, she may choose to “shop” by browsing Pinterest because it’s fun (it’s certainly not where they’re going to end up buying – at least for now).  We’ve also heard from our clients that users have more trust in the product recommendations returned by in-store kiosks than from experienced salespeople in the same store.   Once the user has made a product selection, she may decide to purchase that product from Amazon while standing in the store because the price on Amazon is lower – low enough to outweigh the convenience of walking out of the store with the purchased product in hand.

An important corollary to trust is loyalty.  The more familiar a user is with your brand, the higher the trust factor, which is demonstrated by how frequently they actively seek you out in their decision making process.  In our local neighborhood of Flatiron, Paragon Sports is the most well known independent purveyor of sports equipment for all seasons.  When progressing through the Journey for sports apparel, equipment or accessories, anyone familiar with Paragon will stop by their store to check out the product and learn more.  Despite the fact that their website doesn’t allow you to check in-store availability, and they offer no mobile app or website, a loyal Paragon customer will make the short trip to the store to see what they can find in person.

Now imagine if Paragon offered the ability to read more product details or user reviews through a mobile app or website.  A loyal customer would likely go to Paragon’s mobile experience and continue their Evaluation instead of the mobile sites of Cabela’s, Dick’s or Amazon – all three of which offer a comprehensive experience and a tremendous product selection – not to mention free shipping deals and an easy mobile checkout process.

Where Users Go

Let’s take a look at some examples of what sites users visit on which devices at each Stage:

Devices Info Sources
Inspire
  • Laptop
  • Mobile
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Blogs
  • Social Shopping
Focus
  • Laptop
  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Zappos
  • Favorite Retailer
Locate
  • Laptop
  • Mobile
  • Google Maps
  • Favorite Retailers
  • Yelp
Obtain
  • Mobile
  • Tablet/Kiosk
  • Kiosk / Tablet App
  • Retailer’s App
Evaluate
  • Mobile
  • Tablet/Kiosk
  • Amazon
  • Retailer’s Site
  • Manufacturer’s Site
  • Other Retailers
  • Blogs
Act
  • Mobile
  • Laptop
  • Facebook
  • List Tools
  • Retailer’s Site
  • Amazon
  • Other Retailer’s Site
  • Manufactuer’s Site

These examples of Information Sources are best understood as two groups: Owned Media and Shared Media.  In digital, Owned Media are properties that you own and control, like your website and your own branded mobile app.  Shared Media is a relatively new convention mixing the concept of Owned Media and Earned Media (e.g. mentions in a publication or unsolicited reviews of your products on other sites) wherein you don’t own the means of production (e.g. facebook, twitter, Pinterest), but you are able to contribute and participate in the content contributed by users.

While the reach of Shared Media is not within your control, its ability to connect to your owned media is paramount to a successful omnichannel experience.  This is an example of the crucial “jump” that a user is considering at all stages of the Journey – and when the user makes that jump, you want to be there to catch her.  You won’t own the entire Journey, but if the user jumps to your Owned Media and is immediately hooked due to one or more of trust, convenience, price or fun, you have a better chance of being part of any resulting purchase.

These jumps will mean different things if you are a retailer (e.g. Saks) or a designer/manufacturer with a physical retail store (e.g. Keihl’s).  As a manufacturer, as long as the user has all of the imagery, information and access they need and they select your product, you will win regardless of where the user decides to purchase your products.  As a retailer, the competition is fierce.  If you don’t have exclusivity for a product or if you’re not the de facto seller of a given product in the user’s mind, you’ll have to step up your omnichannel game to compete.  As a retailer, you’ll also have to give up on limiting a user’s option of which channel they can use to connect to or purchase your products – if you’re not covering all the bases, you’ll lose the game.

Channel Jumping Techniques

Devices The Jump
Inspire
  • Laptop
  • Mobile
Since this is the origin of the Journey, the jumps are less predictable.  The user is still exploring what she’s interested in and is in the gathering phase.

Have all of your products available – regardless of a user’s ability to purchase it.  If that product isn’t available, she may still find something she likes that you do offer.

Make discovery simple with quality SEO and encourage users to share your products on all sorts of sites – even do some of it on your own to seed the process.

Allow users to save products easily (minimal registration required) indefinitely, and share that list across all devices and experiences.  It will be harder for them to remember at this stage exactly what the product is and who offers it, so act as her tool for instant recall. Don’t assume she saved it for a later purchase – she’s not ready to commit just yet.

Focus
  • Laptop
In this step, the user goes to her trusted sources – places where she knows she will find what she’s looking for.

If you’re not already on her list, you can get there by offering the widest selection you can and the best tools for narrowing down that selection to a few good options.

A good navigation that assists a user’s selection process for your products, and good merchandising that gives results like a trained stylist helps convince the user that you can help her find what she’s looking for.

Once she’s found it, let her take that product information and link wherever she wants to go, using email, list tools, or social shopping sites.  Just like in the previous step, put that information at her fingertips with the least effort.

Locate
  • Laptop
  • Mobile

This is where the jumping starts.  While she may have found it online, she may still need to see it in person to commit – or she may need it in her hands today.At this stage, she wants to know “do you have this product”?  She’ll be asking that question of the retail stores that she knows are nearby that would likely have a product.

While tools like Google Shopping’s “In stock nearby” feature are available, the user’s trust in the accuracy of that information is low, due in large part to the unwillingness of retailers to hand over that data to a third party aggregator.

Make it easy to locate products in stores – or even do the work for the user up front by indicating that a product is available in stores, that it is in stores in their general area based on IP address or HTML5 geolocation capabilities, or allow the user to enter a location once to track down any product they are interested in.

If you can’t provide that level of detail, make it easy for the user to call a helpful store associate by having a phone number strategically located on the product page.  The confidence of knowing the product will be in the store will cause the user to drive further to see it rather than take a chance on a different store that may be closer.

Obtain
  • Mobile
  • Tablet/Kiosk
This is the least well-defined step. Even if this is the first time she’s stepping into a store during her journey, the digital tools that she could be using vary greatly.This jump is the most difficult to facilitate, since we’re bridging the gap between something she may have seen online, and holding the actual physical product in her hands.

The key here is actually locating a product.  While it may be easy to dream up a mapping solution to locate products in a larger store, the reality of that is much more complex.  Maintaining that data is tricky, and will vary store-to-store, and only the largest retailers with thousands of products in-store will need that type of technology.  Walmart has only just released a feature in their app to locate a product.

Realistically, it may be easier to better equip sales associates to assist in finding products, and help them with on-the-go tools. However, simply putting an iPad in the hands of store associates won’t provide them with all the information they need nor the training required to properly assist users in bridging the gap from their digital Journey to the product in the store.

Evaluate
  • Mobile
  • Tablet/Kiosk

A user could be in the Evaluation stage for a matter of seconds or months, and although it typically depends on the type of product, there are other factors as well – such as seasonality, when she might need the product, when she can afford the product, or how much she’s committed to buying something at all.This is where jumping happens the most – and where it should be welcomed.  Inhibiting – or outright prohibiting – a user from jumping between channels easily at this stage often counts as demerits against a retailer in the user’s mind.

For any type of considered purchase, the frustration of not being able to easily find information on a product in as many digital ways as possible often trumps any attempts by a retailer at competing on trust, convenience, price or fun.

She sees the internet as a limitless pool of information – and she knows confidently that the information she needs is out there.  If she is in your store and you can’t provide all of the information she’s looking for, she’ll assume that either you don’t know (and someone else does), or worse: that you are hiding the information from her for fear she won’t choose that product.

Most importantly, you need to allow her to access the internet.  For many retailers, this is not an issue, but the larger the building that contains the store, the more likely she is to experience data transfer issues while she’s inside.  For so many users of digital, that data connection is as critical as sunlight: she can live without it, but won’t choose to for very long.  If she can’t look up what she needs while in your store, she’ll walk out.

Second, be sure to have a digital catalog of every product you sell in the store – if not every last product, at least every product that requires some evaluation.   Continue to make that data available for discontinued products, and allow the system to recommend alternatives.

If you aren’t comfortable with that information being publically available, make it available to store associates with tablet devices or via kiosks that can give the user a feeling of limitless product information on just the piece she’s interested in.

Act
  • Mobile
  • Laptop

The user can act (share, save, buy, abandon) at any point in this process. She can decide to share a product that she hasn’t yet evaluated. She could Evaluate and then save the product, waiting for a sale to start. Worst case, she could spend her entire Journey in your store and buy the product from Amazon right from your store.

In that example, however, you must acknowledge that you lost primarily based on price.The typical ecommerce “funnel” assumes that once a user has evaluated a product, there is only one thing to do: buy it. In reality, the more common resulting action is less exciting to the business, but just as important to the user. It may be that the user needs validation that this is the right product for her.

If you help her jump from the physical world of the dressing room back to the digital world looking for feedback, you not only give her the tool she’s looking for, but you get free Shared Media exposure as a result.  She may not buy the product, but her friend who is considering the same purchase may decide she likes it.

The key is to provide an easy tool to share more than just an image of a product, but have it be a link to that product on your website as well so that the friend can start her Journey with this product.

Help her select your store based on convenience by making it easy to save this product for later – either using your Owned Media (e.g. website/app Saved Products List), email, photo or Shared Media (e.g. Pinterest). If our user in the dressing room likes the product, but isn’t quite ready to purchase today, you’ll want her to be a few clicks away from buying that product the moment she is ready.

If she is ready to buy, give her options so she can make the choice that works best for her.  Maybe she doesn’t need the product now and has dinner plans – allow her to easily purchase the product online – right from the dressing room – to be shipped to her.

Or better – have the associate take her payment right there, package up the products, and send her on her way without ever stopping at a register.

The Result

Helping users to shift between experiences is essential as a user sees all touch points through the lens of your brand – not as separate businesses.  You can’t control whether the user chooses to be inspired by Pinterest or facebook – or if they use rememberthemilk or Notes, but the easier you make it to supplement these natural habits by maximizing Shared Media and the openness of the information available on your Owned Media, the closer you are to the purchase Action.

Ecommerce

One Comment

  1. Awesome submit, has to be daily guest to any extent further!

    Meghann Shane on June 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm

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