By Matt Pigott - September 16th, 2015

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New research from Deloitte, Accenture, Bitkom and the CMO Council shows just how crucial a consistent customer experience has become.

Fusing the online and offline customer experience to grow the relationship between brand and consumer has become a major focal point for modern companies.

While offline retail sales currently account for around 80% of transactions, in 2015 ecommerce market revenue stands at almost $290 billion, with a predicted annual growth rate of 8% over the next five years (that’s a staggering $422 billion), according to Statista’s Digital Market Outlook.

These heady figures show retail marketers how important it will be, over the next few years, to strike the right balance between offline and online trade in order to maximize turnover and profit.

The real dream for retailers is to close the offline-online gap altogether, through clear and cohesive branding across all touch-points. In face-to-face encounters, being consistent in appearance, personality and character is vital when it comes to building trust, and it’s no different for brands.

Consumers want to implicitly understand and trust the sales process, and it’s up to brands to make that happen. Sloppiness clogs up the sales funnel. 

The problem with brick and mortar retailers – real or imagined?

Authenticity online is vital, not least of all because online is where many of the most powerful touchpoints reside, and they directly lead into in-store experiences.

But one of the first major obstacle brick and mortar retailers face (or think they face) is so-called showrooming, whereby customers browse and give off the air of purchasing intent when all they’re really doing is gathering price information before buying those same products more-cheaply online. It’s a trending behavior that has retail managers waking up in a cold sweat in the dead of night. But is this sort of panic-stricken insomnia a symptom of worrying too much about too little?  

A poll from Bitkom in Germany suggests it might be. Bitkom’s research found that webrooming is the bigger, bolder brother of this sibling rivalry; a less emotionally painful form of retail browsing behavior, but one that can have a greater impact on a brand’s profitability. In the case of webrooming, customers carry out all of their necessary research online before visiting a physical outlet to make their final purchase. The research revealed that 50% of digital buyers said they took part in showrooming on occasion, whereas 61% confessed to webrooming. A recent Deloitte study also found that up to 36% of in-store sales ($1.1-trillion) were digitally influenced.

For the modern retail CMO, having a holistic, helicopter view of all channels, and channels within channels, is one way of reducing the anxiety caused by showrooming and webrooming. More importantly, knowing that the marketing strategy delivers a unified and engaging experience across multichannel touchpoints that effectively influences consumer-buying decisions, will deliver even greater peace of mind.

Mobile devices – the ultimate retail weapon

Ironically, brick and mortar retail’s greatest ally is mobile. When embraced by retailers, the device consumers use to showroom becomes the ultimate conversion tool.

Deloitte’s research suggests that customers who go online while in-store are more likely to make a purchase. And having knowledgeable, well-trained staff on hand to meet and greet those consumers, taking them through the sales process, increases the likelihood of a sale even more.

The key takeaway point is: ecommerce and brick and mortar are bedfellows, not rivals. By harnessing the power of online, social networking and in-store data, brands have the greatest opportunity in the history of retail to build up deeply textured profiles of their customers to use in aggregate for trend analysis, or provide individuals with perfectly-timed personal touches.

CMO’s are still struggling

Of course, that’s the idealized version. What is in fact happening is most CMOs are drowning in a sea of data that they still haven’t got a handle on. Most are missing a trick, and what hurts most is they know it. Even though the capability is clearly there, the number of CMOs still struggling to create a seamless end-to-end experience for consumers is pitifully low.

According to a recent survey from the Chief Marketing Council, CMOs are still struggling to make omnichannel campaigns strong enough to penetrate their target audiences, and harmonious enough across touch-points to truly engage consumers. Just 19% of CMOs believed they were efficient in achieving this, with only 5% feeling they had well-integrated content and commerce.

Worst of all this is adversely affecting consumer behavior. Studies from Accenture found that, of more than 13,000 surveyed consumers, nearly 60% found inconsistent experiences across multiple channels frustrating. And this landscape perhaps explains why, moving into 2016, 90% of businesses see ‘customer experience’ as the battleground for differentiation. It’s become the number one area for marketing investment, and is perhaps why many online retailers are keen to make their mark in the real world while at the same time physical retailers are itching to consolidate the bricks and mortar experience with their online offering. It’s the perceived gap everybody wants to close off, and very soon anybody who looks at these two sides of the same coin as distinct and separate isn’t seeing the coin at all.  

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