The New Normal: A Guide To Future-proofing Your Business

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This post was authored by our friends at Marsello, an all-in-one marketing platform that seamlessly integrates with Shopify.

Never have we seen such rapid change in the way customers shop.

With lockdown restrictions put in place almost overnight, consumers and merchants alike were forced to find new ways to trade. It’s no secret that as a result, there’s been a monumental shift toward shopping online, and business owners have been forced to support this. In fact, ecommerce retail saw a 44% increase in 2020 in the US alone and, in some reports, the increase in demand for ecommerce has exploded by as much as 275%

In this blog, we’ll explore shopping patterns emerging in the wake of COVID-19; we'll analyze examples of retailers embracing new retail trends, and we'll suggest steps for implementing resilient retail strategies in a post-COVID world.

Brick-and-mortar is not dead

While the accelerated move to ecommerce could suggest brick-and-mortar stores are a thing of the past, shopping patterns from places where the pandemic has been largely contained suggest otherwise.

As we’ve seen in countries like New Zealand, where day-to-day life has returned to relative normality, the shift in shopping behaviors has created a ‘shop around’ mentality. Consumers hunt online before heading in-store to get a tactile experience, or to compare their potential purchases.

Doug Stephens, the “retail prophet”, told RetailDive that he believes that brick-and-mortar stores will become essential media in the customer acquisition journey.

“Physical stores are becoming a powerful media channel, and very often the first point of contact between brands and consumers. As consumers become increasingly technologically entrenched, they'll crave far more and better physical retail experiences. And so brick-and-mortar spaces will offer retailers and brands the opportunity to draw the consumer into the brand story, deliver a remarkable and immersive brand and product experience, and ultimately galvanize their relationship with consumers. A relationship that can then live across multiple buying channels.”

Shopping in-store is increasingly becoming an opportunity for consumers to support their local businesses, and use the physical shopping experience to help them in their decision-making.

Focusing on customer experience and brand consistency

A seamless customer experience has become the deciding factor in driving sales and customer loyalty. As life adjusts to the “new normal” in a post-vaccine world, customers will be looking for the same ease of browsing, fast responses, and seamless experience as they’re used to after a year of browsing online. 

This is where understanding omnichannel becomes essential. 

It’s no longer enough to have an in-store and online presence, you need all customer touchpoints to flow seamlessly to create a brand experience that’s consistent and curated to their needs. The key point of difference here is that rather than being sales-focused or product-focused, the omnichannel retail approach is customer-centric

In 2011, Harvard Business Review suggested that we’re not far off AI being so inherently integrated into brick-and-mortar stores that the line between shopping online and in-store is completely blurred. In fact, they created this scenario of an imagined shopping experience in 2021.

It’s a snowy Saturday in Chicago, but Amy, age 28, needs resort wear for a Caribbean vacation. Five years ago, in 2011, she would have headed straight for the mall. Today she starts shopping from her couch by launching a videoconference with her personal concierge at Danella, the retailer where she bought two outfits the previous month. The concierge recommends several items, superimposing photos of them onto Amy’s avatar. Amy rejects a couple of items immediately, toggles to another browser tab to research customer reviews and prices, finds better deals on several items at another retailer, and orders them. She buys one item from Danella online and then drives to the Danella store near her for the in-stock items she wants to try on.

As Amy enters Danella, a sales associate greets her by name and walks her to a dressing room stocked with her online selections—plus some matching shoes and a cocktail dress. She likes the shoes, so she scans the bar code into her smartphone and finds the same pair for $30 less at another store. The sales associate quickly offers to match the price and encourages Amy to try on the dress. It is daring and expensive, so Amy sends a video to three stylish friends, asking for their opinion. The responses come quickly: three thumbs down. She collects the items she wants, scans an internet site for coupons (saving an additional $73), and checks out with her smartphone.

As she heads for the door, a life-size screen recognizes her and shows a special offer on an irresistible summer-weight top. Amy checks her budget online, smiles, and uses her phone to scan the customized Quick Response code on the screen. The item will be shipped to her home overnight.

At the end of the day, omnichannel should be the word on everyone’s lips. It’s a perfect integration of sales channels, marketing strategies, and the customer-centric business model and it’s what’s setting resilient merchants apart in recent times.

Powering omnichannel: mastering sales and marketing cohesion with real business examples

Let’s use some retailer examples to look at common marketing strategies that omnichannel merchants frequently use while considering the four following action points:

  • Cultivate a seamless experience across all sales and marketing channels.
  • Use social media as an extension of your store, rather than just brand development and marketing. 
  • Use strategic campaigns to establish and deepen customer relationships.
  • Experiment with emerging retail models.

Cultivate a seamless experience across all sales and marketing channels.

Katie Waltman, creates a seamless shopping experience both in-store and online through making use of the sales and marketing channels that appeal most to their customers.

Katie Waltman mobile

The jewelry brand caters to its customers by providing a consistent experience whether they are browsing the Katie Waltman shelves, scrolling through Instagram, or shopping online. Wherever they browse, Katie Waltman’s customers not only recognize the brand at every touchpoint but are also familiarized with Katie Waltman’s products, ethos, and the promise of an enjoyable shopping experience. 

They also use their marketing to further support their multiple sales channels. Through email campaigns, loyalty marketing, and social media, Katie Waltman encourages customers to shop in-store and online while offering exclusive deals to loyal customers, reminding shoppers of their abandoned carts, and, most importantly, reinforcing the brand with careful design decisions and beautiful product images.

As a Shopify and Vend merchant, Katie Waltman is able to offer their customers multiple sales channels which have been essential to the brand’s success during the pandemic. By offering shoppers multiple options for where they can make a purchase, KW allows customers to shop in a way that feels most comfortable, safe, and enjoyable for them.

TAKEAWAY: The flow between your sales and marketing channels plays a core role in the way you represent your brand. By prioritizing customer experience, you’re increasing the likelihood that customers will become advocates for your brand and long-term, loyal shoppers.

Use social media as an extension of your store, rather than just brand development and marketing. 

One increasingly popular way that merchants can add another sales channel is by adding Shopify’s social media integration to allow customers to shop directly from Instagram or Facebook.

As we’ve mentioned, ecommerce has boomed in recent years. By linking your online store to your social media profiles, you’re one step closer to being an adaptable omnichannel retailer

Luxury women’s fashion brand, Sisters & Co. has mastered the cohesive customer experience. Using Shopify’s Instagram integration, they encourage their 35k Instagram followers to shop while scrolling the store’s countless beautiful product images.

It’s a no-brainer that your brand’s social media presence should be curated with the customer in mind. Ask yourself, what will excite your customers the most and encourage them to engage with your brand? Sisters & Co’s branding oozes luxury and their social media presence is no different. 

By sharing images of their products in beautifully styled photoshoots, Sisters & Co. are showcasing their product offering. By offering customers easy check-out with the Shopify and Instagram integration, Sisters & Co. are actively turning one of their key marketing channels into a highly effective sales channel.

TAKEAWAY: Sales channels are a continually evolving and fast-growing area of retail. To be a true omnichannel brand, you need to question which sales channels work best for your business. By converting one of your most powerful marketing channels (social media) to a sales channel, you’re giving your customers a simple one-stop shop to browse, admire, share and shop and all while you’re also giving them access to an easy location to share your updates. 

Use strategic campaigns to establish and deepen customer relationships.

Campaign marketing, whether it’s one-off email campaigns, automated marketing, social media, or even SMS, isn’t a new concept, however, it’s still an essential marketing tool for optimizing your store. 

One merchant that specializes in creating an unforgettable brand experience is Federation +

When Federation + was founded in 2000, ecommerce wasn't popular. Brick-and-mortar stores were the foundation for retail so Federation + became a household name by creating a second-to-none in-store customer experience. Since then, Federation + has continued to adapt to the changing retail landscape by integrating an online strategy that catered to customers worldwide. But they couldn't stop there. They've made sure to build an enticing loyalty program, grow their social media following, and develop an automated marketing strategy. 

Federation+ SMS message

Federation + has also ventured into SMS marketing, adding another layer to their omnichannel business. They use SMS to promote their store-wide campaigns and to offer customers exclusive deals. Each SMS campaign also includes Federation +’s brand name and store link so that recipients feel confident and compelled to shop.

By adding SMS campaigns to their marketing toolkit, Federation + makes the most of a powerful customer touchpoint. They not only capture customers’ attention with a creative marketing channel of outreach but can also create personalized messaging for different customer segments (as long as they’ve opted-in to receiving SMS marketing).

No matter where new or existing customers experience the Federation + brand, they recognize it immediately. This is the defining factor that has helped Federation + cement themselves as an omnichannel retail business despite their beginnings as a brick-and-mortar store.

TAKEAWAY: SMS marketing is a powerful addition to any campaign marketing strategy because of its remarkable delivery and open rates, however such a personal contact point needs to feel personalized to the individual. Remember that although personalization is essential, any marketing campaign should complement the other communications your customers receive.

Experiment with emerging retail models

One way that merchants are adapting to omnichannel retail experiences is by experimenting with pop-ups. Pop-up stores offer merchants a low-risk foray into the physical sales sphere without having to commit to a long-term retail space rental, all while gathering essential information on customer demand, product popularity, and demand generation.

Short-term, demand-driven physical retail (such as pop-ups) is proven to help businesses generate more demand, improve customer experience, and create a sense of urgency. 

Birchbox pop-up

In pre-pandemic times, Birchbox was an online-only beauty product subscription service. However, their team knew they wanted to test a brick-and-mortar model. So, Birchbox went on a US national tour where they opened multiple “Try Bars” so customers could get their hands on products. 

Brichbox ensured that every facet of their pop-ups and associated marketing reflected their brand. With pastel color palettes and customer engagement strategies like “Build your own Birchbox”, it’s no surprise that the brand’s pop-ups were such a hit with their customers. 

The success of their low-maintenance, low-cost trial meant that the Birchbox team was confident they’d see a return on a physical store. Their experiment gave them the data they needed to be confident that opening an NYC-based brick-and-mortar store that would be successful. They even later opened a pop-up in London, UK

TAKEAWAY: For some businesses, a permanent physical store is a big leap or isn’t feasible in the current climate. But this doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to connect with your customers in a brick-and-mortar setting. Creating the ideal pop-up for your business and your customers could be as simple as getting the right mobile POS system and implementing an effective strategy for encouraging customers to engage with your online store. Learn how other stores are using pop-ups to promote their stores.

Implementing business operations that support a truly seamless in-store and online business 

We’ll keep this section to just two succinct areas for you to focus your attention. And it makes sense that they’re the two core focus points for implementing an omnichannel strategy.

So what steps can you take to ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success?

1: Automate your marketing to maximize your ROI

It’s no secret that automated marketing has long been considered a powerhouse tool for retailers. And when you combine it with data-driven optimization, it’s a win, win strategy. 

Start small and create automated email campaigns with lasting effects. Think along the lines of a ‘Welcome to the family’ email or abandoned cart notifications. Federation + saw 107x ROI in five months with the help of automated email campaigns. How? Every part of their automated marketing effort feeds into the rest of Federation +'s overall retail strategy.

Look at it like this: if you automate your key communications and ensure they're designed to excite the customer, you’ll maximize your results with only minor effort on your end.

These are our top 5 suggestions for automated marketing campaigns:

  1. Introduce a loyalty program and ensure you send automated email updates to your loyal customers i.e. birthday rewards.
  2. Enable abandoned cart emails to recapture customers who leave your ecommerce store before completing a purchase. Then go the extra mile and retarget them with social media campaigns. 
  3. Welcome first customers to your store after they’ve made a purchase by collecting their contact details at checkout (whether in-store or online).
  4. Re-engage customers who are slipping away by reminding those who haven’t shopped in a while that you have products they might like. Even better if you can include automated product recommendations.
  5. Did we mention social media marketing? If you plan on adding social media to your sales funnel, design a social media marketing strategy too.

2: Define your sales channels and optimize where possible

Brick-and-mortar, ecommerce, temporary pop-ups, social media shopping integrations – wherever you chose to expand your sales channels, make sure that you’re seeing a worthwhile return on investment. 

But optimizing doesn’t mean culling! As we’ve mentioned, consumers are finding new ways to engage with the stores they love and it’s becoming clear that brick-and-mortar serves as an important experience for those who want to get a feel for the products they’ve coveted online. 

Perhaps you need to downsize your retail space and provide a more curated experience, or perhaps you find your highest traffic numbers are on social media and you should focus your efforts there. 

Here are our top five focus points for sales funnel optimizations:

  1. Set up sales reports and analyze your customers’ shopping habits to find patterns.
  2. Reduce customer experience friction by testing each step of your sales funnel as if you are the customer.
  3. Optimize your landing pages for all types of browsing (including mobile).
  4. Research how customers use your online and physical store and make updates to suit their behavior.
  5. Introduce retargeting marketing strategies (see above for marketing automation and consider abandoned cart emails and loyalty programs as your first port of call).

Final Words

The crux of it? The future of retail will be defined by adaptability, automation, and embracing the customer journey. The rate at which technology is developed and consumer demands grow, retailers who aren’t embracing new ideas and changing their business models will fall behind. Your best bet is to move toward the omnichannel movement as best you can. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try converting your social media into a sales channel. Perhaps you’re curious to know if there’s demand for a physical store in a specific location. Embracing an omnichannel strategy will allow you to test these ideas and find what works best for you. 

Remember, every interaction a customer has with your store should feel recognizable and personalized.

Our final piece of advice: look to the data and test your ideas! Only your customers can tell you how they’re engaging with your store. Got an engaged and active social media following? Give Shopify’s social media integration a go! Feeling confident that your customers would support a brick-and-mortar store? Why not test it out with a pop-up. Whatever you decide, dipping a toe into your data before taking the plunge will give you confidence in the outcome.

Sell more with automated omnichannel marketing

Built for omnichannel Shopify users, Marsello combines data-driven automation, email, SMS, and loyalty programs to deliver smart, targeted marketing that gets results. Marsello retailers see an average of 45X ROI.

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