3 Marketing Imperatives for Your Digital Retail Strategy

By Sarah Cascone

Questions about the future of retail seem inescapable today. Will it be bright or bleak? Dominated by robots and magic mirrors? Or is the human touch making a comeback?

A lot of people like to talk about how retail is undergoing a change unlike any we’ve ever seen before thanks to Amazon and digital. But the truth is, the story of how Amazon has disrupted retail isn’t new. In fact, we’ve seen it play out before with the rise of iconic physical stores like Sears, Piggly Wiggly, and QVC. Despite constant disruption, many retailers have been able to persevere and enjoy continued success due to their resiliency.

Today, the star of the story is different, but everything else — a new player who disrupts the status quo by changing consumer expectations and raising the bar for other retailers — is largely the same. Except for one major thing — the digital world converges more and more with the real world.

So we’ve seen this story play out before and we know there can be a happy ending for the retailers who get it right, but this time around, “getting it right” looks a lot different. Succeeding in the future of retail requires a strong digital strategy, and delivering on that imperative gives a lot of retailers pause.

Hammacher Schlemmer Hones 1:1 Personalization Case Study

Building a Digital Marketing Strategy to Weather the Future of Retail

There’s no doubt about it – the future of retail will rely on digital channels such as search, social, SMS, and email marketing

Today’s consumers rely on the internet more than ever to make their purchase decisions, with 42 percent of in-store shoppers reaching for their phone before they make a purchase decision. Furthermore, online channels can drum up a lot of revenue, with email marketing alone representing about a fifth of a business’s total sales.

With this in mind, building an innovative digital retail marketing strategy is no doubt important for thriving in the future. While nobody has a crystal ball that can determine exactly what the future may look like, it is possible to lay a foundation that will help you adapt to changes in consumer attitudes. 

Let’s look at three dimensions that teams need to consider in their retail digital marketing strategy.

1) Use digital marketing to improve the customer experience

Terms like customer-centric and customer-first have become something of a mantra today, but as often as those terms get thrown around, putting the customer first doesn’t happen as much as you’d expect.  And considering 73% of customers say experience is crucial to making a purchase, we think it’s time for that to change. 

If you look at the retail stores at the top of their game, they tend to ask one simple question: How can we delight our customers? 

The answer goes beyond things like free shipping or discounts – it means making the customer experience enjoyable at every step of the journey. 

It means giving your customers a personalized website experience or delivering emails relevant to their journey, at the right time in their journey.

Best of all, a great digital customer experience goes beyond the online store. Nearly 60% of smartphone users in the United States used their devices in-store to learn more about a product or find a deal. 

Consumers want to see reviews, comparable products, and exclusive offers – and a comprehensive digital retail strategy that utilizes search, email, and social media can help your brand put its best foot forward for these in-store shoppers.

The result? Fiercely loyal customers that generate more sales and strengthen your brand.

2) Leverage omnichannel capabilities

Retailers need to reach customers exactly where they are with a unified, omnichannel digital marketing strategy. 

An omnichannel strategy allows retailers to use multiple promotional channels (think email, location, search and in-store marketing) to communicate a single message based on an individual’s place in the customer journey

Keep in mind that omnichannel isn’t simply putting your message out to every customer across every channel. Retail marketers need to use data to look at their customers as individuals and deliver personalized outreach to customers. 

For instance, emails with personalized product recommendations that draw from a customer’s online and in-person interactions with your brand can encourage customers to either buy online or further investigate a product within your store.

Although these omnichannel campaigns require plenty of data and advanced marketing technology, they are extremely beneficial to the modern retailer. Studies have found that omnichannel strategies help businesses retain 91% more customers year-over-year and that omnichannel shoppers tend to have a 30% higher lifetime value than single-channel shoppers.

What does all of this mean for your digital marketing strategy? Make sure you are taking an omnichannel approach.

3) Use data to power your digital strategy

With all of the cutting-edge technology available today, data and technology are necessary to attain a true competitive advantage, and everyone from the executive team on down needs to view it that way.

The key to making this happen? Make data the loudest voice in the room. Data wields a lot of power. It can make any case stronger, help “educate up” and even demonstrate the “what’s in it for me” to help retail marketers form new partnerships within the business. 

Remember: When numbers talk, people pay attention.

Data is key to understanding the ever-changing interests of the modern consumer. A study by Nielsen found that only 8% of consumers consider themselves committed to a certain brand. This means that if your promotional strategies don’t move as quickly as consumer interests, you can lose a significant portion of your consumer base. 

With so many new entrants and competitors within the retail industry, keeping up with the speed of culture is a must. A good product at a good price isn’t enough anymore. The personalized customer experience is now a key part of that equation too. 

When it comes to adapting to changing consumer perceptions, you do need to be careful — especially large brick and mortar retailers who must answer to shareholders — but that doesn’t mean you have to (or can) sacrifice experimentation. At the end of the day, as Cristina Ceresoli of NRF pointed out to us:

“If you’re wrong, and you’re the first one to be wrong, who cares? But if you’re always the last one to be right, you don’t matter.”

Putting It All Together

While retail digital marketing strategies have come a long way, there are a lot of parts that need to come together in order to perfect these strategies. 

Customers are growing more sophisticated and they expect retailers to help them along their purchasing journey. Personalization and omnichannel marketing should be central to your digital strategies to ensure that you engage customers in a timely, relevant manner. Delivering on this goal will require a strong digital marketing strategy to guide the way.

Of course, having a strong digital strategy will only get you so far on its own. To truly thrive in the future of retail, you must invest in retail marketing technology that is powerful enough to fulfill your digital marketing goals. See firsthand how Hammacher Schlemmer made it happen.

Sarah Cascone, VP Marketing

Sarah Cascone

A metrics-driven brand marketer with 10+ years experience, Sarah has a passion for tying the human element of marketing to revenue growth. As VP of Marketing at Bluecore, Sarah’s focus is cultivating and nurturing the strong community of innovative retail leaders behind Bluecore's mission to empower brands to discover their best customers and keep them for life.