A sustainable firm needs loyalty customers – this is undeniable. Over the last century, retailers have been using reward programs as an effective tool to gain more repeat customers, and from this, build customer loyalty. However, the fourth industrial revolution is coming and the perspective on loyalty programs is consequently different. Marketers and business doers today realize the importance of AI and Big Data in determining repeat buying behavior. Hence, to take advantage of high technology in loyalty programs catches online retailers’ attention and requires a lot of intellectual and financial investment.
2018 will be the year of AI and Big Data
Customer loyalty programs should be perceived as a campaign designed to build and preserve interaction between clients and brands, not just to increase revenues. From this new standpoint, apart from investing in a powerful reward program, customer experience and satisfaction will become an increasing concern for businesses. There should be additional methods to form higher customer retention, which requires the application of technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data. Interestingly, 2018 may be the year which marks an outburst of AI in general and AI application in customer loyalty programs. This is represented through the figure of NewVantage Partners’ annual executive survey conducted within Fortune 1000 corporations which shows that a very large proportion, 97.2%, of these organizations are investing in AI and Big Data even though the levels of investment is being kept low. Also, according to the BPR Consulting research in 2017, nearly half of retailers would utilize AI to improve CX, and 55% would plan to focus on increasing customer loyalty within the next 3 years. In addition, according to Accenture, customers today tend to be enticed by programs or deals which are tailor-made for their personal needs, as they favor personalized rewards and specialized care. This, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be done without AI-based tools. These facts raise a big question to marketers: How to deploy AI in building customer loyalty programs in future?
What is AI?
There are quite a lot of arguments among experts about the term AI, also known as Artificial Intelligence. In 1956, John McCarthy explained AI as science and its application to making machines, especially computer programs, which are considered smart. These intelligent machines are able to perform some tasks as a human being would. To clarify, they are able to recognize speech, learn, make plans and solve problems in the way a human does. In this early stage of AI development, people both doubt and fear its potential power in the future. However, for a marketer or an e-retailer, there is no choice but to accept and prepare for its upcoming presence in every single aspect of business.
Artificial Intelligence is no longer a foreign concept to most people nowadays, especially in e-commerce. Customers are now used to receiving personalized emails, being greeted by their names and being offered customized services. According to Chiefmarketer, buyers are, in fact, totally okay with their personal information being collected and analyzed, at an appropriate and considerable level, to get better discounts, more precise recommendations and more personalized services. Such services are what shopping doers are expecting from online retailers without any awareness of what AI is. However, we marketers have to start keeping a close eye on it from now on.
What is Big Data?
The term Big data refers to data sets which are extremely large, so large that traditional methods of data processing are unable to handle them. We usually get Big data when collecting information from sources such as videos, audio, social channels, log files, websites and networks which are literally created in real time. Big data can be used to help computers analyze patterns, trends and associations which are often related to human behaviors and interaction. Big data contains information which used to be left untouchable, and by analyzing this data, we are able to make better and faster decisions.
How AI and Big Data can contribute to customer loyalty programs
Tailor-made customer experience
Buyers are becoming more difficult about what they purchase and how they are served in your online stores. Most importantly, customers’ expectations of the personalization in products and services increase as the customer-centric culture is spread among big companies like Amazon. From this, I know that the one-size-fits-all era has ended, that mass-production is no more than an old-fashioned trend and that free-size jeans are being replaced by personally-designed ones on the shelves.
Big Data powered AI systems have made a big step in analyzing and understanding customers’ needs. Now, you are able to collect necessary information and track customers’ purchasing history, shopping behaviors and preferences. Based on these ‘big data’, AI learns and makes a decision to timely offer buyers a personal touch, tailor-made products and personalized services.
Not only is this about sales or conversion rates but also customer loyalty. By deploying AI, customers really get that attention which they crave for today. They know that their problems are heard and solved personally. Also, they get extra benefits when shopping at the store. This is a major factor to retain buyers in this digital era – the era of global shopping just with a few clicks, also the era of commitment and loyalty being difficult to gain.
Even better experience
Bombfell deploys AI to help their stylists pick individually suitable outfits for their customers can be a simple example for the era of personalized services. With AI, user experience in an online store is optimized at the highest level. Customers, thanks to this, find themselves cared for and feel important.
Not only can they have products customized for individual’s needs like at Bombfell, buyers can be welcomed in the store like the way it is at bricks and mortars. Customers are greeted and called by their first names. Their voices and faces are recognized by AI and, thanks to this, all information about their purchasing history or shopping habits is remembered, like the way a shopping assistant in your favorite local store recognizes you. She knows that you love discounts, you often go shopping on weekends and are willing to pay a lot for trendy shoes. And, on a Saturday morning, she speaks to you in a friendly voice: “Hey we’ve just released a limited model of trainers and, because I know you’d love them, I’ve kept them for you with 10% off. Thank me later!”
Besides all that, AI will develop to the level that customers can comfortably communicate with online stores through chatbots. Hence, the response time will be sped up to tick-tocks. Algorithms are developed to enable machines to think like human beings and even to understand customers’ emotions in order to perform appropriate actions. Not only solving problems quickly, AI also helps to replicate a human-like communication atmosphere.
Customer satisfaction and personalized experience combined with tailor-made services are the key points in showing buyers that they are highly appreciated by the brand and consequently in laying a great foundation for building customers’ trust. This is the fundamental of cultivating customer loyalty.
Challenges for brands
Questions about safety and privacy
As mentioned above, customers are willing to share their data for a better price, customized services or more convenience. However, worries about privacy and information security are still very much real, and they form a barrier between customers and brands in building trust. Shoppers, on one hand, understand that their data is collected and love the benefits coming from it. On the other hand, they question about the level at which their personal information is exploited and how it is used. Is their data safe when AI is that powerful? Are e-retailers able to protect them from frauds and identity theft when cybercrime is increasing?
To win customers’ trust is a big challenge that e-commerce websites are facing in building customer loyalty. Personally, I will definitely leave an online store which gives me doubts about security. For example, as a travel lover, I used to make a room reservation online on a well-known hotel booking site; however, one day, I was warned that this website leaked customers’ confidential information including credit card number, CVC and expiration date. Even though there was no frauds or misuse of the data recorded, I decided not to give this brand any second chance.
So make sure you provide your customers an optimized security solution, and more importantly, make a big commitment to providing the highest level of customers’ safety and privacy. They need to feel peace of mind by knowing that their data has always been and will only be used to improve their shopping experience and to give them personalized offers.
Big data is actually not difficult to be collected, yet it is hard to be captured, organized and analyzed. Different sources of data are always ready to be deployed but remain unused due to lack of structure and technical know-how.
The biggest challenge here is how to, through AI, really understand data and to have an overview of it while too much information comes from various sources such as invoices, emails, social media and CRM. Also, how to turn big data into patterns, trends or associations which are useful for marketing activities and customer insights in real time is extremely important.
Just like other actual personal relationships, that customer loyalty is built on trust, the consistency of high-quality services to buyers and unchanged commitment form a long-lasting relationship. That e-retailers are considering applying AI in building customer loyalty shows their dedication to it in spite of many difficulties.
The development of AI and Big data, in recent years, has given online retailers both opportunities and challenges. In the next decade, digital stores will be equipped more optimized tools based on AI, and through this, they are empowered to strengthen customer relationship and enhance customer retention. This is a technology competition and I believe that the one who wins the game will also win the customer’s heart.
Guest Author’s Bio:
Summer reads and writes blogs about marketing and e-commerce. She’s especially interested in solutions which help merchants improve their customers’ shopping experience and increase customer engagement for Magento 2. “One of the best ways to enhance user experience on an online store is to provide a better Layered Navigation” says Summer.
eCommerce baked-in customer service as a standard. Perhaps early innovators recognized its importance as a differentiator from in-store retail, or maybe it came naturally. Regardless, many traditional retail giants chose to ignore it altogether. In the stories that follow, we’ll explore vast disparities in customer service driving traditional retailers toward bankruptcy while simultaneously skyrocketing eCommerce sales.
Good CX Demands Good Customer Service
Major retailers now seemingly compete with airlines, telecoms and power companies for the worst customer service. The key difference, however, is the range of alternatives. Most regions of the U.S. don’t get to pick between more than two horribly aggravating cable providers, while anyone in the world can choose Amazon over local retailer. As a result, the need for retailers to optimize their customer experiences through customer service is paramount. However, those who only recently realized this may be too late.
Jura Live! A Customer Story:
“Jura LIVE! allows customers shopping online to make live video appointments at their convenience, from the comfort of their own home. Customers can see the products in action in real time and leverage the knowledge of a sales rep. to help them make a purchasing decision. For a luxury product such as a super automatic coffee & espresso machine, this adds a significant amount of convenience to the customer’s experience while also dazzling them with high-end technology. These types of high-touch online experiences help the sites that have them dominate those without. Unfortunately, most brick & mortar stores don’t offer these experiences because they refuse to adapt.”
-Dave Gardner, Sr. Account Executive & Team Lead at Redstage
How Retail Heros Became CX Villains
Sears, JC Penney, and Toys “R” Us are known for major missteps that downgraded their in-store experiences and alienated customers. Sears simply stopped investing in its stores. Years ago, company leadership decided to introduce a poorly-managed customer loyalty program that caused much more harm than good. The “Shop Your Way” program caused extended checkout times; both for customers waiting in line behind someone signing up for rewards AND for loyalty members who facing constant discrepancies in “deal” prices at the checkout.
The Fall From Grace
When sales declined, products began to downgrade, the stores themselves fell to disarray, and customers naturally opted for other retailers like Macy’s and Home Depot. As a poorly planned remedy to decreasing sales, Sears chose to cut in-store staff in half across their locations, propelling worsening structural conditions that led to closures all over the U.S. To this day, the company continues to pump products into stores that no one will buy, without the necessary human capital to even unpack them.
A Sears Auto Story
Recenty, Redstage’s CEO Adam Morris had his own customer service blunder at Sears. He entered Sears Auto looking for a particular item, couldn’t find what he wanted, and exited the store only to discover his car had been towed. According to Morris, the towing company contracted by Sears was watching the security cameras while he was inside. Because he parked in a space for “Sears Auto Customers Only,” and hadn’t made a purchase, he wasn’t considered a customer, which allegedly gave the towing company license to tow his car.
In an attempt to get assistance from Sears, Morris spent hours on the phone with a “rude or unhelpful” customer service representatives. At the end of the ordeal, one rep told Morris to file a police report if he felt he was wronged. He had to pay to get his car back — more than the cost of the item he initially intended to buy.
Think he’ll be heading back to Sears anytime soon?
Alienating Your Audience
JC Penney’s downfall came when it decided to switch to “low everyday prices” rather than focusing on their weekly coupon deals — something that created buzz from local customers and drove them to stores. At the same time, JC Penney switched focus from inexpensive products to more upscale merchandise, further alienating their customer base. As a result, shoppers decided to shop elsewhere. For a company founded on a middle class audience and low prices, this change was a signal for lifetime shoppers to exit, with seemingly no plan in place for attracting a higher-paying target audience.
Retail Giants’ Company Value Shift (2006 – 2018)
06 – ’18
Source: Peter Diamandis, “The Future of Retail“
Know Your Customers (or else)
Toys “R” Us CEO David Brandon mentioned in a recent SEC filing that the toy giant’s inability to invest in customer experiences in-store accelerated the death of the company. Last fall Brandon said the company’s mounting debt caused them to lose their competitive edge “on various fronts, including with regard to general upkeep and the condition of our stores.” In addition to the “general upkeep” Brandon mentions, if you’ve walked into a Toys “R” Us outside of the holidays, you’d understand. The massive store would appear as a moonscape, cold and nearly lifeless, save one or two employees and some barely audible music. Is that the environment that makes kids and parents think of fun?
This blog post does an excellent job of describing how Toys “R” Us could have boosted their customer experience through the roof, and honestly, it was probably within reach. “Special store events could include Nerf gun battles and dress up contests. Store representatives could excel at providing toy recommendations for particular age groups and interests (ever wondered, “What the heck do a get for my 8-year-old niece for Christmas?”).” These are the customer service based experiences consumers expect in our high-touch world. With eCommerce personalizing every customer interaction, it’s no wonder retail’s value continues to diminish.
Here’s Why Retail Will Die
As we can interpret from the examples above, traditional retail’s refusal to adapt (or perhaps retail’s lack of understanding about eCommerce) will be the industry’s ultimate downfall. One-time giants like Sears are ignoring systemic issues that directly impact in-store and over-the-phone customer experiences. Customer-minded marketing, store upkeep, and customer service — once staples of the retail experience — are being outsourced, downgraded or eliminated.
How To Bring The Magic Back
In a last-ditch effort to get customer engagement, Toys “R” Us launched an AR app called “PlayChaser” to create gamified in-store experiences. There were a few issues with this, like parents who didn’t want their kids running around a massive store with their tablet — and also the fact that the company had already declared bankruptcy — but the intent was there. Toys “R” Us was ready to repent for decades of customer boredom, but it was too-little-too-late.
Retailers seeking a strong, successful revival need three things:
- A unified strategy that blends digital and physical experiences while thinking realistically about in-store capabilities (like employees, upkeep, and tech).
- A highly-tailored online experience that combines hardcore marketing tactics with artificial intelligence to boost customer retention & sales (watch video).
- Unrelenting customer service that makes everything easier for the customer (yes, we mean everything). Understand your customers and meet their demands.
Circuit City recently announced an ambitious plan to resurrect the company with an eCommerce focus and an impressively cool omnichannel strategy. The digital retailer relaunched February 15th and is moving forward rapidly. If Circuit City can make a comeback, maybe it’s time for other retailers to get with the program.
A Connected Vision
Imagine the year is 2020… You awake in your home of the future. The light buzz from your smartwatch pleasantly rouses you from your slumber. You hear the steadily crescendoing notes of your favorite song play through wireless Bluetooth speakers. Morning sun filters into the room as the smartglass on your windows transitions from opaque to clear. As you step out of bed you notice your connected shower is already running, set to the perfect temperature. Meanwhile, your Wi-Fi-enabled coffee machine prepares to brew just in time for your arrival in the kitchen. This is the automated dream of the Internet of Things, and believe it or not, these patterns emulate how B2C companies should be marketing by 2020.
According to Adam Morris, CEO of Redstage, “The most profitable companies in 2020 will be those which seamlessly integrate content, product development and lifestyle marketing into the customer journey — and benefit from the data.” As an IoT enthusiast (already automating his household with Google Home), Morris believes “top brands will meet customer needs almost instantly, anywhere, and make customers view brand interactions as a constant benefit to their lifestyle.” In this world, your coffee would never be too hot, and your shower, never too cold. It combines elements of growth hacking strategies from the world’s most successful marketers to the best “freemium” channel managers. However, there’s one bump in the road to this bright, utopian brand vision… B2C companies are still playing catch-up with today’s technology.
Thinking Ahead: Winners & Losers
As Forbes reported in 2015, “only 10% of companies are using marketing automation.” However, in 2016 marketing automation exploded, rising to 49% of B2C companies on average. Still, we’re not seeing the utopian lifestyle we were promised. Why? Blame the learning curve. Because marketers are
still getting used to the software, the investment has not yet matched the results for many. While millennial companies are diving right in, established giants are taking time because this software is changing centuries-old business models, and mass firings of outmoded workers don’t resound well in the minds of shareholders… At least for now… Regardless, young or old, many companies are still not using automation to its full potential.
As a marketing professional, I recommend taking a look at this list here. These marketing platforms have near-endless integrations with programs most companies already use, and that’s the point: Automate and optimize your existing operations, then innovate, restructure and repeat. One notable member of this list, Magento, contains such immense customization capabilities for B2C and B2B marketers that there are now numerous sites solely dedicated to downloadable integrations for the software.
Preparing for 2020
Companies like Redstage, Zapier, IFTTT (If-This-Than-That) and even freelance developers constantly build new programs and apps to simplify massive processes for businesses. So if you know your company isn’t ready for the next wave, what’s your excuse? It’s time to hop on the innovation train or risk falling behind when 2020 Marketing comes around. And just in case you’re the one writing the budget proposal, start with the bottom line. As CMO.com reports, “77% of CMOs at top-performing companies indicate their most compelling reason for implementing marketing automation is to grow revenue.” The recipe works. What’s your excuse?
If you liked this article, check out our latest posts:
+ AR & AI: The Ecommerce Arms Race
+ How to Create Viral Marketing for Ecommerce
+ Email Marketing Tips for Retailers
Email Is King.
When it comes to ecommerce, email is the most vital and potentially profitable channel in your marketing arsenal. According to the Direct Marketing Association, “Segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue”. That number alone should get your blood pumping, but if your email campaign ROI is lacking, it’s time for some big changes.
1. Use Clear CTAs.
The subject line and opening text are the first part of the email anyone interacts with. The shorter the subject line, the more space the first bit of text in your email will occupy in their inbox (So make sure your opening line isn’t the default “Can’t Read This? View in browser” text… Use this real estate for something more valuable). This is your elevator pitch in ~72 characters. MAKE. IT. COUNT. Be sure to use a subject line that is catchy and engaging. Most customers won’t bother to open an email if the subject fails to pique their interest or at least stand out from the multitude of other marketing emails they receive.
Intend to resonate with the specific demographic you’re targeting, and avoid generic sales words. If it sounds too sales-y, you’re damned to the spam box. Too specific, i.e. “Hi John I saw you looked at our page…” and you’re creepy. Seek balance, and don’t be afraid to A/B test. Your subject line should always inspire someone to click, so aim for powerful call-to-action words like “Jumpstart,” “Command,” and “Unleash” (if applicable).
2. Segment Your Customers.
As I mentioned above, subject lines should be specific to the intended target. This could be 1 person or several thousand, as long as you can get a little specific and make your target feel like the email was tailor-made for them. No customer is created equal, but if your customer analytics are up-to-snuff, you should be using that data to segment your audience by demographic location, gender, age, product category, or at least their general interest area. Amazon isn’t sending emails to middle-aged men about hair dryers. Neither should you.
3. Make Yourself Known.
Your email sender ID can make or break your response rate. Use a welcoming, approachable email ID to send out emails to customers. If there’s a photo section, choose a happy-faced employee’s headshot rather than a cold-faced logo. It’s simply more personal. Lastly, and this should go without saying, you’ll get more feedback from customers if you use and email they can reply to… Instead of using an email such as [email protected] or from [email protected], use a person’s name. Humans enjoy talking to humans. Be human.
4. Personalize the email.
Personalize the email by using the customer’s name. This makes the customer feel valued and inherently makes the connection more personal. You can use *first_name* tags in the body of the email, as well as the subject line (with some email clients).
5. Content Is Everything!
Don’t underscore the importance of style when writing your customers or clients. All images and written content should be of the highest quality (especially because misspellings are usually seen as spam indicators). Less is more: To grab the attention of recipients, keep your copy simple and to-the-point.
Avoid ALL CAPS at ALL COSTS. Refrain from overuse of exclamation marks, images and gifs. Many studies have shown that more images lead to lower response rates. Not only are multiple images too heavy on the eyes of your customers, but your email could fall victim to loading time or formatting issues. These are common on certain devices, which can severely distort your message. If you’re showing off a product or something else that’s photo-heavy, put a “learn more” button that links to a page on your website for external content. It’s easier on them, prevents distortion of message, and if you’re tracking clicks, this can help qualify interested leads. It’s a win-win. Most importantly, the content of your email should be something your customers look forward to, so offer something valuable instead of asking them for something (if you can avoid it).
“Of the 100+ e-commerce companies that I’ve worked with over the past few years, the most successful are those that take the extra time to formulate and execute well-thought out e-mail marketing campaigns. Your e-mails are being seen by all of your clients and prospective clients; optimizing these touchpoints will help you increase sales while strengthening your brand.”
-Dave Gardner, Senior Account Executive & Team Lead at Redstage
One Final Note
According to the Direct Marketing Association, only a mere 7% of SMBs use emails as a branding tool. In fact, most Magento users aren’t customizing their transactional emails at all. Luckily, Redstage is launching a new product, offering unlimited customization of Magento Transactional Emails. Our team will work with you to create stunning email templates tailored for your specific needs. You’re already sending at least 4 emails to every new customer – let’s optimize every one of them to enhance your customer experience. Learn More >
With every new store display that goes up both in the physical and online stores, we are reminded the holidays are here. Online retailers put in a lot of effort to prepare their store for the holidays because of the potential increase in purchases (especially last-minute). The increase in customer traffic means there are potential increase in challenges; how you effectively deal with these challenges, can either make or break you to cement your online presence. Here are some of the challenges that you may face and how to address them:
#5: Increased website traffic
This is a great part of the holiday season but could have a negative effect on your store. It’s good because increased traffic can convert to increase in sales, however, unpredictable traffic could mean surges which may make your store go offline, something you obviously do NOT want to happen. To avoid this coordinate with your hosting company and your technology partners to ensure your disc space and bandwidth are increased appropriately. There are cloud hosting options and many other solutions to ensure that your store stays up and running during the holiday rush.
#4. Shipping Demand
The last thing your customers’ need to worry about is whether their items will be delivered on time. Not meeting your delivery schedule results in an unhappy customers who could take theirs and other business elsewhere. Evaluate your shipping options to see where it lacks and ensure it meets all potential customer demands. Any and all logistic issues with shipping products also increases your customer service requirements and taxes your staff causing mistakes and furthers the discontent of your customer base.
This doesn’t only effect small or medium sized ecommerce businesses. Just recently, we heard an internal story of a holiday related snafu with regards to Walmart. Their system shipped out a product incorrectly and it took a Redstage staff member 3 lengthy customer service calls to get it sorted out! This type of customer experience is why sites lose customers and what can stifle growth. Make sure your systems are running smoothly and your staff is trained to avoid these types of problems.
#3. Bad User Experience
Customer expectation for the look and ease of use of your online store can be very high. It is important to exceed this expectation to ensure that the user experience (UX) for the customer is memorable but most of all easy to use. Your products should be easy to find via navigation or search and contain enough product information to convince the customer to complete their purchase. Mobile optimization for your store is especially important in this day and age since a large percentage of shoppers use their mobile devices to shop online. Work closely with your web team’s designers and developers to optimize your store’s UX.
#2. Payment Fraud
The increase in online purchases during the holiday season also means you and your customers are more at risk to be victim to payment fraud. It is important to your customers to know that your website is secure since their card and bank information can be easily stolen if a merchant does not take the proper security measures. According to the National Retailer’s Federation, the average retailer loses 0.68 percent of revenue to fraud. This does not include the cost to you for fees, time and overhead and the loss of customer trust. Customer trust can cascade exponentially to ruin your brand and lose you much more than the industry average over time. To effectively manage this risk ensures that your store is in Payment Card Industry Security Standard Council (PCI) compliance, monitor customer daily transactions to look for any red flags in customer spending, use the address verification system and the Credit Card Verification Value (CVV).
Also, make sure that your software platform is up to date – We’re looking at you Magento 1.7 users! The security issues that can arise from out of date software need to be fixed immediately to protect you and your customers from hacking and fraud.
#1. Stock Control
It’s important to have sufficient stock to meet customer demand for the holiday season, it is also just as important to ensure you are not left with a large amount of holiday stock going into the new year. Make sure to monitory inventory ensure you have adequate amounts of stock for potential orders and storage is not an issue. Pull a report on your best-selling items in the last few months to ensure you’ve ordered the appropriate stock levels in time for Christmas. If you’re running any flash sales or pushing deeply discounted loss-leader items, you should have the data to support the inventory levels and not run low or end up with massive overstock.
Overall, these challenges aren’t impossible to overcome. If your company is facing any of these holiday difficulties or in general need any help or support with your store, please get in touch with Redstage anytime. You can reach us at 1-888-335-2747 or email us at [email protected].
Discover the top trends, insights, and strategies from the 2018 holiday season here!