In the past, there was talk of online ‘cannibalising’ offline sales in retail, and the big question was whether or not creating an e-commerce arm would inevitably signal the death of the physical retail store. 

During the pandemic, when most physical retail was temporarily suspended, consumers and retailers alike explored the realm of the possible online. They have since almost universally come to the same conclusion – physical stores remain a vital part of the retail experience and customers couldn’t wait to have them back. 

Expectations of that offline retail experience have also changed. Consumers want a similar sense of immediacy, availability and personalisation from physical stores as they get online.

For example, 80% of UK consumers say they would do more food shopping online if the experience was improved. But more importantly, customers expect to be able to blend online and offline experiences, beginning their journey in one and continuing it in another, in whichever way is most convenient for them. 

Tying customers’ online and offline journeys together to find the insights that power that personalised experience has often been viewed as a challenge. The expected deprecation of third-party cookies in 2023 is seen as yet another hurdle. But retailers do have a wealth of data that will allow them to deliver those tailored, blended experiences. 

Collect data on blended experiences

How customers navigate the omnichannel experience has also evolved. Online search at home, via desktop, is still important. However, more and more customers are conducting search in-store via mobile, for example to find price comparisons and reviews. As such, by the end of 2021, 63% of organic search was conducted on a mobile device. Equally, customers are showrooming more – this means coming into a shop to examine goods before going home to buy online. This journey can be further complicated by ordering online to collect, or perhaps complete a return, in-store.

This set of customer interactions provides a swathe of insight for retailers. In measuring footfall for example, this can be attached to POS purchasing data, or returns data, to give information around how customers use the store, answering questions like, is it a browsing destination, Or a more practical hub to manage online shopping? This in turn informs merchandising and inventory, allowing the store to personalise its range and experience to its own, specific customer set. 

These data sets can be enhanced by including digital tools in-store, such as touch screen ‘kiosks’ that allow visitors to browse extended ranges. Not only can this help the retailer understand where there may be gaps in inventory, it reveals search behaviours and trends that can then be translated back to the online environment, across web, search and social. 

Enhance top of funnel activity

Using insight to build a more relevant, personalised in-store experience drives conversions. For example, three-quarters of customers want the brands they shop with to make it easy for them to navigate in-store and online, and a further  67% want relevant product or service recommendations, based on their known preferences. However, combining in-store and online data also feeds the top of the funnel by informing brand experience and communications.

First-party data from online browsing and purchasing adds location insights to behavioural information. This then allows localised outlets to target online ads to local trends, events and promotions that can drive even deeper in-store personalisation. 

Web traffic data such as session duration and most visited pages can be merged with social media and app analytics, email engagement and more. Using  tools such as Google Store Visits, which ties in GPS, WiFi, Google query data and visitor behaviour, doesn’t just tie online and offline activity together but it can also improve return on ad spend. 

First-party data is the goal

Why it’s so important to focus on delivering insights based on first-party data is ultimately down to the impending deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome. Impacts on customer tracking have already been seen in the app environment with Apple’s iOS14 tracking opt-outs. Marketers must now find ways to attract customers to their own properties, physical and virtual, if they’re to build better engagements that drive longer, profitable customer lifetime value (CLV).

Bringing customers to owned properties gives marketers the opportunity to garner yet more data – location, affiliate links and so on – to develop more effective, targeted ads that can then either build a purely online relationship, or drive customers to their local store for a broader retail experience. 

Online and offline retail are no longer in competition, they are in collaboration. There is still so much potential to be mined if marketers are able to understand how customers are using the various channels open to them, as well as the opportunity to create new and enticing experiences across the omnichannel.

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