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Closing the Gap: How Digital Business Technologies Keep Your Brand From Having Split Personalities

Retailers might think of the digital customer experience as separate from the in-store experience, but consumers don't. As your customers bounce around between online and offline channels, all interactions with your brand are part of one big customer experience. Without digital business technologies shoring up the gaps between online and in-store, that experience is likely to be fragmented and inconsistent.

A woman using digital business technologies to shop online and in-store at the same time.
Consumers expect similar experiences in your stores and on your site, so use digital business technologies to bridge that gap.

Think of it like this: In the digital world, most people have two personas: an online/social persona and a real-world persona. The two don't always match up, but everybody is still just one person. If your employee takes a sick day and then posts pictures of himself at the beach on Facebook, you don't think, "Oh, that's just 'Facebook Sam' working on his tan. I'm sure the real Sam is home in bed." Likewise, if someone is a total flake but has a polished and professional LinkedIn profile, you don't think, "I guess Linda is polished and professional after all." You think, "Linda is a hot mess with good written communication skills."

The same is true for brands. Not only do consumers think of your digital and physical channels as the same brand experience, but they want it to feel that way. They want consistency across channels and the ability to seamlessly transition between them.

What are the major gaps between in-store and online experiences? How can digital business technologies and contemporary retail strategies bridge these gaps?

Not only do consumers think of your digital and physical channels as the same brand experience, but they want it to feel that way.

First Things First: Think Hyperlocal

As much as consumers love online shopping, it still hasn't fully replaced physical stores. Even Amazon is dabbling in brick-and-mortar locations — and for good reason. Sometimes overnight shipping isn't fast enough. Customers want to see and touch certain items before they buy them. And plenty of people shop to relax or for cardio. (If you don't think shopping is a high-impact sport, you've never done it on Black Friday!)

Still, today's consumers don't have time to waste. Before visiting your store, they go online to find driving directions, check store inventory and prices, or look up phone numbers so they can call with questions. If that information is hard to find, they're likely to look up your competitors instead.

Before you can connect digital and real-world channels, your local presence has to be strong. That means making it easy for digital shoppers to see what's in stock at individual locations. It also means posting and optimizing phone numbers for each store, not just a 1-800 number. With a virtual business phone system, all your stores can still be on the same system, but each store has a local number.

Mimic In-Store Experiences Online

In-store shopping has its advantages. With a little creativity and the right digital business technologies, your brand can recreate those experiences online.

For example, in-store customers have sales associates waiting to answer their questions or help them find products. Your company can mimic that experience online by adding real-time communications features to your e-commerce site (or better yet, adopting a communications platform as a service, or CPaaS, tecnhnology to combine all those communication tools). This way, online shoppers can send instant messages to or video chat with sales associates.

It's also faster and sometimes cheaper to buy in-store. Customers don't have to pay for shipping or wait for products to arrive. Some forward-thinking retailers now let customers buy online and pick up in-store. TechCrunch reports that Walmart now offers curbside delivery for small grocery orders placed online. Meanwhile, according to Euclid, Nordstrom lets customers select clothes they like online and then has those items ready in the dressing room when they arrive. The digital to in-store transition doesn't get more seamless than that.

Bring Digital Experiences In-Store

Online shopping also has its advantages. Along with the convenience of shopping from anywhere, digital channels provide personalized recommendations, offers, and content.

Thanks to beacons, geofencing, and other near-field technologies, you can send personalized marketing messages to in-store customers who have downloaded your mobile app. For example, you could send them special discount codes or suggest items that complement the products they've previously bought.

The screens that customers bring with them aren't your only opportunity for personalized digital communication. At some Ralph Lauren stores, "smart mirrors" in dressing rooms detect which items customers are trying on and recommend similar items or matching accessories. Not only is this a cool experience for customers, but it's also a solid revenue booster. Euclid reports that customers who use this mirror buy 59 percent more than non-users.

These hybrid retail strategies are just the beginning. Technology will continue to get smarter, cloud solutions will make it increasingly easy for brands to integrate data and channels, and the Internet of Things will only grow in reach. Armed with cutting-edge technologies, retail innovators will continue to create hybrid communication strategies that surprise and delight consumers and provide a consistent customer experience online, offline, and anywhere in between.

To learn more about innovative technologies for your retail brand, speak to a Vonage Business consultant.

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