The current edition of the Vantiv Omnicommerce Tracker identifies how progressive retailers and companies are enabling omnichannel across multiple lenses – all of which apply to the customer experience. MPD CEO Karen Webster recently spoke with Jeff Courcelle, VP of User Experience & Design at Vantiv, to gain his perspective on applying the findings of the latest study toward maximizing consumer engagement.
KW: Let’s get your perspective, Jeff, on the current issue of the Vantiv Omnicommerce Tracker, where we take a look at the landscape in retail that is all about how merchants are pursuing their omnichannel and omnicommerce strategies.
What I found interesting about this month’s report is the focus on personalization – what everyone in the retail ecosystem has to do to enable a more relevant experience between the consumer and the merchant. I’d love to get your reaction to that; and specifically, whether or not you think that personalization really drives loyalty.
JC: I think it does, and in a lot of different ways.
You’re seeing a lot of different plays in that space today around loyalty, and you have for the past several years. Right now, loyalty is getting at one fundamental underpinning, and that’s customer engagement. The more you can engage your customer – and in more different ways – the more likely your customer is going to establish brand loyalty, and choose you over your competitors.
One of the fundamental principles around that customer engagement is the user experience. If you can make it easier for me to shop, either in your store or via your online app, and make the experience more engaging and genuine, I’m going to be more likely to buy from you more often.
A common example of that is Amazon, and a lot of its success comes from recommendations. I buy one item, and I’m shown additional items that were purchased by customers who did the same. It gives me an opportunity to discover new products and services that I may not have been looking for initially, or may not have known existed. You can call it “upsell,” but really, it’s exploration.
The catch with recommendations that we’re starting to see a little in the space is that you need to make sure that what you’re suggesting to customers is relevant. They need to be contextual and, primarily, presented as a tool to enhance the shopping experience rather than just an add or an upsell. If you’re sort of flooding the shopping experience with irrelevant recommendations, that’s not going to do anything to engender the brand loyalty experience.
Meijer, the food chain, is a cool example of how to provide very contextual recommendations. They’re experimenting with curbside pickup for online grocery orders. What you see around a platform like that is, if I tend to buy the same groceries, it can remember things that I’ve bought in the past and remind me to buy items that I might’ve forgotten about. That’s something that is engaging me as a customer, and it’s going to make me more likely to continue shopping there. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to create loyalty.
KW: That reminds me of an email I recently got from Amazon. The subject line was, “Buy it again,” and the body of the email was images of 7 or 8 things that I had ordered in the past that they thought I’d probably re-order: shampoo, dog food, and so on. I thought it was an interesting engagement strategy because it wasn’t a recommendation, but a reminder.
JC: What’s important in using that strategy is that you make sure the items you’re suggesting are things that a person would re-order. If they had sent an email asking you if you’d like to order a DVD again, that would be strange. The context is very important.
GrubHub is another interesting example. If I want to order from a restaurant that I’d ordered from 2 or 3 weeks earlier, with GrubHub I can review my past orders to remember their details. With one click of a button, I can even duplicate the order. That type of interaction is very positive; it fundamentally builds loyalty to both the restaurant and the service.
KW: It does eliminate friction because it’s just simple to remember an order that you enjoyed from a restaurant; it saves time and a lot of hassle.
Earlier, you talked about the experience that Meijer is trying out – ordering groceries for curbside pickup – and I provided my Amazon example… Do you think that personalization varies by merchant segment and by channel? Are there certain things that stimulate more loyalty because you’re buying groceries, and then different things to stimulate purchase of specialty apparel, or electronics?
JC: Absolutely, there’s going to be differences. I’ll give you an example of the shoe store, DSW. If they sent me an email reminding me of some shoes I’d bought in the past, or presented me with, “people who bought these shoes also bought these other shoes,” that’s not really something that’s going to engender me towards them specifically over a competitor, because that’s a strange shopping experience for that particular item. The shoes I have are probably the ones I want.
But what DSW does instead is provide a fantastic mobile experience. I can be in one of their stores, use their mobile app to scan a barcode on a shoe, and get customers' reviews of it. That kind of thing is what’s by and large missing from the retail shopping experience.
If you can find ways to leverage your mobile experience in-store, and bring the advantages of online shopping into a physical retail location, then you’ve hit a home run.
KW: This all sounds phenomenal from the consumer perspective. Obviously, it’s complicated for a merchant to deploy. What’s involved in delivering this kind of user experience?
JC: From a technological standpoint, the DSW example is not fundamentally complicated. You’re looking at designing, first and foremost, an outstanding mobile application. That requires heavy contextual research and heavy usability testing to really understand who your customers are and what it is that they’re doing online when it comes to buying your product or service. You want to know, 'What are the fundamental tasks that your users are trying to accomplish' when you’re designing the application.
Once the application is completed, the second piece is to do that same research in your store. Most retail chains will have a good understanding of how people shop inside of their stores. At that point, you’re really just coming up with those strong user stories.
KW: Are you seeing a lot of retailers actually make their applications robust enough to do this? Some of them have or are developing that capability in terms of browser-based online interaction, but their apps tend to leave a lot to be desired.
Do you see a shift in the allocation of resources and time in beefing up applications? Or are merchants simply looking at the browser experience and using a responsive design to mimic that on a mobile device?
JC: Four or five years ago, responsive design was all the rage – and for good reason. You could basically develop one single online site that also served as your mobile shopping experience; it was economically sound, from a development standpoint. It also ensured a more seamless user experience because it was fundamentally one code base serving both audiences.
As time went on, you started to see a lot of backlash against responsive design. The reason for that was the code base – which originated for desktop use – took much longer to download on handheld devices than on desktop computers. That’s when you started to see a shift back towards native applications. It happened with Facebook.
I’m not saying responsive design is dead, by any means. But I do think that, when you’re trying to leverage what is the optimal user experience and create shopping experiences that make the user want to use an app over and over, the native applications have a considerable advantage right now.
KW: I can see where that makes a ton of sense in terms of the user experience. I think that, as with a lot of things, apps evolve as everyone gets more experience and feedback about them. There are a lot whose functionality really doesn’t add a lot of value. It’s almost easier just to use the browser base on a phone or a tablet because the app doesn’t really provide an interesting experience for the consumer.
JC: Absolutely; and that goes back to the previous point I made about knowing your customer. You have to spend the time to do your contextual research, to do your usability studies, to understand their buying behaviors. If you can do that – and you really fundamentally understand things that are important to them in order to make the decisions that they need to make about purchasing – that will inform your app design.
Once you have that basis, you can start adding the bells and whistles and pieces of functionality that will help make it a differentiator.
KW: You’ve offered a lot of interesting insights to retailers who are thinking about ways to make the user experience more personal and relevant.
As we wrap up…are there other things you’re talking to your customers about that you think they need to understand about user experience and personalization?
JC: What it really comes down to is that the investment in user experience is one that you don’t want to shortcut. You see it a lot in the industry, and you can immediately tell the difference between applications that have had a major investment made in them and those that haven’t.
We live in a world of consumer-based reviews. Everybody has an opinion and they’re all going to express them about your application. You can look at the Apple App Store and see a large division between the five-stars, four-stars, and two-stars – and these are major brands. You can clearly see where some people have hit the mark and where others have missed it.
When it comes to omnicommerce, one of the major recommendations that I would give is not to focus just on making the mobile experience great. That’s something you can do if you’re purely eCommerce, but not if you’re an omnichannel merchant. If you have a physical retail environment and you have a mobile app, getting the mobile app right is a major first step…but you have to do the research to learn how you can leverage your in-store capabilities with your mobile capabilities to bridge the gap between the two of them and create a single shopping experience.
If you’re not leveraging your mobile experience in your stores, somebody else will. You don’t want to get into a situation where somebody goes into your store, they’re thinking about getting a physical item, but in the back of their mind they’re thinking about a competitor who has a great mobile shopping experience, and they check the price on their store site…and maybe that potential sale leaves your location.
To download the May edition of the Vantiv Omnicommerce Tracker, click here.