As MPD CEO Karen Webster recently discussed with Brad LaRock, Vice President of Client Marketing Services at Digital River, the process for a merchant to build customer loyalty requires more than a single step…but given the number of options presented to them, it’s often a scary first step for many.
Drawing from his company’s experience with merchant clients, LaRock shared with Webster a number of insights that can help simplify the process of finding opportunities for initial engagement, repeat engagement, and how merchants can best serve their customers to build long-term brand affinity.
KW: There’s a lot more to engaging a consumer, and earning their trust and loyalty, than just offering a great deal. It’s really about personalizing the experience to the shopper — which is also one of the hardest things for a merchant to do.
What are your clients doing to try to make the experience for their shoppers worthwhile?
BL: In situations where things can get very complex — such as personalizing the experience for the shoppers — we recommend that merchants start by simplifying matters.
A great place to start is with direct links, or traffic coming from search engines. That channel gives merchants a chance to start further upstream and get to know that user before they even arrive at your site.
On that channel, little things like branded terms or generic terms can give the merchant indications about the shoppers’ preference of alignment with your brand.
If somebody’s searching on a specific brand term, it’s a great opportunity for the merchant to welcome them from a brand perspective, and maybe introduce them to the full suite of products that it has available.
If they’re running generic searches, maybe it’s an opportunity to introduce the brand from a more personal standpoint: Include a bit of a testimonial or some of the things that the brand stands for to help educate that shopper as they get there.
Even the way that the shopper is behaving in the search channel gives the merchant an opportunity to understand a little bit more about them. For instance, if they’re shopping for your brand, but they’re including buy-centered terms, there’s probably an opportunity for the merchant to introduce them to the buy sequence of its website, as opposed to the more educational pieces that are out there.
There might also be shoppers that are searching for discounts for Brand X; that gives the merchant some education about what moves them or what they’re looking for in their experience from their site.
KW: What about some of the insights with respect to what they’re searching for? I would imagine that what the consumer is searching for could be an indicator of how much in the buying mode they really are.
Are there tools and insights that you’re recommending your customers use to get a better idea of just how ready those consumers are to buy?
BL: Yes. Understanding the search terms that are being used and dedicating a certain set to landing pages depending on those search terms is a great way to get started.
If someone’s looking for, say, a Ford vehicle…they’ve got a brand affinity, but they really haven’t decided what they’re looking for at that point — at least they’re not indicating that through the search channel. But if someone uses the search terms, “Buy a Ford truck,” the merchant has an immediate opportunity to start personalizing that experience along the way via those landing pages — even before they get to the site — to help them understand more quickly how to get the information that they’re looking for.
KW: Beyond first-time visitors, there are an awful lot of shoppers who are familiar with a merchant’s site, and may need a little tug to engage them further. What are you seeing in that regard, and what are you recommending to help your merchants establish a more loyal and engaged relationship with repeat shoppers?
BL: Great question. That’s a very rich area.
With our clients, we’ll leverage testing platforms — such as Adobe Test&Target, among others — to understand and learn more about those users as they shop through the experience. Whether we know them or we don’t — at least initially — we can learn that and leverage our testing platforms to deliver those experiences a little more cleanly.
When a merchant has a repeat customer, it obviously can know more about them initially from their previous purchase history — which gives the merchant a great opportunity to start bringing additional selections into their sequence. If it knows that Product A and B and C go better with Product X, that’s an immediate opportunity to bring that into their shopping experience right out of the gate.
There’s a lot to be learned even from referring URLs. Certain brands go better with one another, and understanding where users have come from and what they were previously looking for and looking at is a great way for a merchant to adjust its selection in real time to what the users might be looking for.
KW: What about the shopper that is on the site, kind of tooling around…and they’ve made decisions about what it is they’d like to purchase. There’s always that one more thing that they could put in their basket. What kinds of tools are available to help drive those upsells?
BL: There’s obviously a lot that brands do know about how people purchase their products, and what’s complementary and what types of accessories go along with them…but there’s also ways to learn that through technology.
There’s a number of recommendation platforms out there that we leverage to help drive those experiences from a programmatic standpoint, and offering more of a predictive nature about what might be the next best options for those users. We like to leverage a number of different platforms on that space, but those are available for anyone today.
KW: Do you have a sense of how well any of those tools work, in terms of converting an upsell opportunity to an actual sale?
BL: They can work quite well. I think one of the things that we’ve seen most commonly is: to get the most benefit out of leveraging those marketing technologies that are available around recommendations engines, a merchant has to have a fairly robust catalogue. For retailers that have really broad and wide catalogue offerings, those recommendation engines can be very powerful, as far as upsells and add-ons are concerned.
KW: Let’s talk about what happens once the shopper has concluded her experience on the site. There’s always an opportunity to keep selling… What are your thoughts and recommendations for how to personalize the experience beyond a “thanks for your purchase; we’ll be in touch once it’s shipped?”
BL: Whether they’ve bought, or even if they haven’t, there’s a number of different ways to get engaged, there.
If they’ve completed a purchase, they’ve opened up a communication channel with their merchant that it now can take advantage of. There’s the opportunity to remind them of the purchase; the opportunity to confirm the shipping date; the opportunity to update them… And along the way, in each one of those messages, there’s an incremental opportunity or some white space to take advantage of. A merchant can make additional recommendations in incremental products or even services that could be complementary in that story.
KW: There’s a lot of science now that’s being applied to this area of relationships and creating engagement with the consumer — which is obviously a very good thing, provided that the right data is being evaluated and used. Is that how you see the loyalty space overall evolving — more data, more precise data, and better use of data?
BL: You’re right on point. Over the past few years, we’ve developed an interesting analytics practice to understand more of that purchase history with the consumer.
A lot of merchants can understand that they’ve made one or two purchases, but they don’t really understand the full lifetime value of that shopper being in the file and — more importantly — what to do with that information once they identify the shopping patterns of those users in the file. With that data, they can better understand where they’re at in their sequence; are they ready for a potential upgrade (in some cases), or maybe a lighter version? There are opportunities to upsell and downsell in that scenario.
The bottom line is that, with the analytics that we’re generating and can understand from those shopping experiences, we can better predict the full lifetime value of that consumer, and better tailor their shopping experiences based off of the collective of that analytic.
KW: The other thing that I think is so interesting about the shopping experience and what delivers a loyal customer is service. It isn’t always about what you’re presented to buy, it’s how your experience is throughout and how you’re serviced as a customer. I’m not sure that’s always necessarily thought of as part of the loyalty mix, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of technology that can help enhance the service level, too.
BL: This is one of the unique benefits, I think, for brands selling direct today. There’s a bit of a white space that’s created when consumers choose to come to those brand sites. There’s a higher level of expectation of comfort, quality and service… And brands have the opportunity to step right into that.
We’re seeing a lot of people do some very unique things on the service side, as opposed to just chasing after the consumer with discounts. What we’re finding is that there’s a really rich segment of buyers out there that are attracted to just that.
For example, the company HTC does a great job in bringing their UH OH Protection message and guarantees front-forward in the purchase sequence. Whether a customers wants to upgrade their phone, fix a broken screen, or do a variety of other things, that company has taken the opportunity to move into that space, and they’re doing it really well.
KW: It is amazing how the availability of connected devices, and the ability to now access brands directly, does give the brand more of a direct connection with the consumer.
It’s an interesting time to be in retail, and there are a lot of interesting tools that can be applied to that experience that the retailer — the brand — wants to have with the consumer to make it richer.
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