This month’s Vantiv Omnicommerce Tracker highlighted a number of trends but perhaps none more interesting or potentially game changing as what innovators are doing to make omnichannel a one-to-one experience. Marcus Robins, SVP of Strategy for Vantiv recently caught up with MPD CEO Karen Webster to offer his insight on how Facebook’s announcement of Messenger for Business, and the ability for retailers to converse with customers in a far more personal way, could unlock a lot of new retailer value by locking in customer loyalty. Listen in on their conversation.
KW: Let’s talk about the omnichannel tracker and the trends that we are observing in the area of omnicommerce. One of the trends we highlighted was Facebook’s announcement of Messenger for Business. What struck me was the opportunity that it could provide retailers to talk to their customers in a personal way. How do you think that Messenger for Business could influence, change, advance or otherwise provide an opportunity for retailers?
MR: It’s particularly interesting that it came hot on the heels of the announcement that Facebook would enable P2P payments using debit cards in Messenger. Naturally, a lot of folks are looking at the connection between the two. The really interesting thing about this announcement is that Facebook is really enabling this one-to-one, near real-time communication between retailers and consumers. If you think about the nature of instant messaging, that’s a really personal world that involves a lot of trust. This is quite a leap for Facebook.
It’s interesting to note that they’ve started by focusing on delivery status and customer service issues, and providing information that’s immediately useful to consumers. We noticed in the tracker this month that most consumers don’t think retailers communicate with them particularly well. I think the challenge here is that as retailers move into one-to-one messaging, they need to be really thoughtful about how they do that, and build trust before moving the conversation into something more commercial.
KW: Do you think there’s a downside to having the communication be within the Messenger platform as opposed to within the merchant site itself?
MR: I think, naturally, retailers would want to be able to communicate with consumers on their own sites because of course there’s a huge benefit in doing that. But I come back to the observation that one-to-one communication on a third-party platform is likely to be more trusted by consumers. I think that’s where there’s clearly an opportunity for retailers to leverage this very personal, private form of communication, but it also creates a situation where they need to be thoughtful about how they do that so they don’t inadvertently alienate those consumers.
KW: On the subject of one-to-one, personalizing the shopping experience is a trend we observed too this month. Sephora, which is known as a pioneer in using lots of different digital methods for engaging consumers, said that their revenue was much higher last year when they allowed gift givers to personalize gift cards. That’s one example of personalization, of course, but overall do you think that personalization will really move the needle for retailers?
MR: I am not sure whether it will move the needle for retailers across the board, but my observation would be that shopping in categories like Sephora is serving is an inherently social activity. Where you shop and what you buy says a lot about you as a person, and so providing consumers with a means to personalize gift cards or receive personalized service will be attractive for a lot of them.
We’re also living in a world where consumers have far more choice than they’ve ever had, so easily customizing a product or elements of a service offering will help retailers with differentiation margins and driving continued loyalty. That’s clearly what Sephora has seen.
KW: It’s interesting because as a consumer, I get a lot of emails that start with “Just for you…” and then I open the email and wonder why it’s just for me since it’s really not what I’d be interested in at all. It seems like retail is on a collective learning curve to calibrate that personalization well enough so that consumers get whatever is necessary to make that a relevant message. Do you agree?
MR: I think that’s right – we’re only starting to scratch the surface in terms of data and analytics and combining information about consumers and their purchasing habits. What might be seen as blunt messaging now will become more refined as retailers invest more in those capabilities.
KW: Let’s talk about online e-tailers becoming more omnichannel by creating physical presences. Birchbox is one example; Amazon has done the same thing in New York, and now Google in London. What are your thoughts with respect to the opportunities and challenges in doing that?
MR: I think the opportunity for online retailers going offline will be in engagement with consumers, really starting to provide those shoppers the opportunity to engage with products and services in a far more intimate way. A recent survey suggested that click-to-brick retailers see a 3-5 times lift in sales revenues in that location, so there are clearly benefits from it. One of the challenges is that they are now introducing physical services that will need to match what consumers receive online, potentially creating new or additional moments of truth. That’s one of the challenges that these online retailers are seeing an advantage from.
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SVP of Strategy for Vantiv