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Why you can't separate digital and physical retail

Why you can't separate digital and physical retail Chloe Della Costa

The future of shopping is an uncertain one, but it also presents retailers with exciting opportunities. What we do know is that the changing consumer is at the heart of the shifting landscape, and if we listen closely to customers, we'll have the keys to how technology truly fits in. For marketers, this means being open to strategies and tactics not previously considered. We are in a unique new era in which shopping behavior is spread across multiple devices, connecting users to the in-store experience in a number of ways. So how do we bridge the gap between online and offline? In reality, online and offline customers are frequently the same customers. We just need to look at the whole picture.

In her keynote presentation at the inaugural iMedia Commerce Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kelly Thompson, SVP, merchandising, merchandise planning and marketplace at Walmart.com, explained how the brand is serving customers at the intersection of digital and physical shopping. For marketers, the consumer journey can now take innumerable shapes, with steps taking place in the home, the store, and everywhere in between. That's why it's imperative that both retail experts and skilled technologists come together to build an integrated online and offline experience.

While early e-commerce was focused on bringing the store to the web, Thompson highlighted how mobile is now bringing the web to the store. This means exciting opportunities because the website is no longer solely about driving the final sale, it's often just one part of the path to purchase. For marketers, this is why data-driven consumer insights are more important than ever. Thompson emphasized that the focus needs to be on empowering customers with the ability to shop how and when they want.

At Walmart, the company sees 140 million customers per week in stores and online. And for each and every one of them, Thompson's goal is to make shopping faster and more convenient. She claims that to achieve this, traditional retailing can't be abandoned or ignored. "My belief is we have to take best of traditional retailing and combine that with all the new capabilities unfolding around us," Thompson said.

According to Walmart's data, 65 percent of Walmart store customers have smartphones, and 50 percent of Walmart smartphone holders use their device in-store to assist with shopping decisions. This can come in the form of comparing prices, conducting product research, or checking reviews. These behaviors can also take place on a variety of devices in a variety of locations. For baby products, product research is often done via desktop at home, and then customers make purchases in-store. Thompson also gave the example of Clairol hair care products. Extensive product information for this line is available on Walmart.com. "We sell more in stores, but this educates the customer, so when she does go in the store she feels educated about her purchase," she explained.

Thompson also called on attendees to challenge themselves to truly understand the capabilities of all their partners. "Keeping up with customers requires innovative technology," she added. And truly taking advantage of it requires really understanding and listening to the experts. Furthermore, conversations between merchants and marketers were always important, but today, they must be data-driven. The most important conversation, however, is with the customer, and it starts with being an excellent listener.

To close, Thompson brought it all back to collaboration. Reminding attendees that Walmart is a founder-led company, she presented a quote from Sam Walton: "We're all working together. That's the secret." In order for online and offline to work together as well, to address the needs of modern shoppers, brands must be skillful in collaborating with partners, marketers, and most importantly, consumers.

Chloe Della Costa is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Man reading a text message during shopping" image via Shutterstock.


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