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Influencing the Shopper on the Retail Floor (wherever that is)

Influencing the Shopper on the Retail Floor (wherever that is) Jeff Griffin
I’m about to hold forth on something that is decidedly unsexy. Talk all you want about the future of social media. Make all the prognostications you want about Apple’s stock price. Tell me all about the “complete migration from online to mobile.” For me, the hottest digital marketing topic is still the influence that the retail floor has in today’s messy yet wonderful path-to-purchase. Since starting in retail during my high school years (selling shoes to farmers’ wives in the very first Belk’s Department Store), I have never seen a more crowded or complicated intersection than the crossroads of retailing and technology.

Now don’t get me wrong, as convoluted as it may be, it’s a great intersection to be at right now. Because even though it’s much cooler to say that “mobile commerce is going to grow at an astronomical rate,” or that “social media is the future of all media,” I’m here to tell you that the future of media is where it always has been: it’s located at the point of decision for shoppers. And that’s right where it ought to be. That’s where it’s going to stay.

The journey from brand observer to brand fan seems to get a lot of press, but the journey from undecided shopper to decided shopper (now she’s a consumer!) is still the one that matters most. Sure, if I’m a brand marketer, I want to wield influence all along the shopper’s journey, but if I’m not present at the precise time and place the undecided shopper makes up her mind – that fabulous, final moment-of-truth – then I’ve missed the most critical point in the sales funnel, haven’t I?

You might say “Griff, you have an agenda here,” and you’d be right. But I’m not the only one excited about retail floor innovations. Take for example Ron Johnson’s highly publicized work at JCPenney, or Stores Magazine naming in-store mobile technology the hottest innovation in retail.

Johnson was the mind behind Apple’s retail success and a bona fide retailing superstar. He is now breathing new life into the image of JCPenney in large part by focusing on improving its in-store customer experience. Most known for innovations like the genius bar in Apple stores (where “shopper marketing” = a desk + a chair + a person dedicated to making technology less scary), Johnson knows how influential the store experience is in nudging a shopper from undecided to decided. It would be naïve of me to suggest that this in-store experience is the only moment of truth for JCP (Hello, Ellen! Love your TV spots.), but in my humble opinion it’s still the most important.

Another example of the potential of the retail environment to influence shopper decision making is the excitement about putting mobile technology to work on the sales floor. Mobile devices carried by sales associates – with links to the store’s backend inventory and pricing systems – can now beam valuable information at the speed of retail to the point of decision. I would have loved this back when I was selling those shoes on my hands and knees! Instead of wearing ruts in the carpet running back to the storeroom to see if we had any “Clarks with a sensible heel in navy in size 9?” in stock, I could have whipped out an iPad and given an exasperated “Yes, ma’am” without ever getting off my knees (so to speak). That’s influence at the moment of truth, and you can expect to see a lot more of it in the coming years. And as a shopper, you should expect to see a lot more of it serving your path to purchase, too.

Now, as for Griff’s agenda: I humbly suggest that e-commerce media is the digital equivalent to these sales floor moments of truth. As shoppers’ path-to-purchase continues to evolve into an omni-channel journey, these magic moments will occur more and more within the richly curated pages of a retailer’s website. And up until recently, marketers had limited access to this moment online, but now the walls are beginning to shrink as retailers offer brand marketers paid media inventory on their sites – inventory at such a scale that it can accommodate even the largest of ad budgets. So take it from an old shoe (and toilet paper, and cookie, and cereal) salesman, consider following your shopper’s journey online, and put your advertising where it will influence her the most.

  Jeff Griffin serves as President of Retail for HookLogic, responsible for the success of retail e-commerce media programs. Jeff is a leading industry expert on shopper marketing, with a wealth of experience working with retailers and brands...

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