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4 Tactics to Navigate the New Retail Search Frontier

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Christi Olson
Christi Olson
4 Tactics to Navigate the New Retail Search Frontier

Artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), and other innovations are rapidly evolving and are fast becoming embedded in everyday life.

As technology gets smarter and creates greater convenience, the ways that consumer engage with brands is also changing.

Consumers have come to expect increasingly personalized service and always-on conversations. And the bygone era of brand loyalty has given way to convenience and seamless frictionless experiences.

As technology continues to transform the marketplace, the once-linear customer experience lifecycle has become a never-ending cycle of engagement.

Here are four tactics that retailers need to know, and how you can make it actionable in search.

1. Be There, Be Convenient, Be Ready

Consumers are all about convenience and will choose the retail channel that is easiest at the time, be it mobile, online, in-store, social – or even a mix. They expect on-demand transactions and responses 24x7x365.

In the old days, this meant a huge staffing load, which for all but the largest companies, was cost-prohibitive.

Nowadays, investments in the right technology give retailers the ability to meet these demands at a much more reasonable cost.

Take chatbots, for example. Done well, these human-like bots are able to reflect your brand’s unique voice and can minimize the need for massive call centers by:

  • Responding to common queries.
  • Triaging and routing more complex needs.
  • Helping customers complete transactions.

Retailers can integrate chatbots into websites, mobile apps, text messaging, and more.

  • Looking for inspiration or still researching what you might want to buy? The eBay ShopBot can help with recommendations while showing your products available for sale in its marketplace.
  • Searching for the perfect shade of lipstick for your skin tone? Ask the Sephora chatbot, it’s got oodles of product recommendations.
  • Hungry? Jump on Facebook Messenger to order a Domino’s pizza.
  • Going somewhere? Use voice to summon a ride from Lyft or Uber.

Visual search is another way that retailers can engage.

Image recognition capabilities are enabling retailers to help shoppers find what they’re after quickly.

Target has an app that allows customers to photograph an item and then find similar products for sale at Target.

Key Takeaway

Give your customers self-service tools and make sure that interactions throughout the purchase journey are intuitive and friction-free.

How Can You Make It Actionable in Search

Make your chatbots discoverable.  If you are using the Microsoft Bot Framework, select Bing and Cortana as channels so that your bots are discoverable in search.

You can also request to join the Bing Ads beta for Chatbot Ad Extensions.

2. Get Personal – Take Relationships to the Next Level

Marketing to an audience of one and providing personalized attention at every interaction is quickly becoming a must-have.

In the Bing Future of Retail Consumer Survey, 56 percent of consumers agreed that they are more likely to buy again when a brand provides a personalized experience.

In the past, this has been easier said than done. But thanks to AI, CRMs, and almost limitless data, retailers can create detailed customer profiles and deliver a curated set of experiences, recommendations, and offers that save time and make multi-channel shopping seamless.

Through advanced CRMs and marketing systems, dynamic outreach gives brands the ability to synthesize online data to build detailed profiles to deliver personalized brand messaging through email, chat, and other channels.

Guided curation gives brands the ability to construct product recommendations based on customer preferences.

  • TripAdvisor uses in-app actions to send out personalized accommodation recommendations and messages.
  • Retailer H&M uses past purchases to provide customers with personalized suggestions and upsell offers.
  • Stitch Fix not only records customer-completed profiles, it tracks every touchpoint and even considers life circumstances, such as special events or life transitions to deliver ultra-personalized products.

Key Takeaway

Set up a CRM system that tracks customer activity across channels and provide customers with messaging and recommendations that are based on their own unique preferences and history.

How Can You Make It Actionable in Search

A well thought through and defined remarketing strategy that uses RLSA and custom audiences layered on top of your existing PPC campaigns.

3. Augment the Ability to ‘Try Before You Buy’

When you’re in the store, trying on a pair of shoes or feeling the fabric quality of a sofa can give you the confidence to complete a transaction. But when you’re shopping online and faced with countless brands and options, making that decision can be overwhelming.

Brands that bridge the emotional gap between online and offline stand to profit. And a key way to do this is through augmented and virtual reality.

In fact, 45 percent of consumers who had used AR/VR said that these experiences made them more likely to buy.

You don’t have to look far to find examples.

  • Both IKEA and Wayfair customers can see a chair or side table in their home virtually before they buy it.
  • Glidden’s Room Visualizer enables you to upload a photo of your room and change the wall colors.
  • And clothing shoppers at chloma can use HoloLens to browse clothing.

Key Takeaway

Create digital experiences that allow customers to test and play around with your products in the virtual and augmented realm.

How Can You Make It Actionable in Search

Again, make it discoverable.

Do you have content on your site to let your customers know that you have an AR/VR product? No? Then create it – explain what it is, what it does and where your customers go to access it. (Is it an app on a third party platform like iOS or Google Play?)

If I had an augmented reality app that helped improve the online to in-store customer experience, I’d promote it using a paid search-enhanced sitelink.

4. Loyalty Begets Loyalty – Give Them More!

With so many competing products and services, brand loyalty is hard to come by.

To draw consumers back time and again requires that brands integrate themselves into the daily lives of their customers.

According to data, 67 percent of consumers would exchange personal data for the frictionless experience of automated replenishment using IoT-enabled sensors or cameras.

Brands that provide ways to extend the value of their products also stand to win consumer loyalty.

Value-adds might be as simple as offering access to expertise or education around a product, which furthers the product’s value and the relationship between the brand and consumer.

Examples include:

  • Subscription-based ordering.
  • IoT-enabled sensors inside products can help detect when an item is running low or needs to be replenished, such as milk or dishwasher detergent.
  • Clothing retailer Perry Ellis has an Alexa skill that provides situational style suggestions – styles that can also be purchased through Alexa.

Key Takeaway

Build valuable experiences around purchases and bundle products with other brands to build a lifestyle experience.

How Can You Make It Actionable in Search

Think about how you can tie your loyalty and rewards back into your search campaigns.

For instance, do you have a loyalty or rewards program that incentivizes purchase behavior with your customers?

Then create an RLSA audience for “Loyal Customers” – these could be consumers who are part of your loyalty/rewards program or who have logged into or purchased a product recently.

Make sure that the messaging for this segment of customers aligns with what you offer for your loyalty program.

You can do similar offerings for products that are available for automatic reordering.

For example, I buy diapers at least twice a month for my two-year-old, the messaging to me should be something like “Save $X and your time by signing up for bi-weekly diaper deliveries.”

More Omni-Channel Marketing Resources:

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Christi Olson

Christi Olson

Head of Evangelism at Bing Ads @Microsoft

Christi is the Head of Evangelism for Bing at Microsoft and is a member of the board of SEMPO. For ... [Read full bio]

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