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Are we engaging customers too late?

Alan Gormley
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On an IRX session this week, a personalisation conversation started with assertion that we can really market well once a person buys for the first time. It’s not an uncommon view, because it is relatively easy to market to people who have already bought. We have their details, we must deliver, so have an excuse to talk to them, and we know what they are prepared to pay money for.

However, waiting until they get close to the basket or the sale before engaging, misses the best opportunity to influence. We would not leave a high street shop open with no shop assistant and let people just find stuff. Helping and influencing from the get-go is fundamental on the high street, but mostly missing online.

The numbers show consumers spend over two days on researching, before buying. That is a long time to remain invisible while browsing products.

What we are seeing consistently is earlier engagement leads to increased conversion and sales. Engagement is the key word, so let’s break it down. Before we engage, we need to make “anonymous” traffic visible. We must see them and recognise them as individuals, not just count them. Google Analytics is not the answer. Once visible, we can engage them. By engage, I really mean change the experience, and specifically, for them, as individuals. It doesn’t have to be radical, but it has to be relevant.

Doing it well allows us to set the agenda. Setting the agenda for them gives us more control than competitors. Of course, they will go back to Competitors, Google and Amazon, but more and more will go back just for validation, instead of using us for validation.

Pretty much every retailer we talk is looking to engage earlier, but there have been serious barriers to entry to doing it well. It is worthwhile taking stock of what most are doing really well today.

Re-marketing proves the point

We all re-market because it has an excellent return. What’s more, the customer has done all the work for us. They found the product and basically told us they want it. We do not need sophisticated AI to be relevant in re-marketing, but re-marketing is a practical reminder of the power of relevance.

Here is the other thing it tells us – even when customers forgot to return, we can influence them, as long as we are relevant.

So, if we can influence them at this stage, we know we can influence them earlier.

What about the cart?

At Shopbox we’ve done a lot of consumer behavioural research and cart behaviour is really interesting. People use the cart to store ideas and build shortlists, way before they intend to buy. It’s easier than logging in and bookmarking. Therefore, cart information shows very serious intent often much earlier in the cycle then we sometimes think. In fact, some of the effect of re-marketing is not converting abandoned carts but converting people who are still shortlisting.

What about the first 48 hours?

While most people in the first 48 hours are “anonymous”, because they are in the research stage of shopping, it is where we can most influence them. The signals are more difficult to read, but the potential to suggest is worth the effort.

How people browse, search and review in the first 48 hours builds a complete picture of how they think about everything from price to brand to product features. The trick is to harness this data quickly. If we do not, customers disappear to research elsewhere and we lose the chance to influence.

Or thinking about it through the lens of the high street shop again. Would you be happy with a shop assistant that always waited for customers to come to them? Or even worse, just hung around by the till. That is effectively what we are doing if we do not engage properly in the first 48 hours.

So how do we engage earlier

The signals may be more difficult at this stage and that is where new techniques in Artificial Intelligence are starting to have a real impact. Being able to work with smaller data, allowing for wider possibilities and adjusting very rapidly. Think again about the shop assistant. They look, ask, listen, try ideas, rapidly adjust. They learn about the customer as they talk. That is what new advances in AI and data are enabling.

Secondly, how options are presented to customers really needs to evolve. Most “product suggestions” today are too late in the shopping cycle and tend towards obvious cross and up sell. We need to be more about assisting and less about selling. It sells more, just like shop assistants, but like assistants also helps people find products they would never see or maybe consider otherwise.

Just a few thoughts on opportunities we are finding at Shopbox by changing when and where we engage customers. If you found it useful, we will be getting a lot more information out soon.


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