By Aimee Chanthadavong

There are currently mixed feelings about how retail trading will be this Christmas; some say it will be up on last year while others are not so confident. But regardless of the overall sentiment, the expression that retailers need to innovate or they will be left behind still rings true.

One aspect of retailing that has been undergoing plenty of change is the marketing department with the role becoming a lot more complex. This is mainly because consumers are getting smarter, increasingly demanding and therefore more likely to ignore retail messages that are irrelevant to them.

So it is crucial for retailers to get to know the nitty-gritty details about who their customers are — of course without breaking any privacy laws — to learn what information they are after and deliver it on a more personalised and customised level. 

Research by Lyris titled Mind The Digital Marketing Gap shows retailers are beginning to understand this, with 83 per cent of consumers reporting they are receiving more marketing messages that includes their names compared to five years ago.

“We’ve done extensive research to show that retailers need to find that happy medium to be able to use relevant information and be able to personalise the communication space on what they’re selling,” Ramak Capodicasa, Lyris APAC regional director, told RetailBiz.

“For example, if I’m selling shoes it’s probably not relevant for me to ask a person about their dress size. It’s important to get the right piece of information whether that’s their age, the type of work they do, whether they’re male or female and so on. It would definitely be relevant to personalise the information and offer promotions based on who they are.”

The notion of capturing specific customer data is now easier than ever before and the process is not as overwhelming as it appears. A good starting point of capturing basic data is with an email address, Capodicasa advises.

“The message I give to retailers every day is start with your email program,” she said.

“Once you collect their data start segmenting the email you’re sending based on information you have on them. This is a form of dynamic content where you basically use one email template and change the content based on whether they’re in New South Wales or Victoria or if they’re in their 30s or 40s.

“Also make sure you do split testing because you can’t assume the one thing you send out will work. Change it up and play around with it to see what will and won’t work.”

Another popular method is through a loyalty program. Flybuys, Woolworths Everyday Rewards and Myer One are some examples that not only reward their customers for shopping with them but also collect information about who exactly is shopping with them and use that to deliver a more enhanced experience.

However, Monash University’s Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS) research director Sean Sands warns retailers that customers have to see there is value in the information they’re giving away.

“Loyalty programs have historically been points based and I think consumers are becoming bored and don’t really see the value of it, which is why I think flybuys suffered and that’s why they reinvented themselves,” he said.

“But now loyalty programs are much more about connecting them to emotional experiences. For example, Myer has begun offering their VIP customers experiences that money can’t buy, such as inviting them to a fashion launch, making it kind of special.”

Old school returns with a new twist
While it appears it’s all about the digital platforms, traditional communication channels, such as printed catalogues, still remain a relevant part of the marketing equation. In fact, based on Lyris’ research, 49 per cent of respondents listed printed catalogues as their top preferred channel for pre-purchase communication.

To ensure this old model continues to remain relevant in a digital age, some retailers have taken it upon themselves to enrich the catalogue experience. For example, IKEA’s catalogue now uses augmented reality to engage with customers through the IKEA app, which unveils films, interactive experiences and photo galleries.

“A huge proportion is currently paper based but we’re seeing a lot of catalogue aggregators online that are giving consumers the opportunity to view these on a digital platform and they’re seeing quite a lot of success,” Sands said.

At the same time, the physical retail store is also still a core part of the marketing strategy. The ACRS global survey indicates 68 per cent of retailers will remain focused on growing their bricks and mortar stores for the year ahead.

“The vast majority of the retail business is conducted in a store, so the store is a critical component in retail,” Sands said.

“The next component is the mobile device because people have it on them all the time, so the retailers are looking at investments that will combine the two so they interact together.

“We’re seeing an investment in experience and design and having mobile assist consumers at the point of purchase. This can be done through, for example, integrating loyalty programs into the mobile device or integrating maps of the store, so if you’re in a shopping centre it lets people navigate, find retailers and so on.”

One in the same
No matter which channel retailers choose to use to market to their customers, according to Capodicasa it needs to be all integrated.

“The number one thing they need to have is an online business but that needs to be connected to their physical store. So it’s important to have the connection between online and offline,” she said.

Starbucks Australia has realised the importance of an integrated marketing strategy and has linked its customer loyalty campaign and mobile payments directly with its retail operations through a technology called Mobile Den. It allows customers to set up and charge their account directly via the Starbucks app and pay at the counter of Starbucks Australia stores using their smartphone.

Gruden CEO Todd Trevillion agrees saying there’s no point having different data collection points, especially when retailers find themselves comparing analytics from different channels.

“An integrated platform is critical. There is no point running a separate loyalty program to your emails or your website or mobile marketing; they all really need to have that same source of truth be driven by the same engine,” he said.

“It’s important to be able to measure and view how a campaign has gone and being able to track how that has gone across all those channels is critical, including where it performed really well and where it didn’t.

“But trying to see which channel works the best, whether it’s the loyalty program of through an automation platform like CRM is at the discretion of the retailer.”