Is the Future of Business in Merging Online and Offline Activity?

There can be no doubting the fact that more and more customers are heading online to purchase their goods, causing the struggle on the high street to continue.

That notion is brought to life, in stark fashion, when one examines the sales figures from the recent Black Friday shopping extravaganza that engulfed the US and many other corners of the globe besides. Published on Xinhuanet, the data shows that spending was up 9% this year to a whopping $23bn, with digital revenue on the rise to $6.22bn; an increase of 23% on 2017. But such positivity flies in the face of falling sales and traffic in bricks-and-mortar stores. Sales on the high street fell between 4-7% in the period between Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared to 2017, with footfall decreasing by some 5-9%.

Those figures back up a trend that has been in evidence for the past decade, with online sales on the rise as towns and cities experience a fall in demand and store closures as a result. So, let’s pack everything up, halt all our offline marketing activities and head for the rainbow online, right? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Buy Online, Collect In Store

One of the biggest bugbears of online shoppers is delivery. From excessive charges and damage to items en route, to having to organize schedules around expected delivery times, it is the one obvious downfall of shopping on the World Wide Web.

But there does appear to be a solution in store, pun intended, that could help to drive offline activity as well. The so-called “buy online, collect in store” model is gathering popularity, with increases of 73% experienced in the past year alone. That indicates that shoppers want the best of both worlds: the ease of shopping online, but with the trust and efficiency of collecting the goods in person.

Apple is one major firm that offers this approach. You can order your product online, have it shipped to an Apple store (free of charge) and their technicians will even help you to set up the tech before you leave. By making sure you visit an Apple store, the brand gives itself an opportunity to upsell but also remind you that it has a physical presence.

And there are also innovations like Amazon Locker, where you can place orders at their kiosks before collecting your items from the secure locker at a time to suit you. As Amazon is known as an online-focused brand, such real-world integrations don’t only give convenience but an air of increased focus on the customers.

Synergy & Integration

There are a number of market sectors where a shift from offline to online has caused something of a headache. You can feel resigned to failure, of course, or you can do something about it.

Take the cosy world of bingo, for example. Statistics in the UK show that land-based bingo revenue has been falling year on year. So, did the operators ditch their bricks-and-mortar bingo halls for a purely online approach? Absolutely not. Brands like Buzz Bingo actually took the time to synergize both aspects of their business to offer their customers a more rounded experience. New players can sign up at their online site before heading to their local bingo hall, where they can take advantage of exclusive offers and games not available elsewhere.

Fashion brand Macy’s, meanwhile, has created a synergy between their online and offline operations by partnering with the app Shopkick. It allows them to collate the user’s browsing history and preferences, so that when they step through the front door of a Macy’s store they will be notified of deals and special offers relating to their previous purchases.

For many firms, integrating the online and offline strands of their operation will be key.

Data Hunting & Gathering

The modern marketing mix has undoubtedly been shaped by the digital revolution, there’s no denying that. Today, marketers shape their advertising messages to both the changing nature of media consumption and the channels that the audience is more frequently using.

Wordy, long-winded ads have been kicked to the kerb in favor of snappy marketing features that have the potential to go viral; the coup de grâce of advertising in the 21st century. Businesses can gather customer data from both offline and online sources, adhering to new GDPR regulations, and combining the two is essential in hitting all the key touchstones of effective marketing. Not all customers are tech-savvy, we know that, and not all have access to email addresses, social media and the like. It would be foolhardy to ignore the claims of direct “physical” marketing here.

Businesses that will truly thrive in the coming years will have adopted a SCV approach; namely, a single customer view. This combines offline data (names, addresses, telephone numbers) with online, which includes email addresses, mobile data, browsing history, abandoned shopping baskets, and so forth.

This three-dimensional approach to data intelligence will help to ensure businesses adapt to the changing market landscape and aid them in their quest to survive the online gold rush.

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