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By Dana Naim, Twiggle

On-site search data is a gold mine for retailers that want to keep their finger on the pulse, meet customers’ changing demands, and stay top of mind.

Purchase data will tell you which products are selling. But search data is your way of predictively assessing which are about to sell, before they actually do. It offers a wide-ranging view of shopper behavior and their interest level across products, brands and categories. For example, if you notice that a growing number of customers are searching for a ‘tie-dye maxi dress,’ you’ll know which product deserves more of your attention.

That knowledge will give you the best possible chance of reacting to emerging trends before your competitors do, while ensuring that you can deliver strong customer experiences and capture sales at the right moment.

It’s for this reason that search data isn’t just important for optimizing your web site; it’s a way of shaping and optimizing your entire marketing strategy.

Here are five ways of using your site search data to build more effective marketing campaigns that drive bottom-line results for your e-Commerce site:

  1. Getting your timing right

Seasons don’t really start and end on a calendar date — when it comes to seasonal shopping, consumers dictate what will sell when. Search data allows you to tap into your customers’ mindset to examine what they’re thinking at a precise moment.

This enables you to roll out seasonal campaigns when people are actively searching for products associated with that time of the year. However, it also teaches you to rely on data, rather than guesswork, when planning your marketing activity.

Let’s take the example of products that don’t come with an obvious label. We know that swimsuits, sandals and garden furniture all see big rises in sales when the temperature increases, while hoodies, boots and lip-care products enjoy more popularity when the temperature drops. By examining your search data to spot shifts in demand for specific products during specific times of year, you can plan your campaigns with the right timing in mind.

2. Developing your paid-ad calendar

Search data allows you to react to trends as and when they happen, but it’s not all about suddenly shifting your priorities. By analyzing queries from a previous year, you can lay out the framework for 12 months’ worth of display and search activity, based on what is likely to happen.

For instance, if a sporting goods retailer sees a lift in searches for tennis equipment in the first week of the U.S. Open, they’ll know when to start pushing pay-per-click (PPC) and display campaigns for these items. We’ve heard of 25% rises in page views for dresses during late April — a period when high schoolers are thinking about their prom and graduation parties. These recurring events are huge for retailers that want to drive results in key periods.

Search data allows you to react quicker to the micro moments that happen on a day-to-day basis. But given that many trends are influenced by seasons and events, you should always look to plan ahead where possible.

3. Promoting your trending products

In a market that is subject to fast-changing preferences, driven by influencers and celebrities, a product can become popular overnight. It’s why trends in search volume for a very specific item should be acted upon immediately.  

Through email campaigns, newsletters and homepage banners, it’s possible to alert customers to items before they’ve searched for them. You can even create dedicated landing pages for popular lines — ideal for capturing all results for a trending category.

These reactions have a crucial role in closing the gap between the homepage and the checkout. If you can see that an item is unanimously popular, you should offer a fast, efficient way of buying it.

4. Intent-driven retargeting

Retargeting has emerged as an ideal way of capturing lost sales. And if we’re talking about signs of user intent, you can’t get a more obvious signal than data from people landing on your site and completing a search.

Retailers almost have to take a step back to really understand how important their search traffic is. By typing in the name of a product, the user is offering a very deliberate sign of their interest in that item — and their intent to purchase it. 

Promotional activities like retargeting can use this extra layer of insight to become more personalized and impactful. It’s easy to take a safe, generic route with your campaigns, but you’d be wrong in thinking that every person is interested in a popular brand, ‘what’s new’ or ‘on sale’.

Retailers should be quick to funnel their search data back into retargeting campaigns that drive results via a product-led approach.

5. Maximizing your PPC efforts

Keep in mind that site visitors use your search box in a similar way to Google, serving as a strong indicator of what products are in high demand. Use your search data to decide where you should invest your marketing dollars when targeting customers via PPC.

Bid higher on the terms that attract more searches and consider the impact of long-tail searches. The big products and brands (e.g. ‘Nike running shoes, ‘North Face’) are always going to attract huge amounts of search volume. However, if you can spot where people are drilling down into their features (e.g. ‘Bose latest home theater’), you can drive more ROI through longer-tail and historically cheaper terms.

Search data is a key source of insight for marketers on the quest for greater ROI, providing vital clues into the customer’s mindset and decision-making process. Use this data to better understand your customers, guide your marketing strategy and create a faster pathway to checkout.

Dana Naim is the Head of Marketing and Content at Twiggle. A former teacher and journalist with a passion for words and tech, Naim strives to educate, inform, and delight her readers on subjects including retail technology, AI, and search.

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Deploying a new web content management (WCM) platform for an e-Commerce site may feel like you’ve been thrown into open waters — What kinds of predators lie beneath the surface, How can you stay afloat, and What will it take to succeed? are all questions that might run through your mind as you swim through various WCM offerings looking for the right solution.

Choosing the right platform requires research and foresight, as blindly diving into one solution may not garner the best results for your company. Audiences are now more empowered and knowledgeable than ever before, and your retail businesses cannot afford to deliver poor online experiences, as there is always another e-Commerce business knocking at your e-customer’s door.

If you find your current e-Commerce or WCM system prevents building a true connection with customers, then it’s time to change. Take this challenge head-on in a strategic way, focusing on achieving engagement goals without compromising sales. You can gradually switch over and replace parts of the old experience with a better, newer one. If you’re in the market for a new WCM platform, there are a couple of emerging trends worth noting.

Explore Uncharted Seas

Firstly, the ongoing debate between best-of-breed and single suite approaches. It’s an argument that resurfaced in recent years, and by all accounts, isn’t going away anytime soon. Particularly when you consider that the pendulum has now shifted — almost three-quarters (70%) of brands currently take a heterogeneous approach to their digital experience platforms, meaning they combine best-of-breed components to build the desired DXP and continuously extend its functionality for better customer engagement. Gone are the days when a one-size-fits-all approach provided all the answers. Retail brands want to control — and the ability to build — their own digital ecosystems, according to the study by Digital Clarity Group.

Traditional e-Commerce systems only have very limited content management capabilities, so the key is to explore what your company truly needs, and put the digital experience at the front and center of your research. When considering a WCM provider, look at how your content is delivered, how it will help you engage and how it will combine with aspects like compliance, security and scalability — all important factors. With the right WCM-driven experience at the front end, the commerce system can work at the backend doing what it does best, handling the product information and transactional elements.

Swim With A New School of Fish

Secondly, the debate between headless and traditional WCMs. Most companies are currently on their second or third generation “traditional" CMS, so they have quite some experience with it, and know what to ask for when they engage with vendors during a replacement cycle. In many cases a traditional CMS can do the job, provided you select the right one. But headless CMSs — which simplify the way of delivering dynamic content to mobile devices — can make a real difference, particularly to e-Commerce-led customer experiences. Some systems even allow you to work both in a traditional and headless manner, combining the best of both worlds. If you’re looking to achieve any of the following with a WCM, then the headless approach may be best for you.

1. Rapidly deliver online stores and web sites to a wide range of devices

2. Manage campaign sites, sales offers and other short-lived online properties

3. Syndicate content to affiliate sites/companies, or for instance your e-Commerce environment

4. Reuse content on other channels, in particular mobile apps, but also other devices such as POS displays and kiosks

5. Reuse content on social channels

But most importantly, remember that it’s all about the customer experience. What experience do you provide now, and what kind of experience do you want them to have in the future? Recognize what approach and features matter most and make the most sense given your company’s future goals. Businesses with customers across regions should be able to ensure their WCM systems are able to easily localize content into any language, as the first step toward delivering relevant and personal experiences. While markets have become global, customers still understandably want localized information and approach a business and its products from multiple geographies, channels and platforms. Do the appropriate research now and save yourself from drowning in these complex issues later.

Peggy Chen joined SDL in 2014 and is currently Chief Marketing Officer, with responsibility for communicating the strategic direction of SDL’s brand, products and services across all channels in support of customer acquisition and retention. Prior to SDL, Chen was at Oracle where she drove go-to-market strategies leading Product Marketing and Product Management teams. Chen holds a Bachelors and Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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In partnership with the brand new RetailX event (the co-location of IRCE, GlobalShop and RFID Journal Live! Retail), Retail TouchPoints is hosting Retail TouchPoints Live! @ RetailX for the first time June 25-26 at McCormick Place in Chicago. The event includes three content tracks focusing on the next gen store, omnichannel optimization and digital transformation, and is designed to create a forum addressing the convergence of physical and digital shopping experiences.

Speakers from retailers such as BJ’s Wholesale Club, Under Armour, Hibbett Sports, Moosejaw and Adore Me will share the stage with analysts from BRP Consulting, HighStreet Collective and A.T. Kearney, among many others. The RTP editors share which sessions they’re most looking forward to at Retail TouchPoints Live!

Adam Blair, Editor: Surveying the session offerings for the debut of Retail TouchPoints Live! in Chicago next week is a bit like reading a restaurant menu when you’ve got the munchies: everything looks so good. But I’ll force myself to choose two tasty items: Driving A Decent Specialty Approach At the World’s Largest Retailer (While Still Remaining Well-Coiffed), with Moosejaw’s Dan Pingree revealing how the often edgy outdoors retailer is (hopefully) keeping its identity within an e-Commerce structure known for selling commodity-type consumables, a.k.a. Walmart.com. Given the recent absorption of Jet.com into Walmart, the session is quite topical. I’m also looking forward to Delivering A Consistent Customer Experience In A Complex Environment with Todd Sasala of Cedar Fair Entertainment. The ability to delight visitors in an amusement park’s multiple locations and situations sounds like it will be a great object lesson for retailers trying to create engaged, relevant customer journeys in increasingly experiential stores.

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Being stuck in that middle ground of not being cheap enough while also not being differentiated enough is a harsh pit that no retailer wants to fall into. When it comes to those that do compete on price, even that is no longer enough to win the wallets of consumers. Many retailers seeking to compete on price are competing on just that factor, so I’m definitely curious to see what the session titled Breaking The Chains Of Price & Convenience With Omnichannel Experience has to offer. I think of companies like TJX and Dollar General that have done so well under their business models, simply because they offer things that can be found elsewhere — but for much lower prices. I wonder if other retailers can make headway in these verticals with the takeaways from this session. In the case of pricing and convenience, breaking conventions and making your own rules can often be a major risk, especially from a profitability standpoint, so I’d love to see where retailers can possibly mitigate that risk.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: While Amazon Go has certainly generated a lot of buzz and a few other companies have launched their own takes on the format, the cashierless store has yet to take off. I’m not sure if this is a matter of cost, technology, or other factors, but I feel like the Will Cashierless Stores Dominate New Spaces? session has the right team of experts to shed some light on this trend and discuss what the future holds. Scan-and-go technology is not without its downsides, and new, previously unconsidered problems may crop up as more stores appear, but there will be unforeseen benefits as well. Innovators from companies like Third Haus and Innowi have a good grasp on what’s possible and likely in the future of retail; this should add some grounding in the realistically possible to this discussion of what is yet to come. The panel also will discuss best practices for designing the checkout experience itself, which will practical info for retailers that are just starting to explore these concepts.

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By Anand Janefalkar, UJET

As consumer values and priorities are shifting towards a more multichannel and digital experience, we are watching the retail industry evolve right before our eyes. However, whether you’re online, in a store, or in an app, simply having a great product and a competitive price is no longer enough. According to the 2019 State of Service report by Salesforce, 80% of customers now consider their experience with a company to be as important as its products.

Limited time offers, flash sales or referrals might be good for a short-term fix, but retailers that want to truly outpace their competition need to take a different approach. In order to truly capture the voice of the customer and create a more personalized and streamlined experience for customers, retailers need to look inward at the customer support organization and the contact center. Here are three ways retailers can leverage customer support to create the ideal customer experience.

Gathering Data And Feedback

Your contact center and support agents arguably have more daily interactions with your customers than anyone else and have direct insight into who your customers are and how they are interacting, connecting, and feeling about your products and services. Today’s contact centers provide the data-driven context and automation needed to keep pace with customers. They also are a premier location for retailers to tap into in order to paint a real-time picture of who their customers are, how they are using their products and what improvements can be made.

It’s All About The App

According to App Annie’s State of Mobile 2019 report, in 2018, U.S. consumers spent 60% more time in shopping apps than they did just two years prior. Mobile shopping is the next frontier of retail, but creating a unique mobile experience goes beyond exclusive offerings and QR codes. By securely leveraging in-app information and capabilities such as purchase history, previous support issues, text, photos and videos, retailers can automate incoming support issues and safely direct customers to the right agent, expediting the entire process. Customers today communicate with each other through multiple channels, such as voice, text, images and more, so it’s only natural that retailers use these channels as well.

Be Where Your Customers Are

Retailers know this better than most: you can’t reach your customers if you’re targeting the wrong places. For most, this means, are they shopping online or in the store. However, some of the best cross-sell and upsell opportunities can come from a better understanding of the different channels customers are using when they are reaching out for support. This can be extremely helpful for marketers in particular. For example, if the insights from your support team show that the majority of your customers reach out via your mobile app, then leveraging in-app messaging could be an effective way of driving future updates and announcements.

Like many other industries, retail is becoming driven by technology. As competition becomes more intense, retailers need to explore every option at their disposal that can give them a competitive advantage. For most, this means exploring third-party research data or advertising campaigns, both of which come at a substantial cost. In reality, the most effective and efficient way for retailers to capture the voice of their customers is to partner from within and leverage the contact center and support agents to create a customer experience that is second to none.

As Founder and CEO of UJET, Inc., Anand Janefalkar has 15 years of experience in the technology industry and has served as a technical advisor for various startups in the Bay Area. Before founding UJET, he served as Senior Engineering Manager at Jawbone, and also previously contributed to multiple high profile projects at Motorola.

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By Ran Ben-Yair, Ubimo

To say that location intelligence is changing the face of retail is not hyperbolic.

In the same way that the Internet allowed for the rise of e-Commerce giants like Amazon and eBay, a major paradigm shift in the industry, location intelligence is now returning power to brick-and-mortar retailers by allowing them access to the sort of detailed data that online retailers take for granted.

Exactly how physical retailers are using location intelligence varies quite a bit, but a couple of distinct trends have been emerging.

Location Intelligence Informs New Location Planning

Choosing a location for a new storefront used to be a mixture of consulting very broad, generalized census data, making assumptions based off of competitor activities and trusting blindly in gut feelings and hunches.

It’s a technique that can often work — the fact that any store ever remained open is testament to that — but it puts serious restraints on a business’ growth rate. On top of that, when a poor location is chosen, its eventual failure is very costly.

Smart utilization of location intelligence both streamlines and optimizes scouting for new store locations. It starts with gaining a better understanding of the demographics in and around the proposed area. Location intelligence can give you a more in-depth breakdown of the demographics than a general census, including differentiating between local residents and commuters, other places they shop or visit and so on.

Location intelligence also can give retailers unprecedented insight into the habits of their competitor’s customers, providing data on market penetration and customer loyalty. If a major competitor is showing very short visit times in a particular area, their customers might be ready to be presented with another option; if they’re struggling to draw foot traffic at all, chances are good that you will struggle, too.

Russian grocery and convenience retailer X2 has been using location intelligence to fuel a massive location expansion: They opened more than 5,000 new stores in two years, and increased profits by more than 130%. Specifically, they used location data to select prime locations, make more informed stocking decisions and negotiate lease rates.

Location Intelligence Powers Audience-Based Marketing

Using location intelligence, you can harness customer behavior data to not only plan new stores but to maximize the performance of existing stores.

This is being done by integrating location intelligence with online and out-of-home advertising — in other words, by bridging the gap between your customers’ offline and online behaviors. This technique can be used to target existing customers with special offers based on both their online behaviors and their real-life ones.

For example, if location intelligence tells you that you have a loyal customer that visits a particular location every Friday after work, you can serve them a special offer as they approach your location. The same data that tells you when customers visit your own stores also tells you about their other activities, such as visiting competitors, their affinity for other stores and more, which allows you to build more robust customer profiles.

However, the most innovative trend we are seeing in retail is using location intelligence for in-store planning. Through audience indexing, businesses can understand the makeup of their audience on a granular, per-store level and customize strategies based on very specific audiences. For example, if you want to test a new product at select locations, understanding which locations the product’s ideal audiences frequent will ensure optimized placement and create the desired impact. Different promotions can run at different stores based on the audience index of each one. This brings a level of personalization, once available only in the digital world, to the physical world.

Exciting, Innovative Times — Don’t Get Left Behind

We live in very exciting times for the retail industry. Not only has e-Commerce’s stranglehold on retail began to loosen, but the emergence of location intelligence is giving physical-based retail brands valuable tools, tools that help to level the playing field.

I suspect that we’re seeing just the beginning of the applications that location intelligence can be put to. I also suspect that brands that don’t want to be left behind will be adopting and executing data-driven and audience-based marketing strategies.

Ran Ben-Yair is CEO and Co-Founder at Ubimo. Ben-Yair oversees Ubimo’s product direction, strategic development and execution. Prior to Ubimo, he co-founded LabPixies Ltd. (acquired by Google in 2010), a leading web and mobile app development company, bootstrapping the company and growing the business to reach tens of millions of users in four years. At Google, Ben-Yair continued as a Product Manager in Search where he led and launched large-scale products. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

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Barnes & Noble has a potential deal in place to sell itself to hedge fund Elliott Advisors for $683 million, marking major changes for a company that has long struggled to stay afloat in the wake of Amazon’s continued rise. Representing the last of the major traditional bookstore chains, Barnes & Noble could be in the hands of a firm that already has turned around one bookseller that had teetered on the brink of failure: UK-based Waterstones. James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, will assume the role of CEO of Barnes & Noble following the expected completion of the transaction in Q3 2019.

However, Elliott isn’t the only entity seeking to reverse Barnes & Noble’s fortunes — book reseller Readerlink LLC is reportedly working on a higher bid for the retailer.

The RTP editors discuss whether a Barnes & Noble acquisition (whether by Elliott Advisors or another party) can help turn the brand around.

Adam Blair, Editor: I’m at least somewhat optimistic about the prospective new owners of Barnes & Noble, particularly since incoming CEO James Daunt has had book retailing experience. I hope he imports the kind of locally-led assortments that have proven successful at Waterstones and also in the U.S. at chains like Half Price Books. Carefully listening to what local readers are interested in, and stocking stores accordingly, is what has kept the country’s remaining independent booksellers afloat in tough times. One recommendation for the new owners: revamp the Barnes & Noble loyalty program. I’m an ex-member who got tired of being charged $25 per year for no appreciable benefit. Amazon can get away with charging for Prime membership because they bundle exclusives, content and free, fast shipping, but Barnes & Noble isn’t Amazon — nor should it try to be. Keep making the store a place that’s a pleasure to visit and you’ll get my loyalty.

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Upon first glance, the Barnes & Noble bid made me question the price: $683 million?? (Or, a less pricey $475 million when not accounting debt.) Frankly, I thought that number was outrageous given the company’s failed attempts at reinvention in the past, its inability to generate consistently positive traffic numbers and its rotating carousel of CEOs (now on number six since 2010). It’s even crazier when you think that the figure represents a 43% premium over its share price. Looking deeper into this though, I’d like to be optimistic about the buyer, Elliott Advisors. It’s easy to give hedge funds and VC-types flak for retail purchases like these (and they certainly have deserved it in recent years), but Elliott’s turnaround of Waterstones instills confidence that the company has a firm grasp of bookselling in the digital age, and that’s what matters most here. This feels more like a genuine attempt at a resurgence than a typical investment, largely due to Daunt’s involvement. Regardless of the ownership change, Barnes & Noble will have to close more stores (or at least align with the small-format trend), retool its inventory entirely (catering to its market), emphasize BOPIS/click-and-collect and endure short-term hits to its revenues and profitability.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: I’ll admit I’m of two minds about Elliott Advisors’ ultimate plans for Barnes & Noble. While the firm has been supportive of Waterstones, its involvement didn’t come until that chain had already stanched the bleeding and started expanding again. That’s a great point for VC money to come on board — the extra cash can ease the growing pains of expansion plans, and the recent increase in profitability limits the incentive to tear the chain apart in search of a return. On one hand, giving the reins at Barnes & Noble to Daunt, as opposed to a sacrificial lamb whose only purpose is to quietly prepare the company for liquidation, speaks to the idea that Elliott is serious about financing a turnaround. On the other hand, the U.S. market is incredibly different from the UK, and America simply may no longer be capable of supporting a bookstore chain the size of Barnes & Noble. After all, there hasn’t been a truly national supermarket since the mid-20th century heyday of A&P, and we saw how that story ended. If Barnes & Noble’s suitors are looking to say, “We tried, but the company was doomed before we arrived,” they will certainly have ample cover.

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By Shreesha Ramdas, Strikedeck

NPS And Its Relevance

Today’s retail world is beset with massive change, and standard sales principles are constantly under challenge. At the same time, the notion of customer loyalty has never been more important. According to the Wharton School’s Marketing Metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 14X more than attracting a new one. Additionally, according to the SDL Global CX Wake Up Call report, 73% of consumers satisfied by the customer experience will recommend a brand to others. Knowing where a retailer stands with its customers has never been more important.

For years, the chief metric of customer sentiment, other than revenue and sales data, has been Net Promoter Score (NPS). It stands to reason — what better test of customer satisfaction is there than whether they recommend the retailer to another?

Where NPS Falters

While there is tremendous value in this metric, it suffers from two major problems.

  1. The first is that it tends to be a trailing indicator. Changes in NPS happen after an experience occurs, and have likely set in for some time. This is also true for revenue and sales data. At this point, the damage is already done and may even be irreparable.
  2. A second issue with NPS is that it is rather one-dimensional. Nothing about the metric shows what or why a customer feels a certain way or how something has changed. Uncovering what is really going on may be difficult and might take time, and trying to fix it may be impossible after a certain amount     of time has elapsed.
A Better Solution? Real-Time Interaction!

Businesses today continue to be characterized by real-time interaction. Chatbots try to instantly engage online customers and potential customers the moment they hit a retailer’s web site. Apps provide the means to extend a retailer’s presence and services, while social media activity aims to build conversations and spread influence. Understanding customers in real time enables retailers to shape the customer experience as and when it happens. Retailers can make adjustments in the way they do business to improve experiences for other customers.

Real-time customer data must be multi-sourced and should be the total of all interactions and conversations with employees that are captured as notes. It should include email and other forms of input and communications, such as surveys and mini-surveys, research, follow-up reports, web site activity and more.

The next task is bringing this data together, analyzing it and turning it into actionable insights. The idea is to gain a 360° picture of customers with deeper levels of insight. What follows is the ability to interpret it and develop a roadmap. Oftentimes, this means finding meaningful patterns and trends. Of course, information without action is futile! Let real-time information direct decisions and prompt actions to address specific customers, as well as the way the retailer conducts business.

NPS is still meaningful, but it is far from real-time, and it lacks context and dimension. Retailers can improve customer loyalty and retention and expand revenue by gaining a realistic understanding of customers. Based on this, they can better cater to customers and provide improved experiences, while it is still possible to make a difference.

Shreesha Ramdas is the CEO and Co-Founder of Strikedeck. Previously, Ramdas was the GM of the Marketing Cloud at CallidusCloud, Co-Founder at LeadFormix (acquired by CallidusCloud) and OuterJoin, and General Manager at Yodlee. Prior to that, he led teams in sales and marketing at Catalytic Software, MW2 Consulting, and Tata.  Ramdas advises several startups on marketing & growth hacking. You can find him on Twitter, @Shreesha.

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By Tara Jones, Allant Group

Picture this: a customer orders a product from your business and expects it be delivered within a few days. When the delivery doesn’t arrive, she panics. She reached for her phone to place the order, to track the order, and now she’s reaching for it again to inquire to your brand about the delay. She has a few choices. She can call your company. But what’s the number? She’d have to look it up. She can email your company, but to what address? She’d have to look that up, too. Or, she can simply open her favorite social media app, search for your company name, and send her question directly to you within minutes…or less.

This is the exact type of customer that retail brands encounter each day. Their customers prefer to receive service on social media, and fast. In order to handle the volume and demand, the retailer must use a systematic balance of artificial intelligence (AI) and authentic, human-delivered customer care.

On the timeline of marketing and marketing automation, social media is one of the newest business tools for retailers to utilize. And while brands were developing their web sites for marketing purposes, social media became a vehicle for digital customer service overnight. In addition, recent feature updates such as messenger and the deployment of bots present both opportunities and threats, not only to a customer’s experience but also to a brand’s reputation.

But back to our customer. As the company, you have a short window to make her concern a positive experience. While your response time is essential (since the average social media user expects to be assisted within an hour), your empathy and ability to troubleshoot the delay is equally important. This is where social media AI, or the use of bots, can either help or hurt your customer’s experience and your brand’s reputation. By using a bot to immediately acknowledge her message, you are maintaining lightning fast response time and ensuring your customers that they’ve been heard. But can your bot research the cause of the delay? No. That’s why a strategy that implements both bots and human interactions is the best practice for social care.

When developing your bot + agent social care strategies, consider these three points:

1. Bots are beneficial, but they’ll never replace human empathy.

It’s clear in the definition of a bot: a computer program that generates responses based on some input, usually keywords. While this is a solution that can address general inquires 24/7 with immediate responses, every computer-generated system has risks, such as being prone to hackers and being limited to human programming. Most notable, an excessive use of bots runs the risk of dehumanizing your brand.

2. Humans relate best to other humans, but we can’t work ‘round the clock’.

Effective customer support with empathy and emotional intelligence can never be replaced by bots. But depending on your brand and industry, it is probable that your social customer service volume outnumbers your care agent resources. In addition, the operation costs of a large, agent-only care team can quickly add up. The tools, training, and HR costs can become overwhelming.

3. A balance of both is best.

Carefully balancing the use of both bots and customer care agents is often the best strategy for managing social media customer care. This system would allow your company to immediately respond to your customer’s inquiry about her product delay, triage it to an agent who can troubleshoot the delay, and respond again with solutions and empathy — making for the best care experience and a positive brand reputation.

According to the Forrester Research report, The Three Customer Service Megatrends In 2019, “Great customer service is not just about cutting costs or making operations more efficient. Instead, it’s a systematic reinvention of established technology, data, and operations — leveraging automation, data and agents together to exploit each of their unique strengths and deliver experiences in line with customer expectations.”

Develop a social media customer care center by deploying the proper software, employing adequate staffing and creating workflows to deliver both AI and authentic human interactions with your customers.

Tara Jones is an award-winning marketing and communications professional, blogger, social media lecturer and speaker. With more than a decade in communications and social media, her work is focused on helping businesses cultivate meaningful connections with their communities through strategic social media efforts that make people a priority. Jones is a business consultant for Allant Group, which provides marketing technology services that help businesses effectively acquire new customers, retain and grow existing customers and win back lapsed customers. She can be reached at tjones@allantgroup.com.  

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The potential for an all-out trade war with China and a brewing one with our North American neighbors has contributed to retailers’ uncertainty in 2019. Major retailers have pointed out that they are anticipating a negative impact from the expected 25% tariffs placed on roughly $300 billion of Chinese goods, which range from apparel and footwear to sporting goods and even agricultural products. On top of that, the National Retail Federation and other trade associations have been very vocal in opposing the White House’s decision to implement the tariffs, stating that they are harmful to U.S. retailers and consumers alike.

The RTP editorial team discusses the potential impact of these tariffs, whether they are placed on China, Mexico or Canada, and shares what retailers can do to mitigate potential problems the tariffs could cause.

Adam Blair, Editor: President Trump is bothered by illegal immigration on the Southern border. Set aside for now whether this is a real problem for the U.S. or not, and let’s consider the weapon he is using to deal with it: imposing escalating tariffs on Mexican goods until their government does something (it’s never clearly defined exactly what) to stop the flow of migrants through its country. You’ve heard the expression “cutting off your nose to spite your face”? This is putting a bullet in your brain to cure a headache. This is using a sledgehammer to swat a fly — an operation that puts holes in the wall of your house while letting the fly fly free. The NRF’s SVP for Government Relations David French couldn’t be blunter, or more accurate: “The growing tariff bill paid by U.S. businesses and consumers is adding up and will raise the cost of living for American families. Forcing Americans to pay more for produce, electronics, auto parts and clothes isn’t the answer to the nation’s immigration challenges.”

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Besides the actual price increases that will come as a result of the tariffs, the next major impact appears to be in supply chain costs, which will affect both the retailer and the manufacturer, according to Jason Furman, who was President Obama’s chief economic adviser. Furman told Vox that If a product is finished in Mexico and shipped to the U.S. from there, but had mostly been produced elsewhere, then the tariff becomes a larger burden on the manufacturer; if a product is 5% produced in Mexico and now faces a 5% tariff, that’s equivalent to a 100% tax on the Mexican production. This will hamper suppliers’ ability to move semi-finished products back and forth across the border, potentially altering how supply chains function between the two countries. I can’t imagine most retailers are prepared for that kind of change given how fluid (and frankly, sudden) any proposed USMCA (a.k.a. the “new NAFTA”) scenarios have been playing out.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: A big problem with tariffs is that, since they can be placed by the president unilaterally, there is little recourse to fight them until the 2020 election. This means that, barring some disastrous polling or dramatic Congressional action, retailers won’t be able to expect relief for at least another year. They also will be dealing with the fact that the levies will be hitting shoppers in areas they may not expect — everyone expects avocados to rise in cost, but customers may not be prepared for a price increase for jeans. The best path for retailers may be to follow the strategy that many large companies have announced during quarterly result calls: work with suppliers the best they can to mitigate the increases, but fully acknowledge that some of the cost increase is going to fall on customers’ shoulders. Hiding from the truth isn’t going to help anyone, but coming forward and openly stating why this is happening might help generate the pressure needed to have the tariffs lifted.

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By Steve Villegas, PPRO

The world of payments is one of the most innovative and fastest growing industries across the globe. Thanks to the expansion of e-Commerce, consumers are no longer stuck with only being able to shop at stores in close proximity to them. The world is starting to feel smaller and thanks to the innovations in payments, we are entering an era of untapped potential for consumers and merchants alike.

On the other hand, one thing holding us back from reaching this potential is a lack of understanding around global consumer preferences. This void of knowledge around the various types of payments preferred worldwide, and how to properly offer these payments to global consumers, is holding back many merchants. These local payment methods, or LPMs, are the payment methods outside of traditional card and cash payments that help to meet the needs of various geographies, cultures and economies around the globe.

The Value Of Selling Cross-Border

Currently, only 36% of U.S. merchants sell cross-border. This is partially due to a fear of growing internationally, and because many merchants do not know how to effectively break into global regions. These merchants are leaving money on the table as these various global markets present a golden selling opportunity. For example, China has a $1.03 trillion B2C e-Commerce volume showcasing a major rise in spending power.

U.S. merchants should be looking to capitalize on these growth opportunities overseas. For example, the Chinese e-Commerce market is worth $1.03 trillion and is growing at a rate of 18.6% a year. There are many resources available to help point them in the right direction, like PPRO’s Payment Almanac 2.0. Having the knowledge of the right LPMs to use in the correct market can make all the difference in scaling a business globally.

Payments Are Local

Visa and Mastercard only account for 25% of global e-Commerce payments, and this figure drops even further when we look regionally. Visa and Mastercard combine to only make up 3% of China’s e-payment split. LPMs are preferred globally and U.S. merchants cannot rely on using traditional credit card payments alone.

In Germany, for example, the main methods of online payments are bank transfers. They make up 49% of online transactions, while cash is only 5% and cards make up 11%. This is a stark difference compared to payment behaviors in the U.S., where 57% of online transactions are facilitated by credit card.

These payment preferences significantly vary from region to region, making the need to cater payment methods to consumer preference so crucial. LPMs offer ease and comfort to consumers, while giving merchants the capability to expand their business and reach new markets. U.S. online merchants need to be strategic about how they scale globally, and LPMs are an essential tool to help ease this transition.

Steve Villegas, VP of Partner Management at PPRO, is a Sales, Marketing and Business Development Executive with over 20 years of experience building and managing sales, partner development and marketing teams that have delivered profitable results, built market share, and exceeded revenue goals while outperforming competition. Villegas is a natural communicator and team leader with strong motivational skills, with the ability to build, produce and succeed.

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