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Five Strategies to Combat 'Retail Apocalypse'

Credit: Getty Images

Retail isn't dead; it's undergoing a transformation.

Despite a significantly stronger economy, store closures are at levels last seen during the 2008 recession. Data from Fung Global Retail & Technology shows 6,121 stores have closed in the United States in 2017, up 203 percent year-over-year. By comparison, a little more than 6,000 stores shuttered their doors during all of 2008. At the same, however, store openings are up 54 percent year-over-year (3,470). Alarmists have signaled the beginning of a "retail apocalypse" but if these numbers are any indication, it's not all doom and gloom.

Instead, retail marketers have an opportunity to embrace their physical and digital storefronts and experiences to engage consumers online and in store. According to a study of 46,000 shoppers, "conducting prior online research on the retailer's own site or sites of other retailers led to 13% greater in-store spending among omnichannel shoppers."

Here is how you can fuse data, technology, content and media to increase store traffic with your online shoppers.

Maximize your cross-device reach. Getting online shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores starts with your ability to know who they are and accurately reach them at scale. That can be a challenge for some marketers considering that, on average, today's consumer owns more than three devices. In order to maximize cross-device reach, match devices to actual people, not cookies or households. Begin by making sure your anonymous consumer profiles are persistent and stable, which is integral to knowing your consumers over time. Devices can then be matched to the appropriate profiles so you're able to confidently message consumers on the right device when the time comes.

Make content relevant. It's not enough to reach consumers with a message on the right device. The content needs to be relevant to each and every individual. Studies continue to show that consumers want ads to be relevant to them; a 2017 study by Epsilon found that 80 percent of respondents are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. Rich, anonymous consumer profiles allow you to deliver on the expectation of personalization and relevancy. Relevancy extends not only to the messages you show the consumer, but the channels where you reach them. For example, retailers can reach loyalty customers with more personalized online advertising. Since these are known consumers, creating personalized offers is easier to achieve and the approach can result in significantly higher return on ad spend. When you understand a consumer's shopping habits and where they are most likely to engage with your brand, you can build meaningful relationships that extend beyond the device or channel and create more compelling in-store visits.

Create seamless experiences. Seamless, engaging consumer experiences that are tailored to each individual can connect the online and offline worlds. Marketing moments happen anywhere and at any time so it's important to reward consumer loyalty and cross-device engagement by transforming interactions to experiences. One way to do so is through augmented reality, which enables brands to create unique in-store experiences and brings a "wow factor" to merchandizing. At the same time, VIP members-only events (i.e. early access to sales or new merchandise, extended hours, gift with purchase, etc.) provide the type of exclusivity consumers covet. Learn from these events to find the right partner that can help you use the insights to make smarter decisions over time and better inform future consumer-engagement decisions.

Reward consumers for their engagement. Once consumers are in store, geolocation capabilities can be leveraged to encourage loyalty members to purchase by reminding them of rewards they can redeem or presenting them with a real-time offer via mobile push notifications. But don't make it all about the purchase. Use gamification functionality within loyalty programs to implement engagement strategies. Reward consumers with badges when they exhibit desired behavior (i.e. store visits, social sharing, etc.) and create a competitive dynamic by highlighting member performance on leader boards. And go beyond current loyalty members. First-party data can inform your strategy to make a frequent shopper a new loyalty member. When you know who your best consumers are, you can deliver more relevant experiences to them.

Be timely. Do you have the ability to message your consumers in real time, at the moments in which they are most receptive to listening to you? If not, it's well past time that you did. Take advantage of real-time triggers shoppers are providing online, as well as insights such as weather and location, and execute messages against those indicators. If someone makes an online purchase, show them an offer on a complimentary item when they make their next in-store visit. Providing loyalty members with an incentive to return to your store should be a priority whenever and wherever possible. Consider bounce-back offers like 25% off their next in-store purchase, or a free gift with their next purchase to encourage repeat visits. The use of persistent profiles and an agile technology platform will allow you to deliver messages in real time that move consumers to act and lead to the corresponding outcomes.

Retailer marketers can't control the ever-changing shopping habits of consumers and they shouldn't try to. They can, however, strategically determine when, where and how they are engaging with those shoppers. It's important to find the right marketing partners—ones that can help you deliver solutions that support you throughout the entire consumer lifecycle. When you focus on the individual—and identify, maintain and increase the yield of your best consumers through long-term, interactive, value-added relationships—you can't go wrong. You'll even be able to meet the "retail apocalypse" head on.

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Epsilon® is an all-encompassing global marketing innovator. We provide unrivaled data intelligence and customer insights, world-class technology and data-driven creative, activation and execution. Epsilon’s digital media arm, Conversant®, is a leader in personalized digital advertising and insights delivering digital marketing with unprecedented scale, accuracy and reach. Together, we bring personalized marketing to consumers across offline and online channels, at moments of interest that help drive business growth for brands.
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