By Adam Forrest, Senior Director, Americas Marketing

The continued evolution of digital engagement has completely changed a consumer’s path to purchase. As a result, retailers are finding more creative ways to leverage these digital changes to enhance the shopping experience, both online and in the physical store. There are a host of new things in play with beacons and kiosks, to just name a few, and we’ll see a lot of early adopters in action this holiday season. I believe that consumer response to these adjustments over the next few weeks will set the tone for 2015 and beyond.

Here are some of the top items I read to help inspire new thoughts for you this week.

 1. US: Toys R Us to launch digital maps to ease Christmas crowds

Summary: Toys R Us is launching a new digital map to help shoppers more easily navigate their way around the store during the Christmas shopping rush. To leverage this in-store guide, shoppers need to scan a QR code found on the physical map of the store located outside the front of each shop.

My thoughts: We’re operating in an age of the time starved consumer. No one has time to wander around a store to find what they’re looking for; they want to be in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Toys R Us and Target are just two examples of retailers that are aiming to make the physical shopping experience even easier for their customers during the holidays this year. But consumer demand doesn’t stop there – consumers’ desire for immediate gratification extends to the accessibility of information, as well, to support their purchase decisions. This is where content comes into play during the commerce experience.

 “Retailers should leverage their existing customer data to paint a complete picture of each individual customer. In doing so, retailers can deliver valuable messages and offerings across every shopping touchpoint.” -Graeme Grant, VP of Predictive Intelligence at Demandware

2. Holiday Shopping: The Multi-Screen Path To Purchase

Summary: According to YuMe’s recent multi-screen path to purchase holiday report, 68% of consumers plan to do most of their holiday shopping online this year, and 54% agree their smartphone is an important shopping tool.

My thoughts: With consumers engaging through various channels and devices, there is no clear way to predict how shoppers reach their decision point. This requires retailers to refocus their efforts from where in the purchase path the consumer makes their decision to what devices consumers are using. Taking the time to understand what devices are being used, for what purpose (buying vs. researching) and at what point during the day can help retailers refine the online shopping experience. It also opens the door to more personalized experiences by offering consumers information on the products they’ll be most interested in, delivered in a way they prefer (buy online/pick up in store, reserve in store/ship to home, etc.). Our VP of Predictive Intelligence Graeme Grant recently wrote about this, too, explaining that retailers should leverage their existing customer data to paint a complete picture of each individual customer. In doing so, retailers can deliver valuable messages and offerings across every shopping touchpoint.

 

3. Sears shoppers can reserve apparel online then try on in-store

Summary: In its latest efforts to tie web and store shopping together, Sears is offering customers the opportunity to reserve apparel and footwear for up to 48 hours, allowing them to get to a local store to try them on. If they choose not to pursue their selections, the items just go back on the rack.

My thoughts: Reinventing the store has been an ongoing theme over the past year, but retailers are really just starting to put new digital initiatives into play. Because of that, I think there are a few great ideas that have the potential to produce great results, but there will be a number of questions that arise as the kinks are worked out. With Sears, for example, I think this approach is a great way to energize consumers to go into the stores, but it raises questions around inventory. There needs to be a level of inventory readily available in each location for this type of program to work, giving consumers confidence the items they’re interested in will be there when they get to the store. To that point, 48 hours is a long time to hold items off the shelf. If there are a lot of consumers taking advantage of this program, it could translate to a good portion of inventory off the shelf, reserved for someone to try on. Like I said, it’s a clever way to get consumers back into the physical store, but knowing that merchandise on hand is the most expensive asset for retailers, I’m not sure how this will play out.

 

4. Meet Gap’s New CEO: The “Digital Guy” Preparing For More Clicks Than Footsteps

Summary: Gap’s new CEO Art Peck says the retailer is facing one of the biggest changes in its history – reshaping it for the 21st century. He’s a firm believer that the mobile device, particularly the smartphone, will serve as the expression of the brand that most consumers will choose to engage with.

My thoughts: To have a large, traditional brick-and-mortar company like Gap bring on a digital-focused CEO shows the shifting of the tides regarding how important digital is to the entire business. And one element of this digital focus is the evolution of the organizational structure to support global initiatives; Art Peck recently appointed new global presidents for the retailer’s brands to enhance consumer engagement worldwide. Keep an eye on Gap in 2015; I think we’re going to see some creative approaches from them to provide a more engaging experience for their customers.

 

5. Facebook’s new privacy policy shows it still wants to crack the e-commerce puzzle

Summary: Facebook’s Buy button is back in the limelight as the company works to refine its data privacy policy to help consumers understand how their data is used. This all points to the fact that the social network is continuing to refine its efforts to make transactions more convenient and secure.

My thoughts: As Facebook continues to move toward ecommerce offerings, the company needs to ensure that consumers are comfortable with what information is being shared – credit card numbers are more valuable to people than their pictures shared on the social channel. However, despite what I believe to be a sincere effort to be more transparent about how data will be collected and used, I still stand by what I previously said: Social channels are a place where people go to connect with friends, share memories and get ideas, not to shop.