Canadian retailers must close costly gaps between digital marketing and in-store experience, according to a panel of industry experts.

The panel at Wednesday’s State of the Retail Marketing Industry event in Toronto explored how retailers in Canada are using analytics, mobile, wearables and beacons to gather shopper data and deliver targeted marketing through digital channels. But as one panelist warned, failing to integrate that data with the shop floor channel is a mistake retailers can’t afford to make.

“You can’t tell (marketing) stories that aren’t true. The customer will figure that out really quickly,” said Laura Baker, vice-president of marketing at Sleep Country Canada, which bills itself as the number one mattress retailer in Canada.

Moderator Alan Kay with panelists Hollie Shaw (National Post), Laura Baker (Sleep Country Canada), Simon Rodrigue (Walmart Canada) and Rob Assimakopoulos (CIBC).

Analytics and mobile tech in particular have enabled digital marketers to give customers a personalized, ultra responsive experience.  When the in-store experience isn’t as quick, knowledgable or attentive to shoppers’ needs, however, the opportunity for conversion may be lost, another panelist said.

“When marketing doesn’t match up with what’s happening inside the organization, customers will be the first to know and tell you,” said Hollie Shaw, retail reporter at the National Post.

Shaw recalled how Hudson’s Bay Co. made – and has since recovered from – that misstep a few years ago.

“Everything in the ads looked beautiful but the experience in the stores was not at all matching that. So (the consistent customer experience) has to be at every level of the organization,” Shaw said.

The disconnect

The digital/in-store disconnect was highlighted in a recent survey of 500 consumers and 150 retail managers in the U.S. and U.K. The study, conducted by Forrester Consulting and released last month, showed that only half (49 per cent) of consumers feel they receive consistent experiences across all channels. Just 29 per cent of the surveyed shoppers “feel sales associates are knowledgeable and helpful,” the study noted.

How can Canadian retailers make sure their data-based marketing strategies mesh with their in-store and other customer-facing channels? All four panelists provided some timely tips at the event, which was held by Retail Advertising and Marketing Canada.

1. Don’t hoard your data

Sharing key data across your retail business gives various units – including customer service and sales –  a better grasp of where (and why) the company is performing and underperforming, said panelist Simon Rodrigue, senior VP of ecommerce at Walmart Canada. Then marketers can spot gaps where service, convenience, pricing, inventory or other aspects aren’t aligned with promises made in marketing campaigns.

Laura Baker, VP of marketing at Sleep Country Canada.

“We try to expose as many people as possible to the data in the analytics,” he said. “Understand the data you have available to you today and how to better share it through snippets.”

2. Listen up

Retail marketers shouldn’t just tell other business units what the company’s key marketing message is, said fellow panel member Rob Assimakopoulos, senior VP and chief marketing officer at CIBC. He said marketers should also listen to input from those units about whether a current or planned marketing campaign is really relevant to actual customers.

“If there’s holes in your marketing story, maybe you shouldn’t be spending that money,” Assimakopoulos said.

The idea is that on-the-ground feedback from sales associates is integrated with data to provide a broad view of customer trends.

At Sleep Country Canada, scripts for future radio and TV ads are vetted by customer sales executives “so when we air a commercial, the experience will hold up when you visit the store,” Baker said. In addition, the company actually retrains store staff on certain points or policies to ensure they execute them in accordance with key marketing campaigns.

Assimakopoulos said his marketing team meets regularly with other CIBC business units to explain how the bank’s key marketing initiatives can help them meet their own goals “so they feel involved and engaged and ready to contribute” to overall marketing strategy.

3. Keep it real

“One of the things with digital that you lose is that face-to-face interaction you have in the store,” Rodrigue said.

Baker’s best advice for countering that problem is to regularly “talk to a real customer.”

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